Paid App Marketing: Seven Priceless Lessons – Guest Post by Amy Friedlander

| March 22, 2013 | 9 Comments

This guest blog post is brought to you from Amy Friedlander, VP of Marketing & Strategy for Wasabi Productions. This team has created several book apps, including the Lazy Larry Lizard series that launched in April of 2010.

Selling a paid storybook app is kind of like selling a new brand of peanut butter or this season’s new sweater. You’re introducing a product that does sort-of-the-same thing as its competitors, in an environment where there’s lots of other choices. The store shelf it sits on is a virtual one where top ranking lists are equivalent to merchandised in-store displays or what’s put in the shop window. Except that this virtual shelf couldn’t fit in your standard mall, or suburb for that matter! Like all retail products, once your app hits the market, you need to make target customers aware that it exists, help them find you and then (hopefully) pick you off the ‘shelf’.

Appolicious Ad for: Look Out Larry!

The best way to ‘get picked’ (read: downloaded lots of times) is the app-industry equivalent of solving the next big medical breakthrough (extreme, I know, but hear me out). There are loads of people working on the challenge and trying different things – from home grown to more traditional approaches. Some are experiencing isolated incidents of success, and others can’t fully attribute what led to the success. There are those who believe they know the answer but haven’t proven it yet and more who are trying everything possible to see if something sticks. A few are throwing more money at the problem than the majority but what unifies them all is a problem with no established, repeatable and reliable solution.


In the app world, this makes for a fabulous culture of open-mindedness, experimentation and sharing so that together we can deliver the next great educational and entertaining products to their rightful audience (ok not to cure them, but to enrich them all the same). In the spirit of this culture, and in our quest to begin breaking down the problem, I bring you some key insights that we at Wasabi Productions gained during a series of paid marketing experiments that were launched in November 2012. I’ll save you a few hundred words and confirm that we haven’t found a reliable treatment for the conundrum of app marketing and discoverability, but that being said, we have improved our understanding of cause and effect, and have a better idea of where you get the greatest proverbial bang for your buck.

I started with the things I know from a previous life in advertising and marketing, and researched a whole lot to find out about other tools out there that can help with getting apps marketed.

Digital Storytime masthead placement performed very well due to its prominence on the site and the quality and relevancy of the audience …

Our channel plan is always defined by bought, owned and earned media and for this particular task we were focused on the bought stream. This was divided into a mix of niche & broader websites (from Digital Storytime to iPad traffic on the Seattle Times website), Google search and display marketing, and newer formats like YouTube pre-roll videos, click-to-download mobile app ads and more.

In allocating our budget, it was important to start by defining objectives and audiences and to select media according to these goals. Being a developer of storybook apps for preschoolers, we were looking to reach parents, grandparents and educators in trusted environments. We also wanted to trial a variety of channel types (from social to search) to get some macro learning about best environments. Selecting our channels was as important as ruling out those that weren’t right – either due to their high minimum spends or mismatch with our values as a family-friendly app developer.

Our objectives:

1. To drive effective app acquisition with a new audience

Red Tricycle

  • Aim to keep cost-per-acquisition (CPA) as low as possible while acquiring as many new customers as possible
  • Use paid acquisitions to bolster our paid/free rankings in the app store and thus enhance discoverability with an additional surplus audience of chart trawlers

2. To drive app consideration via clicks with a new audience, cost-per-click (CPC)

  • Aim to keep CPC as low as possible while presenting in front of an audience likely to be interested in our apps. Optimising this involved discouraging people who weren’t likely to convert from clicking by making ads really specific

3. To drive brand awareness, trust and consideration

  • Selecting trusted environments and using advocacy with less of a razor-sharp focus on conversion
  • Ensuring creative reflects our family-friendly brand and high production values

One of the qualms with all retail marketing is not having control over the point at which the customer comes into contact with the product – i.e. the supermarket, grocery store or department store. The app store is no exception and it is challenging to understand how customers behave once they click through from your ad and arrive there.

In order to measure our return on investment we set up affiliate marketing programs with Linkshare, Tradedoubler and DGM Performance, which provide some insight into the app store funnel. We also signed up with Georiot to manage affiliate clicks coming from different regions (there’s a great article from Jeoud at Review for Dev – in the spirit of sharing – that covers this set up in more detail here). This gave us the ability to generate specific links for each ad placement (we used signatures in these links to help us tie back the activity to the specific ad), which in turn were linked to app store downloads (# of items downloaded from clicks on the ad) and revenue (from visitors entering the app store through our ad). This provided us a sense of how many of those that clicked through to the app store went on to download, and how much they spent. A key weakness in this methodology is knowing what customers actually downloaded from the app store but one can still get an idea of the ad placements’ effectiveness in attracting an audience ready to spend money and download apps.To control variables as much as possible, we focused on marketing one of our four apps at a time for a full two-week period. For some of our apps, we maintained the same marketing program but lowered the price from $2.99 to $0.99 to see the impact of this on interest and conversion rates.


