Marketing for App Launch: DOs, DON’Ts, and Strategies for Success

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If an app lands in the App Store and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If an app lands in the App Store and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Unsurprisingly, would-be app entrepreneurs are largely focused on the process of mobile app development. When they imagine the build and release of their glorious app, they think about conceptualizing, researching, designing, building, testing, and finally, that all-satisfying launch. Somewhere in the back of their minds, they know they’ll eventually have to think about marketing their app. But can’t that wait till the app is finished?

I’m here to tell you: nope. Marketing can’t wait. Or at least, it can’t wait till just before you’re ready to launch. “Too many people feel like marketing is not a science… they think it’s just a ‘task’ to be done,” explains Sterling Wahl, Director of Brand Strategy at global digital marketing agency MWI. Some potential clients begin with an attitude of, “Okay, the app is ready. Can you ‘do the marketing’ now? And how long till it’s ready?”

“Doing the marketing” for a mobile app launch is not a simple, finite task. Instead – much like the mobile app development process itself – it’s an iterative, research-based process that takes place over the course of several months. To help demystify the process, Distillery sat down with Wahl for a Q&A focused on helping all you would-be app entrepreneurs know what to expect, what the best practices are, and what NOT to do.

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Be just as passionate about marketing your app as you were about building it.

Explains Wahl, “The effort, research, and thoughtfulness that goes into building a successful mobile app is equally necessary for building a marketing strategy that resonates with your audience and accurately portrays your unique value proposition.”

Let data and analytics be your guide.

Your marketing efforts require ongoing attention. While your mobile app’s analytics will help you understand which updates and changes are required to provide your customers with a better user experience, your marketing analytics will help you validate or disprove your hunches about which methods work best to engage your target audience. “Track performance and make changes based on where you’re seeing the biggest wins,” advises Wahl.

Find ways to validate your app.

You should seek out both pre- and post-launch opportunities to give credibility and validity to your mobile app. Says Wahl, “This can be done through PR articles in top-tier publications where your app gets mentioned. It can also be done by getting testimonials from people who have interest in what you’re developing.” In addition, positive third-party reviews in the App Store or Google Play help potential customers feel confident that your mobile app is a worthwhile investment.

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Misidentify your target audience.

Throughout the mobile app development and marketing process, it’s important to test and validate your assumptions about your target audience. If you’re marketing your product to the wrong audience, how successful will your launch be? It’s possible your audience is more limited than you realize. Alternatively, maybe you have several disparate target audiences with widely varying needs. During the development process, a good mobile app development partner will have conducted user research and testing to help you validate your initial assumptions about your target audience. Similarly, a good marketing partner will use marketing performance data and analytics to help you further test and validate those assumptions. “We have to dive quite deeply into what makes each audience interested in the application,” explains Wahl. “We need to identify who the target audiences are, and how we provide them with relevant, differentiated value.”

Forget how important strong design is to a strong brand.

The design of your mobile app’s user interface will inevitably be used in advertisements for your product. While that sounds obvious, Wahl relates that a surprising number of app entrepreneurs don’t have the foresight to plan their design with an eye on future marketing needs. Says Wahl, “You need to think about the go-to-market need as you select your colors, your logo, everything. Ask yourself, ‘Will this sell well?’”

Fail to establish credibility.

While it’s great to feel confident in your product’s value, it’s important to remember that your product and brand don’t yet have credibility in the marketplace. Too many app entrepreneurs fail to understand the importance of actively cultivating that credibility via pre-launch media buzz and genuinely strategic marketing. That’s why MWI and other agencies maintain relationships with tech blogger-influencers and other writers who are connected with top-tier publications; that way, when they have a client with a product in need of press, they can leverage that network to find someone willing to write about it. Well-placed, well-timed press coverage, says Wahl, “lets you say, ‘Look, I’m legit. People are interested in what I’m building, and telling my story.’”

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When should I begin identifying a marketing partner?

Initiate the process approximately four months before your planned launch.

That allows an initial three to four weeks for getting referrals for, identifying, and interviewing different marketing firms, and three months pre-launch to plan, execute, and iterate with your selected marketing partner. According to Wahl, for most mobile app launches, it takes at least three months for the research, discovery, testing, and execution needed for an effective marketing campaign.

What should I look for in a marketing partner?

Communication and honesty are crucial.

