« Pricing iPhone Apps | Main

Marketing iPhone Apps

As I was approaching completion on World Builder, I realized that I actually have to sell the darn thing.  But how?  I knew nothing about advertising and less about marketing.  I had a lot to learn.

Fortunately for me, there are a lot of resources out there for marketing and promotion.  I’ll talk about those tools I used, and how successful (or not) they were.  For my initial launch, I used five different methods of promotion; postcards, shirts, a banner ad, press releases, and social media.

The first thing I did was to create some oversized post cards.  I will point out here, that I have the advantage of knowing how to use Photoshop very well.  I was able to leverage that skill, and save the money it would have cost to hire a designer.  Below is the card I created.

Here’s the front:


And here’s the back:


It’s pretty basic really.  Just some screenshots on the front, and a few bulleted features on the back.

I handed these out at the Norwescon science fiction and fantasy convention in Seattle, and the response was pretty good.  I actually had someone approach me and say “you’re the World Builder guy!”  I have to tell you, that felt pretty good.  How this person knew I was that guy brings me to the next item in my marketing toolkit - T-shirts.

I had several T-shirts printed with the World Builder logo on the front, and my slogan, “Hold Countless Worlds in the Palm of you Hand” on the back.  These shirts turned out to be a great marketing tool.  They are passive compared to shoving fliers at people, but they are great for catching the eye, especially in an environment where people are looking for new things.

The next tool was a banner ad.  I will caution you that banner ads are risky.  Many people ignore them outright, and even if they notice the ad, there’s no guarantee that they will click on it.  In my case, I chose to use only one ad, for one month.  I also picked a targeted site, where I knew my audience gathered - the forums at RPG.net.  While this ad was successful, I don’t know if I would do it again.  I’ll explain that in a little while.

The last tool was the press release.  I actually did two different press releases; one through PRMac, and the other on a special section of the forums at RPG.net.  The former cost $20, and was a complete waste of money.  The only responses I got from this release were bloggers who wanted to charge me to review my app.  No thanks.  The latter was more successful, and cost me nothing.

In the long run, the most successful tool was social media.  The attention I received from forum discussions to time to create, but grew rapidly once people started to read the forum posts.  I was able to track my web site hits, and nearly all of them came from links of gamer forums like RPG.net, Paizo’s forums, and EN World.

I was largely responsible for generating some of this buzz on the forums by responding to people who were looking for apps related to role playing games.  

Read this next part, because it’s very important

I was always very upfront with posters about who I was, and why I was responding.  Don’t ever try to fool people into thinking that you’re “just some dude who saw this cool app”.  If you get caught, you will get flamed and maybe even banned from the forums.  Both of which pale in comparison to the ill-will you just generated with your customer base.  Be honest.  Tell them you’re responding as a developer.  They won’t resent you for it, and it’s a great way to build a dialogue with your customers.  People like the personal touch, and having the chance to talk to a developer about their product is something that many consumers never get the chance to do.

The last overt thing I did to market World Builder was to print flyers and drop them on the swag table at the Emerald City Comicon.   This was a total waste of money.  Most of them probably ended up on the floor, or in the attendee’s recycle bin at home.  I’ll never know for sure, as there is no way to track it.

But, what did this all cost?

Here’s the breakdown:


  • Postcards                    $50 + my time to create
  • T-Shirts                      $66
  • Flyers                          $5 (approximate) + my time to create
  • Banner Ad                  $100
  • Press Release             $20 (for PR Mac, RPG.net was free)


So, a little over $200 plus some of my time.  This is really pretty reasonable for a small company marketing budget.  In the future, I will save myself $125 dollars by eliminating the banner ad, flyers and press release.

I don’t have any exact numbers on what the postcards would have cost had I needed someone else to make them, but it wouldn’t have been cheap.  This is an area, where bartering for services can really save you some money.

However you decide to promote your app or game, make sure you look for targeted markets.  Things like Google ad words are an absolute waste of money for a small business.  There just isn’t any way to target the ad to your market, so most of the people seeing your ad won’t be interested in your product, much less tempted to click on link.

Marketing is essential to the success of any product, but for most people, it’s a scary thing to think about.  Marketing skills rarely go hand-in-hand with programming skills, which is why corporations have marketing departments or hire marketing firms.  Chances are, that you can’t afford either option, so you’re just going to have to leave your comfort zone and find a way to promote yourself and your app.  Just remember, if I can do, so can you.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend