The Early Bird Gets the Apple

Alan Nowogrodski
Jun 19, 2018 · 3 min read

You’ve probably heard the expression the early bird gets the worm. This expression is popular with those who like to hustle and work hard — but, if you’re not particularly a morning person, there’s another way to get the worm.

The worm in this story is coveted promotion by Apple/Google in the glorious App Store. While a single featured spot might not change the trajectory of your company, over time this can have a massive impact on downloads. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the Apple App Store, but many of these principles apply to Google Play Store as well.

Apple’s Motivation

The App Store and its operation resemble a giant black box. However, over the years and through relationships with folks in the App Store, I’ve found that the App Store’s operation is not that mysterious after all. In fact, they have a predictable motivation that you can leverage to grow your app.

Every year, WWDC gathers 5,000+ people and Apple tells us all about the wonders of the new operating system. Some of those features are consumer-focused, like Memojis, but a large portion of them are dependent on developers implementing them. (Think about 3D Touch, Touch ID and more recently features like Siri Shortcuts)

The value of these features grows exponentially for consumers if developers adopt them, so you’ve probably guessed that they want to market these features as much as possible. That’s where the App Store comes in. Now in the wake of WWDC, you’ll notice that for a period of months it just so happens that the apps promoted have all these new shinny features. Coincidence? Absolutely not. In fact, you’ve probably seen App Store featured categories like “Apps Using 3D Touch”.

The Catch

There is a battle that happens here between product and marketing teams. To the naked eye, these two functions seem obvious — product builds the app, and marketing promotes the app. But let’s stop and throw this belief out the window for a moment. Let’s say you want to drive marketing by developing product.

If you approach your product team with the idea of building some of these features, you may get laughed at. This will likely be because:

  • You have a short window to execute. If you don’t build these features in 4–6 weeks, you might as well never build them. Good luck getting the Product team to swap priorities that quickly.
  • The ROI is hard to prove. What’s the business value of Siri Shortcuts? Probably none.
  • These features only serve a small number of people. Think of the early days of Apple Pay or the early days of the Apple Watch. You are asking them to build something that virtually nobody will use for a while.

So let’s summarize: you want to change priorities without a clear sense of ROI, and with the belief that nobody will use the feature for a long time. You’ve arrived at the catch: it’s very difficult to leverage these opportunities because the ask from marketing to product is kind of unreasonable. While it can be difficult to unify product and marketing on post-WWDC priorities, it’s far from impossible. To boost your chances, consider taking the following measures:

  • Get your marketing team to come up with a probable ROI based on download gains
  • Understand that product can be marketing, and help change your company’s overall perspective on that.
  • Build relationships with folks who work on the App Store so you can maximize your chance of promotion.

If you can do these three things, you might be the early bird that gets the Apple.

About Alan Nowogrodski

Alan is the Founder of the MUX Awards, a program that celebrates incredible mobile apps and the teams behind them. He is also a Lead Product Manager at FreshBooks and has spent the last 12 years building and marketing software.

Mobile Growth

Thanks to Jeff Kraemer

Alan Nowogrodski

Written by

Founder @MUXAwards, Lead Product Manager @FreshBooks

Mobile Growth

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