How to launch your app [+what to avoid]

Originally published on

App makers often think about their mobile app launch as a singular incident — the one major moment where their app is published in the app stores.

Yet, the process is more like a continual series of significant moments, where you’re constantly tweaking your app for further improvements and assessing your strategies according to the competitive landscape.

At Appster, we often work with startups and first-time entrepreneurs to help them devise strategies for a successful mobile app launch.

Below, I’ll delve into the details on pitfalls to avoid, as well as tactics you can implement when launching your mobile app.

These strategies will be centered around three aspects:

  • Planning a longer-term strategy beyond the launch,
  • marketing your app,
  • and performance measurement.

Let’s dive in.

1. Look beyond the initial launch

Pitfalls to avoid:

⇒ Avoid being too focused on gaining users

When launching an app, app makers often make user acquisition a priority and end up neglecting to make improvements to their app. But Nancy Hua, CEO of mobile application optimisation company Apptimize advises otherwise:

“You’re not going to get everything right the first time, so you have to have a plan for how you’ll improve the app as you start to get user feedback and analytics.”

Hua further elaborates: instead of investing “a lot of money into acquisition on a rough first launch”, app makers “should spend just enough to get some basic ideas on what needs improvement within the app, quickly fix those issues, then spend more on acquisition… rinse and repeat.”

In doing so, they’ll avoid overspending on attracting the first batch of users that’ll end up having a poor experience with their app.

She suggests aiming for a shorter-term goal of boosting the 30-day retention rates, as well as getting users to leave positive reviews and ratings. After which, app makers can then tap into both paid and unpaid strategies to increase their user base.

What you should do:

⇒ Map out a post-launch strategy

Launching a mobile app is a complex and consuming process. It’s no wonder that teams typically focus their efforts on getting their product to market as effectively as possible.

Yet, this comes at the expense of not having a well-thought-out post-launch strategy in place — often, app makers don’t spend enough time and resources on developing technical and business strategies for their app once it enters the market.

The solution lies in adopting a “continuous delivery” approach, states Sanjay Malhotra in a LinkedIn Pulse article. Simply put, this approach involves measuring and assessing the product in real-time, along with rapid iteration.

There is a framework in place for reviewing current features, along with a product roadmap for introducing new features after the launch.

He lists out a series of key questions that app makers should consider well before launching their app:

  • What can we do post-launch to gain a competitive edge?
  • How will maintenance and crashes be managed?
  • How will performance be measured and assessed?
  • How will we improve upon, or introduce new features?

Malhotra also offers handy tips for adopting the approach for their app:

  • Map out a three to six-month post-launch plan
  • Create a product roadmap for features that weren’t necessary for the first version of your app, such as UX enhancements or API optimisations.
  • List out your short-term and long-term goals for your app
  • Draw up a budget for the technical delivery and marketing campaigns for your launch

2. Marketing:

Pitfalls to avoid:

⇒ Not getting marketing involved right from the start

Too often, marketing is an aspect that’s neglected during the product development phase.

As the type of app that’s created, the potential target market and features can impact the final marketing strategy, marketers need to be involved right at the conceptualization stage so you can plan your go-to-market strategies without adversely impacting the experience of your users.

⇒ Not recognizing the value of content marketing

Content marketing isn’t typically considered by app makers when they’re mapping out their marketing strategy.

But there’s good reason to consider including inbound marketing as part of your marketing mix: DemandMetric states that content marketing costs 62 percent less than outbound marketing, while a study by Kapost and Eloqua found that content marketing produces three times as many leads.

And with an estimated 70 million U.S. internet users using technology to block ads on their desktop, laptops and smartphones, it’s evident that content marketing is a promising strategy that will help app makers drive downloads, boost engagement and build brand awareness.

Fitbit is an example of an app that has leveraged content marketing to create widespread awareness and stand out from competitors like Jawbone and Nike.

The brand regularly publishes blog articles spanning a wide array of topics — from technology trends to recipes and fitness tips.

This has enabled Fitbit to generate buzz among a variety of industry blogs and publications; according to Alexa, of the top 30 sites that link to Fitbit, over a third are articles from health blogs, and a quarter is from tech gadget blogs.

What you should do:

⇒ Create unique story angles for different audiences

When HotelTonight launched its mobile app, it was featured in major publications like CBS News, TechCrunch, Forbes and Time.

One way in which the app stood out in the crowded travel space was through creating unique story angles for each of its target audience. For example, to appeal to TechCrunch’s tech-savvy audience, HotelTonight focused on featuring key industry trends and striking visuals.

It created an engaging video story for TechCrunch that involved navigating through the streets of San Francisco and booking hotel rooms, along with an analysis of emerging trends in the mobile and hotel industries.

