Five ways to keep your mobile app from irrelevance

The old adage that “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply to independent mobile application developers, according to mobile marketing experts.

At this week’s FITC Mobile 2009 conference in Toronto, app developers from across the country got together to debate how they can generate more customers and ultimately sell their apps.

The inability to get noticed in a growing sea of competitors should convince struggling app developers to put a greater emphasis on their marketing efforts, according to industry experts.

Here are some of their tips to help get noticed and succeed in the app building business.

Know your audience. If you don’t have a target market, you don’t have a chance, according to Brandy Gilchrist, president at Admodo Group Inc. And that doesn’t only mean just knowing who is going to buy your app, but also knowing what phone they’re using and how they’re using it.

To figure this out, you’ll need to collect data wherever you can and gather mobile-specific analytics, said Deborah Hall, managing director at

“Put out a prototype and get back stats to try and make a business case,” she said, adding that if the majority of the app buyers you’re targeting are using Android and iPhone devices, that’s where the development should start.READ MORE20 Mobile Apps: Shopping for software from Apple, Google, RIM and Microsoft’s online stores

This will also allow developers to better take advantage of the phone’s native features, Hall added, as opposed to building a more generic app that can work across platforms.

Don’t target countries. For Canadian developers especially, if you’re in the app-building market, you might as well consider yourself to be an international marketer as well, Gilchrist said. While Canadian-specific apps will certainly have their place, the goal of maximizing the reach of your app means you should avoid targeting countries.

“There’s many more English-speaking countries than the U.S., so think language as your target market and not countries,” he said.

Don’t count on viral. While the iFart app certainly made a lot of money and created a lot of buzz for its developer, most app designers have to realize this is an anomaly. And because these apps often generate attention through viral marketing, many developers focus most of their attention on this strategy to hype their apps, Gilchrist said.

“Viral is not the place to put all of your eggs,” he said. “It’s not the norm for these apps to shoot up the download chart.”

Instead of viral marketing, Gilchrist advises app designers to go track down their customers. If you’re creating an aviation app that might have serious value for business and people in aviation, go to aviation conferences and let these users test it out, he said.

Be great. It goes without saying that any successful app will have to be either insanely addictive or very useful, but according to Gilchrist, developers should settle for nothing less than greatness.

“I’ve never seen more snake oil than now, as a lot of people are doing a half-assed job trying to create stuff,” he said, referring to the abundance of low-quality apps on the market.

Gilchrist said the key to creating a successful app is to innovate and the best way to do that is to avoid predicting the future. “Instead, try and invent it,” he said.

Many app developers start designing an idea for their app by looking at the some of the top downloads in the Apple App Store and creating clones or derivatives of those apps. This is something Gilchrist strongly advised against.

“It’s important to be zigging when everyone else is zagging and zagging when everyone else is zigging,” he said, adding that looking into trends often doesn’t pay off when it comes to the fast-moving space of mobile app development.

“The future of a turkey looks wicked for the three years of its life leading up to the Thanksgiving its head gets chopped off,” he said.

Never give away your app. With so many free apps out there, it has even become difficult to get consumers to pay even 99 cents for an app. Still, Gilchrist said, developers have to resist the temptation to price their apps too low.

“If you sell an app for $40, the users feels obligated to play with the thing a little while, but at 99 cents, they don’t really give a damn,” he said.

Because apps have such a short life span to begin with, offering a free trial or demo version is also something that should be avoided.

Obviously, the app will have to be very useful to justify its pricing , Gilchrist added, but without a strong product, developers should question why they’re even releasing it.

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