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iPhone App Marketing Series: Promo Code Giveaways

By deans ~ July 17th, 2009. Filed under: App Marketing, Resources.

Among the myriad ways to promote our apps, there is one that has been particularly intriguing to me.  The fifty promo codes allocated to each version of a paid app are intended to support developers who want to provide copies of the app to potential reviewers.  The dream is that reviewers will love the app, write excellent reviews and give it high ratings, which will drive massive sales and make us rich.  For some of us, though, it doesn’t quite work out that way.  I suspect that there are a number of reasons for this.  Let’s talk about a couple of them.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the pool of credible reviewers for most apps is infinitesimally small relative to the number of promo codes available.  I decided to try to get some rough insight into the numbers involved.  Here’s what I came up with:

Let’s ignore updates and expirations for a moment.  According to the always excellent sources at 148Apps, roughly 77% of the apps in the store are paid (they claim to update their data daily, so this should be current info).  They also report that, as of today, there have been 63,013 apps seen on the store.  That would give us somewhere in the neighborhood of 49K paid apps seen in the store.  Multiply this by 50 promo codes per application and we determine that there have been just under 2.5 million codes potentially available.  I’d guess that far less than 50K of those were used by credible reviewers — how many truly credible reviews have you seen?  The rest are either going to waste, or being broadcast distributed (I include the “Massive App Giveaway” contests in this latter bucket).

Further, at least in my experience, most people who get a promo code don’t bother to follow up with a review.  Or maybe they’re just too polite write what they really think about my apps.  You might think that my friends would be willing to tell lies for me, but… then we’re back to the credibility thing.

If we accept that most of the promo codes aren’t going to be effective at generating blockbuster sales, we have to think about alternate objectives.  Will giving out lots of promo codes get people to use the app and talk about it, resulting in some new sales?  Will the availability of the promo codes bring attention to our team?  Will people, somehow magically influenced by the promo codes, at least visit our site?  As we move further away from money deposited in our accounts, the value of these becomes much lower.

Now for the bad news.  Some of the things that we’ve tried, include:

  • Sending promo codes in personal emails directly to reviewers asking for coverage
  • Providing codes to friends who promised to review the apps
  • Sharing codes with other developers who frequent the forums where we contribute
  • Responding to a small number of the requests for promo codes that accompany each app’s debut in the store — we did get a nice video review of iPuck this way
  • Placing a block of codes on a friendly forum

Our results have been dismal.  Like everyone else, I’ve heard anecdotes (myths?) about how promo codes have really boosted apps.  Since ours aren’t having this effect, I’m forced to consider some possible explanations.  Perhaps promo codes can accelerate adoption of an app that’s already on a good trajectory, while not doing much for an app that’s still trying to be noticed.  It’s possible that promo codes provide more benefit within closely related / interdependent networks.  Maybe our apps are just not interesting to anyone but us.  Referencing back to the quantity of available promo codes, maybe the system just has such an abundance that codes for lesser-known apps are essentially without value.

It’s clear to me that this kind of success doesn’t justify the effort that we’ve put into managing and distributing promo codes for our apps.  We’ll continue to give them out to friends, because we kind of have to.  We’ll also be open to plausible requests for codes.  However, I’m completely giving up on using codes as proactive marketing tool.

By the way, here’s a fun fact that I ran across while researching this post:

The 148Apps Price Distribution page reports that I could buy a copy of all of the apps on the store for $137,262.00.

That’s a lot lower than I would have guessed, given the amount of energy and money flowing through the app store right now.  This appears to be an excellent demonstration of the power of lots of really cheap apps.

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