“Top List” Tycoon’s App Distribution Strategy

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Mark Dabbs

20 Apr 2017 - 6 min read

There are 12 million app developers worldwide, according to Evans Data Corporation. And, most app distribution strategy focus on a grand total of two stores – Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

*Crickets chirping*

There’s no debate that they capture the majority of the market. But, it is not easy to stand out from their 3.5+ million apps or the other 1,500+ submitted daily. If you have an app, you definitely want to be on both. The point is to not stop there.

There are hundreds of other stores – like you can find on the Ultimate App Store List. The interest is not to cover them all, but to provide some overarching ways to think how you might engage each.

A lot of hands are likely rising to object – most stores are too small to be worth the effort!

Is App Distribution Strategy Even Worth the Effort?

Yeah, let’s talk about that.

Entire teams of designers and developers will spend months developing and perfecting an app. How much revenue does that effort generate?  None. Unless you were contracted to develop it. All of the revenue from an app comes after the development.

How long does it take to submit an app to a mobile store?  It may take two hours or so to add the app description, graphics, category, pricing and availability options. Some stores may have their own specs.  That may be tedious work, but it’s not hard work.

Note – some premium subscription stores may require their own API and/or special versions. Obviously, this will take more time and effort, so these exceptions warrant a cost-benefit analysis.

Leastwise, do companies that make breakfast cereals say, “Hey… we’re at Walmart, that’s good enough!”  No – you’ll find them in HEB, Safeway, Whole Foods and other large grocery chains. And you’ll find them at 7-11, AM-PM Mini-markets, and hundreds of convenience stores, mom-n-pop shops, and quite a few restaurants and hotel chains, too.

Top Shelf Space and Displays

In the brick-n-mortar world, if you have a new product you need to convince retailers to let your product have some of their shelf space. Will it sell better than the product that is there now?  It often requires meeting with each store’s decision maker (store, sales or procurement manager) to reach an agreement. Many will also want you to debut in their store with an expensive display.

In the mobile and online world, most of that effort is side-stepped. If your app meets the store’s requirements, you automatically get the shelf space. That is an objective unto itself. But, where there’s unlimited “virtual” shelf space – getting featured in the store’s top app lists is the key to unlocking each store’s volume.

It’s natural, logical and pervasive across all media. The headline stories get read more than the classifieds. Television shows in prime time slots get the most viewers. Websites showing in the top 10 search queries get more clickthroughs than those on the second page of results.

Getting into the Top App Lists

Apple’s and Google’s algorithms for app search rankings are not openly available, but are believed to include several factors including (in no particular order):

  • Download and install counts & trends
  • Uninstall and usage statistics
  • Volume and average of App store ratings and reviews
  • App landing page SEO

But their rating mechanisms do not hold true for all app stores by any stretch. Some stores allow you to buy your way into their top lists. For these stores, their top app lists are an advertising sales mechanism.

That’s no big surprise. No, the big surprise is that more developers and businesses don’t engage in developing their app distribution strategy and marketing channels more. Those that do, do well and while the following might be an exceptional and special example, it should also provide some insight into some exceptional strategic thinking.

A Look at Looksery

Victor Shaburov is a serial entrepreneur responsible for Handster and Looksery. Handster went on to be acquired by Opera and relaunched as Opera Mobile Store. Looksery was well under development when he launched his $30,000 goal Kickstarter campaign for it. The campaign succeeded, raising over $45,000 – though he got even more value via free publicity through the marketing of the campaign on sites like TechCrunch, DailyMail, Startup Beat. With such a close relationship though, he gave Looksery’s debut to Opera Mobile Store – earning even more publicity.

Not long after, Snapchat came along and snapped up Looksery for $150 million. Would that have happened if the only thing he did was make Looksery available on Google Play and the App Store?

Was it worth the effort to do all that marketing and app distribution work?  Seriously – for $150 million, one would expect to have blisters the size of Cincinnati on both hands.

For that matter, he couldn’t have done that with Google Play or the App Store – as it would’ve been like, “Who freakin’ cares, you’re gonna have it on Google Play anyway… you’re just another app in the 1,500 that get submitted every day.”

Ah… but he did something different, something few others go out of their way to do – to promote launching on a different store, completely. Eh, so it was only a few days news, but the point of fact is that it made the news.

It’s a Long Way to the Top…

This all fits the old analogy of being a big fish in a small pond, except it is more about your appetite. It’s about wanting to get on the Top List anywhere with the intention of using it to help you get on another and another top list. It’s about not being content with how well you’ve done because you can always do more.

Developers and designers are not really to blame for not getting into the whole marketing and mobile app distribution paradigm. Developers develop and designers design – otherwise, they’d be in marketing, sales, distribution and well, everything but developing and design.  It’s just that many developers are small agencies who don’t have marketing people on their payroll. So, two hours spent submitting an app to a store… could be like an eternity in hell.

But, for businesses looking to promote their app, it is a totally different story. Odds are you do have someone that you can designate to get your app everywhere. Odds are someone on your sales or marketing team can try to work up special arrangements to offer smaller stores. Indeed, there’s a lot of room to maneuver and to strategize.

In Mobile, you don’t need to set up a factory, develop large storage warehouses, drive forklifts and load freight onto trucks or any of that. You only really need to a) get your app into app stores, b) get your app into their top lists, and c) promote social sharing.

Social sharing is likely to be a default component of your app if your developer has anything to say about it. The only thing that we need to say about that, for now, is that what happens in any given mobile app store doesn’t necessarily stay there.

Would you more ideas about App Distribution Strategy? Be sure to check out:

Bankable App Monetization Models: How to Earn with Your App

There's a Better Way to Manage Your Mobile Business

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