24 Content Marketing Best Practices to Promote Your Killer Business App (and a few tools to help you do it)

How to leverage content marketing in a pay-per-play world.

content marketing best practices for appsWhile there is nothing terribly complicated about developing a content marketing plan for your app, getting all the right pieces done right—and at the right time—can actually be a lot to manage. But it’s worth it. Consider these stats:

With these kinds of numbers, it’s no wonder you’ve considered developing a game-changing business app. But how do you market it? That’s a question I aim to answer for you below. And hopefully you’ll stick with me through these content marketing best practices, tools and tips to make marketing your next killer app a raging success, and minimize paid app promotion.

First, What Is A “Killer App”?

A killer app used to be defined as an app that definitively demonstrated the value of the larger system (technology, software or device) it was attached to. Currently the definition is a bit more lax: killer apps are defined as apps that are extremely useful in solving an existing problem; the implication being that the value of the app then extends the demand for the associated tech.

And why wouldn’t you jump on this bandwagon? According to Business Insider, while Facebook did just under $8B in revenue in ’13, the app store did about $10B in gross revenue, with developers making about $7B. An investment in this arena could definitely net you some serious cash.

So let’s start with the idea that you’re in the early stages of developing the next killer app. This is the next big idea—maybe it’s a cloud-based Sales tool. Maybe it’s a lightweight yet powerful project management app. Or maybe it’s Snapchat for business, allowing you to send James Bondesque messages and photos that expire after 60 seconds. Regardless, you’re pretty sure that this app is going to be SO COOL that B2B customers are going to rush to download it.

You’ve got investors, you’ve hired an app developer to build it, and you’re thinking about how you’re going to market it. While there are a million experts out there who promote this or that App store marketing approach, as planner and strategist you have a firm belief there’s another (maybe better) way to do it.

The Problem With Waiting Until Launch

The problem with app store marketing and promotion is that it’s becoming more and more competitive, while downloads have plateaued. Consider these stats from a recent Business Insider report:

  • US users downloaded 8.8 apps per month in 2014, almost the same as three years before
  • The cost-per-install on iOS soared 59% year over year
  • Cost to retain a loyal user was up 33%

Given that there are 1.5 million apps in the App Store as of July, then you’re facing staggering competition, regardless of how great your app is. You need something that gets people excited about your app. You need a process that builds anticipation and desire for your app BEFORE you launch it against these odds. One solution to this challenge is to build up a community for your app in advance of launch by leveraging a sound and proven app content marketing strategy.

How to Promote Your Business App Pre-Launch with Content Marketing

Using content marketing to promote your app in advance really isn’t that much different from leveraging content marketing for any other business, with the exception of a few details outlined in the process below. These 24 tools, tips and methodologies should put you on track to build strong demand in advance of launch.

1. Understand your app users’ needs

You probably built your app to solve a problem. Who’d you build it for? What daily problem or problems are you solving for? What related problems do they experience that might not be solved for, but that they would find value in having answered? How can you get app usage statistics if you haven’t launched your app yet?

The idea here is to have a really sound understanding of your app users’ daily challenges. By understanding their challenges, not only will your app be that much more killer, but you’ll also have fodder for developing a content marketing strategy.

How do you get an understanding of users’ needs? In developing your app you probably developed use cases and buyer personas. If not, stop reading and go do that now. Your app user/buyer is the most important part of the process and you should know them better than you know yourself. One tool we really like is Cintell’s cloud-based Customer Intelligence and Buyer Persona tool. Not only does it make the job of building out dynamic buyer personas for sales and marketing easier, but it makes maintaining adaptive personas a lot simpler.

2. Develop a content marketing strategy

This should be based on your app user / buyer persona, and, according to best practices published by the Content Marketing Institute, include:

  • Understand your purpose (what are your business objectives)
  • Interview key internal stakeholders to understand the business environment
  • Interview/survey existing customers (if applicable—you might be building a business app to meet existing customer needs)
  • Conduct high-level market analysis – research industry trends, market needs and characteristics
  • Conduct competitive analysis of apps or solutions already in market (messaging, tactics and positioning—more on that below)
  • Conduct customer needs assessment (typically done as part of your persona development process above)
  • Map your Buyer’s Journey (understand how your user becomes aware of a problem and goes about finding or purchasing a solution)
  • Perform message mapping (connecting your solution to your buyer’s problem)
  • Keyword research (there are new best practices for search engine optimization as outdated, old school keyword/SEO strategies can actually hurt you—more below)
  • Map your content (understanding what content to deliver at the right time, to the right person/people)
  • Develop final customer-centric positioning statement/value proposition/voice
  • App positioning (with all of the above in place, where does your app fit in the market?)