Similarly, in its promotion campaign for the launch of its Wonders of the Universe app, HarperCollins created content that fitted in with the needs and interests of a wide-ranging array of target personas — from tech publications and app reviewers to parents and educators.

Top tech publications were given sneak peaks, while blogs targeted at teachers and parents were offered free app downloads. As a result, the app was featured on leading sites like Popular Science and Educade, and garnered over 81,000 downloads following the campaign.

⇒ Act upon social media comments and feedback ASAP

In a highly competitive mobile landscape, paying close attention to the needs and feedback of your users is a move that will pay off.

Through monitoring your social media networks or app reviews, you’ll develop a better understanding of your users, have a clearer picture of what you’re not doing right and be in a better position to implement changes swiftly.

It’s how Barclays averted a potential PR disaster during the launch of its mobile app Pingit, a mobile payment service that enabled users to make transfers easily with their mobile phones.

Soon after its launch, Pingit was getting negative feedback — as the app was restricted to users aged 18 and above, parents were unhappy that they weren’t able to use the app to make transfers to their kids, and teenagers were dissatisfied that they couldn’t access the service.

Barclays reacted swiftly to these comments and overturned the situation by altering its restrictions to make the service available to users ages 16 and above.

⇒ Collaborate with micro-influencers

Considering adding influencers to your marketing mix? Look beyond reaching out only to big-name influencers, as working with micro-influencers can be just as helpful for your app.

Take Adidas as an example. While the company has established collaborations with prominent football stars like Lionel Messi, it hasn’t prevented Adidas from reaching out to micro-influencers for the launch of its mobile app Glitch.

Created to promote a new range of soccer cleats, Glitch was the only channel by which soccer enthusiasts could test out and purchase the shoe.

An exclusive invite-only access to the app was also established. Working with a select group of football players chosen from football academies across London, Glitch quickly gained popularity, attracting a community of users without additional marketing support.

Marc Makowski, director of business development at Adidas elaborates on how working with micro-influencers contributed to a successful launch:

“It was interesting to see how they [the original micro-influencers] established ownership of the concept, and that’s one of the things that triggered a lot of the decisions around making it an invite-only community and allowing them to spread the access themselves.
Baking that authenticity into the service is key to why it performed well as a test.”

⇒ Provide incentive for users to spread the word about your app

Looking for a marketing channel to drive greater virality for your app? You don’t have to look further than your current user base — if you offer attractive incentives that will motivate them to spread the word about your app.

One way to do so is to implement a referral campaign.

For its Refer-A-Friend bonus campaign, PayPal started out with cash payouts, offering each individual a US$20 incentive for opening an account, before dropping the sum to US$10, and subsequently, US$5 as their user base grew.

While the company spent about US$60 million in total on its referral campaign, it was a tactic that paid off — PayPal achieved seven to 10 percent daily growth, and grew its user base to over 100 million members.

Alternatively, you could follow in the footsteps of companies like Dropbox, by utilizing incentives to grow your social media following. It offered users a 125MB increase in storage for following or liking their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

3. Performance measurement: Which metrics should I use?

With numerous metrics, statistics and performance indicators available to analyze your app performance after the launch, a key question that all app makers need to answer is: Which metrics are best suited for my app and app marketing strategy?

The metrics and KPIs will differ based on the following factors:

Type of app

The KPIs, and what determines a good or poor performance will largely depend on the type of app that you’re launching. For example, a SaaS app with a large majority of freemium users will likely focus on getting these users to take up a paid subscription.

Thus, an appropriate KPI would be the free-to-paid conversion rate. On the other hand, a gaming app would typically be assessed by KPIs like the average session length, average revenue per user (ARPU) and average app launches per user.

Monetisation strategy

The KPIs will also be determined by the monetization strategies that you’ve implemented. If your app offers in-app purchases, you’ll want to look at the average number of days to the first in-app purchase, ARPU from purchases or price points that result in the highest revenue.

But if implementing ads is your main monetization strategy, you’ll be more focused on KPIs like the daily active users (DAU) and churn rate.

User lifecycle stage

I’ll be using Dave McClure’s AARRR metrics model to illustrate the different user lifecycles:

  • Acquisition: Attracting users to download to install your app
  • Activation: Getting users to sign-up and use your app
  • Retention: Encouraging continual usage of your app
  • Referral: Getting users to spread the word about your app
  • Revenue: Increasing the total revenue you gain from each user

As the goals in each stage may contradict each other (for example, you’ll be looking at the total number of downloads at the acquisition stage, while at the retention stage, it’s more about attracting the right type of users), you’ll need to identify the user lifecycle stage that’s most critical to your strategy at a specific point in time, and focus on KPIs that for that particular lifecycle stage.

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