Passively Marketing an iOS App | Mitch McLachlan

Passively Marketing an iOS App

Marketing | Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

On May 1, I launched Find the Game, my first iOS app. Other than crafting App Store metadata for search—which is required for submission, I have not really done too much marketing. What little I have done has been ineffective. My new goal is 10 downloads a day, everyday, for a month. Even at it’s sales peak, I was a ways from there. In order to achieve this goal, I’m going to have to do some hustling.

About the App

Like all of my projects, Find the Game is an attempt to scratch a very real itch of my own. I live in Chicago now, but grew up in Michigan and went to the University of Michigan. Both my wife and I still have family in Michigan, and we still have season football tickets. I have also been a lifelong fan of all of the Detroit professional teams. Lastly, our car does not have satellite radio.

What all of the above adds up to is a lot of weekend roadtrips attempting to find the Michigan or Lions or Tigers games on the radio. I know the flagship station frequencies, but we lose those within the first half-hour of the trip. My wife is always tasked with scanning through the stations trying to find the game.

So, I built my first iOS app to address this problem. The app provides a map view of all nearby radio affiliates of your favorite team, including approximated broadcast range. Launching in May, I focused on including all MLB affiliates, and added all NASCAR affiliate stations a few weeks later.

The app is for iOS devices, universal—the same app works on iPhones and iPads, and is $1.99 on the App Store. I’ll talk about my pricing rationale in another post.

Initial Marketing Efforts

As I mentioned above, I didn’t really put a lot of effort into marketing the app when it first launched. There are a number of reasons for that, but the biggest is that I was far more focused on building something else. I would classify what the marketing that I did do into one of three categories: “traditional” digital marketing, social, and advertising.

Traditional Digital Marketing

I’m winking here with the word traditional for the simple reason that digital marketing has only really matured enough recently to have what might be considered traditional tactics. But here’s what I did:

  1. Slapped up a simple wordpress website with a free responsive theme. The responsive piece was important for me because this is a mobile app, and I assumed what little traffic the site would see would likely be from a mobile device. Total effort: about four hours. Doesn’t take long to prop up a wordpress site, install a theme and hack together one page worth copy. However, the result was very generic and not very useful from a marketing perspective.
  2. Set-up a Twitter account. While most would bucket this in the social category, I really did not use the twitter account, other than linking to it from social chiclets. The biggest motivation for setting up an account was simply to make sure I secured something reasonable up front that aligned with my app’s brand. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late.
  3. Set-up a Facebook page.  Same caveats as the Twitter account. I had been planning all along to use Facebook’s mobile app install advertising, so I had to go through the hassle of setting up a Facebook app for Find the Game anyway. Propping up a page was only a couple minutes more work. I have hated Facebook for a very long time, so I didn’t really plan on using this page much, at least early on.

Social Marketing

I love Twitter and hate Facebook. That could be the end of this section. As stated above, I didn’t really do much with or use the branded Twitter and Facebook accounts that I created. Getting the word out on new stuff like that is a grind and I was working full-time on another project. So, I just did a handful of messages on my personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to get the word out. I think I got a small bump in sales from this. In fact, I suspect that most of my first month’s sales originated from people that I already know seeing and sharing these little blurbs.

As much as it pains me, I think that social marketing lead to most of my conversations. That does not mean that I would classify it as successful.


In general, I am not huge on advertising either. However, I actually looked forward to advertising Find the Game for a couple of reasons. The first was Facebook’s new mobile app install advertising. While I hate Facebook, this platform seems perfect for marketing new apps. The ads only show up on Facebook’s native mobile apps or mobile site traffic, and only the platforms you select (for me iOS only, no Android). I also ran a brief AdWords campaign. This was also an app install ad, restricted to search on iOS devices. You can see previews of both of these ads in the post header image above.

The biggest reason that I was excited to advertise this app is because I think that it solves a real-world problem; a problem that I think people will search for while on mobile devices. Being able to launch the App Store download directly from my ads seemed like a homerun.

While still a paid app, I never expected to make a lot of money from this product, so I kept both ad campaigns as small as possible. Literally. I ran the cheapest campaigns allowed by both Facebook and AdWords.

Success of Passive Marketing

The headline above should probably be “Failure of Passive Marketing”. You are not supposed to disclose App Store sales numbers, so I will instead describe my sales so far in analogies. An additional consequence of my passive campaigning is that I don’t have good conversion metrics on any of my tactics. Below is my speculative analysis:

  • May—Month 1: The first month went pretty well. I think I got bumps from my passive social push as well as my small advertising pilots. Result: Made almost enough for a daily tall of plain coffee from Starbucks. However, when you subtract the money I spent on the two ad campaigns, that leaves about enough for a giant canister of Folgers.
  • June—Month 2: Things slowed as I pretty much had moved on to other projects. No more advertising, maybe a tweet or Facebook message here or there. Result: Made enough for a fifth of Johnnie Walker Black Label.
  • July—Month 3 (projection): I’m currently halfway through July, but if things continue as they have been, I’ll rake in enough in July for… a fifth of Beefeater.

So, again, my passive marketing has not been very profitable. But as I have more projects shipping soon, this app is the prefect project to gain some app marketing chops. In my next post I’ll describe some of more more recent, active marketing tactics, and then in a couple weeks check in on success metrics.

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