When you have a moment, check out some of 2015 B2B Content Marketing Trends. By leveraging some of these trends, guided by these content marketing statistics, and putting a sound strategy in place, you will then have all the information you need to move ahead with the next steps. Before we dig into naming, blogging, and the rest, we should dig into to critical aspects to your app content strategy: Competitor Research and Keywords.

3. Competitor research / monitoring

It’s amazing to me how much business is done in a vacuum and with blinders on to what else is happening. With Google, social networks, and a few tools, it’s easier than ever to get a clear view of what your competitors are doing. This is key because it gives you a view of how they are marketing and positioning themselves to your future customers. Your research should give you a sense of their strengths—and more importantly—their weaknesses.

Besides trolling their websites and downloading all of their brochures, you can monitor your competitors’ social activity. While setting up Google Alerts has become a fairly standard and free way to keep an ear open for online mentions, apps like Perch allow you to create watch lists and get dynamic alerts when businesses you track have updates.

4. Establish keywords

Keywords are important to the success of both your app and content marketing because they act as the basis for content development (what keywords and phrases are your buyers using to solve their problem), as well as and paid promotion you conduct. And while not within the scope of this post, you should be aware that Keywords will also play a critical role in being found in the App Store.

Your personas will help you develop an initial list of keywords, but don’t focus on your product. Focus on their unique challenges. For example, if your app is a “To Do List” manager, you won’t just want to create a keyword list focused mainly on To Do Lists, but create content-focused keyword lists around related items like “how to organize your time.”

You’ll notice that particular keyword is more of a phrase. That’s mainly due to the fact that it’s hard to rank for short or single keywords, and you’ll have better success ranking for relevant phrases: long tail keyword phrases.

One tool we like to use to identify long tail keywords with lower competition on search engines is KWFinder. You can quickly plug in your long tail keyword and see what related keywords exist, how many searches there are, and how difficult it will be to rank for that phrase.

5. Name it

Naming is one of the most important aspects of the process—yet is really hard to do on your own. With so many variables and existing names already in the market, there’s no really easy way to do this. Just pick one. Or hire someone to do it for you. Or check out this little tool that Set Godin recommends. I lost about 4 minutes playing around with it just now. Whatever you do, don’t load your name with keywords.

6. Create your brand

This may include just the app, or the company that is bringing the app to market, or both. We suggest building a company brand and then building an app brand beneath it so that you aren’t limited in future business or app development opportunities, allowing you to maximize your brand reputation when expanding your offerings. Your brand will typically articulate the following:

  • Voice of the organization
  • Visual identity (logo, color palette, fonts, image style)
  • Social brand elements (mast heads, icons)
  • Your app icon (this last one is critical—how many BAD app icons have you seen?)

Your brand represents you (and your app) when you’re not there to defend it. Make sure you have this professionally created, or else you might end up with a very public conversation like this. Ideally you’ll engage the same group to brand your company and app that was leveraged to help you understand your market, build personas, develop your strategy and execute. They will have a sound understanding of what your market demands, and should have a creative team that can execute on their direction.

7. Build a mobile-first website

Not only are users primarily going to be on their smart phones, but part of your content strategy will be optimizing your website and content for search engines. Google has made it clear that mobile-friendly websites will get some amount of precedence in mobile searches over those that are not “mobile friendly”.

8. Establish marketing automation

The whole point of this process is to build a community of people who want to buy your app when you launch it, you’ll want some way or bringing them into the mix, managing communications (email and social), and analyzing the activities.

There are a few great marketing automation solutions out there, but currently we like Pardot with its tidy integration with SalesForce for B2B sales solutions. Pardot is great for tracking behaviors that will allow you to develop smarter marketing as you move through your content marketing process. For a startup app company on a budget, you might want to consider Hubspot to start and upgrade to Pardot later.

9. Develop some sort of utility

Typically business apps solve a specific set of problems. For example Evernote solves the problem of having notes, files, images, web clippings and more scattered around different devices and platforms. LinkedIn’s Connector solves the problem of staying connected with your LinkedIn network by alerting you to events and updates. Typorama solves the problem of creating and sharing mobile memes. But one way to attract users to your app BEFORE it’s an app, is to deliver some basic subset of your functionality via your mobile website that provides part of the solution to the problem you’ll eventually solve with your app.

10. Establish your social platforms

You will want to create a presence on the top social platforms for your particular business solution. These typically will be Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube. This will include setting up the basic accounts, branding them (no egg icons on Twitter please). Jeff Boulas has an excellent post on mobile app marketing on Twitter. Notice his focus on content.