It takes time and experimentation to determine what messaging will resonate, and with which audience. Explains Wahl, as a marketing partner, “You don’t always get it right the first time.” Accordingly, when a campaign or a PR placement misses the mark, it’s crucial that you’re working with a partner who will own that miss, be transparent with you about it, and be clear on why and how they plan to change course. In those situations, Wahl focuses on sharing actual data and lessons learned with his clients. In addition, he says, it’s imperative that you’re able to get hold of your agency or account manager when needed. Thus, you want to choose an agency that gives you confidence that they’ll be responsive to your needs and questions. Finally, make certain you yourself will feel comfortable sharing honest, straightforward feedback with the team you choose.

Make sure they will be genuinely invested in your success.

You want to make sure the agency is signing up to work with you because they truly believe they can help you succeed, and not simply because you’re another paycheck. If they’re not genuinely invested in making sure you’re successful, how hard will they work for you? (One of MWI’s central tenets is that of a “win-win partnership,” in which the agency will only take on a client if they genuinely believe they can help them be successful.) In addition, that sense of investment should be clear not only from the outset, but rather throughout your time together. Explains Wahl, “At MWI, our account managers are an extension of our partners’ businesses. They fight to make sure that every deliverable and every dollar is used in the best possible way for the clients’ best interests.” When MWI account managers are assigned to a client, they essentially act as if they are an employee of the client, and not MWI. Says Wahl, “The attitude is, ‘I work for [the client], and I use MWI as a way to get this work done.’”

What does a typical app launch marketing process look like?

While the process will vary depending on each client’s unique situation, it generally involves establishing and achieving a set of short- and long-term goals designed to – via time and iteration – turn your marketing strategy into a well-oiled machine. Wahl explains, “Before you can start getting amazing growth results, you have to make sure the machine is built for that.” For example:

  • To secure the long-term goal of a strong PR placement that you can promote in your advertising campaign, you have to first identify the right writer (e.g., at Forbes, Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post) and get them to agree they want to write about your mobile app.
  • To secure the long term-goal of creating strong messaging and branding that appeals to your target audience, you have to first carry out a research and discovery process that lets you test your ideas and learn what resonates with which audience.
  • To secure the long-term goal of ongoing improvement to your marketing ROI and strategy, you have to first test different methods for reaching your target audience, and then let data and analytics guide you to the choices that maximize ROI.

Again, the process does take time. According to Wahl, initial research and discovery can take up to a full month. It also takes time to identify and secure the right PR placements for your audience. As you begin to create and roll out messaging, it’s important to test your ideas in small doses, collecting data to assess effectiveness. The goal of testing is to uncover the formula for the “secret sauce” that fits your app’s audience. Once you’ve identified that secret sauce, your “well-oiled machine” is ready to go and you can finally initiate the full-blown effort to push out advertising and drive people to your product.

Can you tell me about a business that got their app launch marketing right?

Wahl shared the example of MWI and Distillery client Glydr, creator of an on-demand job and internship iOS app for college and university students, which made several choices crucial to the success of their marketing efforts:

They started early.

Months before their app was completed, they partnered with MWI to begin building out a go-to-market strategy.

They built a foundation that facilitated testing, publicity, and establishment of a user base.

They built out a landing page that would allow them to begin testing the market for interest and collect email addresses in advance of app launch.

They focused on creating positive buzz.

Two PR placements were secured for their app, increasing brand validation and awareness.

They relied on actual users to help them improve their app pre-launch.

They released a beta version of their app for early testing, enabling them to gain both feedback and testimonials.

They didn’t jump the gun on launching the app.

In fact, they pushed back the planned launch date to ensure a smooth and perfect launch. (As Wahl relates, “You only get one shot with customers, so you want to do it right.”)

What’s the single most important piece of advice you can give to someone preparing for app launch?

Get excited about 2.0.

Countless variables play into a successful app launch. Some can be controlled; some can’t. Some applications seem to blow up overnight, while others only slowly grow in popularity. Asserts Wahl, “No matter what type of launch you have, what’s most important is a continued focus on the 2.0 version of your app and marketing efforts. The goal is to keep getting smarter about what your users want and what’s important to them. Your ROI from marketing efforts will increase every month as you continue to analyze the data and understand your audience. Your app launch is just the beginning of your business, and the 2.0 version will be even better than the version you launched.” He continues, “Once you release it into the market, it’s no longer yours. Your audience needs to be an active participant in calling the shots.” In other words, you need to let your user data and feedback determine how good your product is and where it needs to go.