11. Search Engine Optimization isn’t just for search engines

There are a number of areas that you really need to optimize to be found by Google. Your website is the beginning, so check out our other post on SEO for Content Marketing. SEO is also important for your social media profiles, PR you do, and your App Store listing (see more on that below). Three tips to remember when optimizing your site/channels/App Store listing for search:

  • Create quality content (don’t spam and keyword stuff)
  • Think mobile first. Google’s doing it. Your users are doing it. You should be doing it
  • Long-tail keywords are critical. Word tracker has a great post (and diagram) on long-tail keyword
12. Develop content around problems your app solves

Not just for new users—but to build loyalty with existing users. How many times have you downloaded an app, just to stop using it after so many days? Or opened it once and never used it again? According to App Advice, 20% of apps get abandoned after they are downloaded . One way to increase loyalty among users is to create content that supports the reasons they bought the app.

What types of content? Let’s say your developing the next B2B app for Baby Boomers. According to this Contently infographic, Boomers spend 20+ hours a week consuming content. They mainly like to consume blog posts, images and eBooks.

So, start blogging. And start blogging based on the challenges you identified with your personas—as soon as you have a brand for the app. Maybe you’re thinking about establishing an app website right before launch so that new users will flock to it for more information.

It doesn’t work that way. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t really work. With 1.5M apps in the App Store, and more than 30,000 apps launched in December of 2014 alone, no matter how awesome your App Store Optimization (ASO), you need a leg up on launch. It’s tough to cut through the clutter, but easier to be there when they need you.

By answering your users’ questions and solving their problems, you’re present when they search for you, and you can create traffic and interest around your app.

13. Create rich-media appropriate to your user group

Rich-media consists of videos and animations, podcasts, and infographics. The guidelines follow the same as #12, but in this case, you can really create some amazing content around your actual app. Perhaps you have demo or training videos. Maybe you have an infographic that outlines data and challenges that your app solves.

14. Distribute your content

This is where your budding social network will come in. There are kajillabytes of data out there, but you can’t just tweet and G+ your way to stardom. There’s more to it than that. Having a solid social media distribution plan in place will make sure that the content you create (blogs, infographics and videos), makes its way to the right people, at the right time. Your personas will tell you what social channels to engage in and when to engage them.

While there are too many to go into in detail, Social Media Examiner has a great post on 26 ways to develop a strong social media content strategy. I liked the takeaway around frequency:



“Post around 5-10 times a day on Twitter and 1-4 times a day on Facebook”

and the one on leveraging Google Analytics Social Reports:

“The Data Hub Activity report shows you how people are talking about and engaging with your site content on social networks.”

Just make sure that you have a plan to distribute your content. It won’t share itself , and social signals are critical for SEO.

15. Then distribute your content some more

Guest blogging has gotten some really negative press. When Google tells you that you need to stop Guest blogging because “over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company,” that’s bad news.

So why did I list it here? According to Content Marketing Institute, “Guest blogging isn’t dead.” They share a few tips, but the most important is that if your guest post is unique, of great quality, and the place where you’re posting is high quality, then you should be okay.

16. And more… LinkedIn Pulse

I personally love LinkedIn Pulse. It’s kind of like your blog, but with LinkedIn’s membership built into it already. Pulse is good for a few reasons. First, well SEO. Content featured on Pulse gets a bit of bump due to LinkedIn’s baked it authority. Second, content you publish on Pulse shows up in your network’s feed—if your connections like or share it—it then shows up in their network’s feed (vitality anyone?). Make sure your content is unique though—you don’t want to be whacked by Google for duplicate content.

17. And more… mobile advertising

Develop a mobile advertising strategy for your content. If you’re new to mobile ads, Kissmetrics has a great introduction to pay-per-click marketing. And while ad media planning and buying have historically been the domain of ad buyers, platforms are making it easier and easier to buy into mobile ad networks.

18. And… one… more… social advertising

Social advertising has risen to the top of the heap with special, platform-centric solutions for marketing B2B apps. Twitter has an app install solution specifically tailored towards driving downloads by allowing you to “target their mobile-first audience”.

Facebook also has an App Install ad feature, but supplements it with App Engagement Ads. App engagement ads allow you to link to exact areas of your app, so that you can drive specific activity. Remember how many never open their app the first time? Use App Engagement to remind them of your app, and drive them to perform a specific action—reigniting the passion!

This is all really great once you’ve launched your app, but this post is more about pre-app launch content marketing, so back to that.

Use social advertising on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to promote your content. Whether you’ve built a robust B2B post like this one, or you’ve developed the longest infographic ever, advertising will increase its reach, and value. We’ve found that people who responded to advertising were more likely to respond to content-focused promotions rather than product or service-focused ads.

19. Retargeting

Retargeting is the ability to push advertising to users who’ve already come into contact with your brand via a website, clicked ad, etc. leveraging one of the top retargeting platforms, you can follow someone who visits your blog around the web. Retarget your content to these users. Eventually you can retarget these users with advertising that isn’t just content-focused, but also promotes your app.

Ultimately, what you’ll be doing with retargeting is working towards driving users to give your their email so that you can…

20. …Leverage email marketing

Email marketing is ultimately useful in building a long-term relationship with your ideal customers, and you can prime them leading up to launch. Here are a few stats from Hubspot:

Since your app lives on your mobile device, and most users are reading email on mobile devices, and email is documented as the most effective channel, it’s critical that you build your list organically leveraging content over time (never, ever, ever, ever, EVER buy a list).

You develop content to solve problems and attract people through search and social sharing. To convert visitors to subscribers, make sure you ask them to subscribe, and even offer a piece of premium content in exchange for subscription.

As you get closer to launch, you’ll want to start lifting the veil on your app.

21. Pre-launch press release

Typically an app press release will include a compelling headline, maybe a photo, a feature highlight, and a quote or two. But according to this post (and response on Quora), you need to deal with the duality and reality of a press release: “It is and is not an advertisement.” Basically press releases are combination informational (relevant, interesting and newsworthy), and only a tiny bit promotional.

Press releases are still important because they get can get picked up by publications—lending you early credibility. They can also (in many cases) be a source of inbound links for your website, improving visibility and SEO ranking. Since this will be the first time many people are exposed to your brand, make sure that your press release is well written (and proofed for typos).

22. App Store Optimization (ASO)

ASO (because we needed another acronym), or App Store Optimization is SEO for Apple’s App Store. Essentially you’re optimizing your App Store listing for Apple’s search engine. Like website SEO, ASO covers a number of areas you can optimize including optimizing your screen shots to handling negative reviews.

A major component of the optimization process is focusing on content (which should be driven by persona and strategy development). Take a look at developing a keyword strategy for the App Store over at MOZ. In particular, jump down to the sections on Relevance and Difficulty. They recommend an approach that is very similar to long-tail keyword optimization for websites. You may even be able to leverage what you learn from optimizing your website for Google and Bing, for your App Store listing.

23. Encourage sharing on social networks

MOZ has another great post that assures us that social media networks (social signals) are key to content marketing success. They note a few reasons this will become more important to you (and your app) in the future:

  • The world is becoming more social every day (and generation)
  • People are more likely to trust personal recommendations by friends (i.e., social) than a brand or website
  • Companies with a strong social presence have better brand loyalty, leading to more reviews and links

How do you make your content more shareable? A great post by Entrepreneur lists out a few ways, but one of my favorites is to create content the provides practical value to your users. Marketing theory is great, but practical application really moves the needle.

24. Track, measure, analyze, adjust

Everything above can be tracked with some sort of analytics, and Google Analytics is a great place to start. It’s free, easy to set up, and provides a wealth of information. If you believe in developing personas for your app, then you’ll be interested in two particularly juicy pieces of Google Analytics: Google In-Market and Affinity Audiences.

Quickly, In-Market uses data from your visitors’ browsing history (cookies) to analyze what products and services they are interested in. Think of this as a short-term interest (in-the-market-to-buy-something), while Affinity Audiences takes a more holistic view of users’ online activity to provide you a better sense of their overall identity. Just a little creepy?

Use this information to further develop your personas, to inform what content is working (and what isn’t), and what types of users you’re beginning to attract.

What if I’ve Already Launched My App?

It’s never too late to start a content marketing program for your app. Be aware that most content marketing programs take time to get going (sometimes they can take 6 to 9 months), which is why we suggest starting BEFORE your app is launched.

A Few More Resources

Finally, I’d like to wrap this up with a few other posts with some app launch and content marketing best practices you should check out.

11 Pre and Post Launch Mobile App Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid

25 Creative Ways to Promote Your App For Free

How to use social media to drive demand for your app

Given the amount of effort and resources you’ll invest in your app, does it really make sense to wait until you’ve launched the app to start marketing it? With a solid content marketing approach, you should be able to generate awareness, anticipation, and downloads of your app starting on Day 1, rather than waiting for a paid campaign or some promotion to take hold.

Have you started a content marketing program for your app? Is it not working out how you expected? Check out our post on why it might not be working and what you can do about it.

If you’re ready to start a program, and haven’t selected a content market agency yet, contact us today.