7 key learnings


1. Price drops don’t raise more interest in the product but do make the decision to download it easier

  • We found that our price drops did improve conversion but did not grow interest enough to justify the loss of revenue in this test. So once people clicked on our ads they were more likely to download at $0.99, but the $0.99 price point did not grow the clicks enough from when apps were $2.99 to make this uplift profitable.

Catchy images used for Facebook homepage ads to garner attention and interest from the target audience


2. Social media is great for conversation and community but not strong for short-term conversion from ad formats


  • Facebook content advertising opportunities (for example, sponsored stories) are more effective than their homepage and marketplace ad formats in driving engagement. However, as a channel, Facebook did not drive conversions to app downloads – proving the theory that ads on Facebook are sort of like an annoying salesman trying to corner you at a party
  • ‘Like’ ads can be effective if likes is what you are after, but due to our objectives we were driving directly to the app store in this instance

3. Targeted search marketing can be powerful, but it sucks a lot of manpower too

  • Google search ads had a higher click-through and conversion rate than the Google Display Network. Seems obvious as you deliver your ad to people actively looking for your product. Hypothesis confirmed!
  • When only targeting mobile devices/tablets through Google Adwords, it can be better to bid higher to ensure you appear in one of the limited spots available for ads on the 1st page of results, but still control spend through capping your daily budget to something you’re comfortable with
  • Some keyword campaigns at the long tail (for example, ‘lizard stories’) and more contested end (‘animated storybook’) were ROI positive but this channel needs daily monitoring and optimizing to get the best from it

4. Incentivized app downloads don’t deliver the audience you hope for

  • Incentivized app downloads (for example, via Tapjoy) only worked to create a download spike when the app was free, and when this is the case, the quality of the audience gained (to engage with your apps in an ongoing manner) is questionable

5. Review sites deliver a relevant audience, but it’s still a relatively small one

  • App review sites don’t always drive a high volume of traffic, but due to the quality of their audience and how specific the environment is, the conversion rate from clicks is stronger than other channels. They’re also a brilliant place to build brand trust and awareness and to support the growing industry of app discovery facilitators

6. Moms have a million things to think about and this is true of mom blogs too

  • General mom environments are great for awareness and consideration but were not strong drivers of conversion into app downloads

7. Broad news media can deliver a fantastic new touch-screen tapping audience but this still comes at a price

  • News media ads on tablet devices delivered a high quality audience with a propensity to spend more per click, at a reasonable conversion rate. However, since many still require minimum spends, they are challenging to run tests on and getting your money back through downloads is less likely.

In summary, we saw glimpses of success and potential and learned a lot. There are of course many more things we need to test and re-test and are in planning to continue the learning we’ve begun. We ticked off many gut instinct beliefs and narrowed our future focus significantly. Despite not achieving an overall return on our investment, we invested in learning and this is hard to put a price on. 

In marketing children’s apps, there are a limited number of case studies out there (and even less that have been shared) – a very different situation to ‘regular’ retail goods where you can weigh up the benefits of everything from coupons to loyalty programs, store catalogues, outdoor billboards, TV commercials and more. Furthermore, we can’t always relate successful strategies from other app genres when we’re creating family-friendly apps for precious children (for example using in-app-purchase to monetize free apps).

One thing that connects apps to other retail products and especially printed books, which have been around a lot longer, is that for both there’s nothing more powerful than word-of-mouth marketing. While paid-channels can expose a new audience to yours apps, the focus still needs to remain on buzz-worthy products so that these new users are keen to talk to their friends. How many ‘good’ books have people read throughout the ages that never came up at a coffee or dinner party date? To light the fire of word-of-mouth sharing, the one thing we can control is the greatness of our products and their talkability. This point supports the focus on PR and partnerships as a very relevant alternate paid avenue for app developers – John Casey of Jumping Pages relates this thoroughly and inspirationally in this fantastic article.

So, where to from here. In our experience, paid channels are not being used routinely enough as a way for families and teachers to find great apps in the current ecosystem. On many days we didn’t even reach our (modest) daily budget in Google Adwords as the volume wasn’t there. It seems that the bulk of users continue to go straight to the app store to see what’s new, hot and popular – or rely on their trusted networks to recommend the latest app sensation in their home or classroom. All that being said, I still believe it is helpful to learn about what channels there are to be mobilized and how they work for you so that you’re ready to leverage the business intelligence gained when the time is right and the market is ready. I think a shift to broader influences on app buying behavior is inevitable as customers want to get the most out of their device investments and see their value in bringing learning and laughter into their homes.


I would love to hear about your experiences in the road to finding a cure to the app marketing challenges and am confident that there is a solution in our sights.

Looking forward!

Amy Friedlander

This guest post was written by Amy Friedlander, VP Marketing & Strategy – Wasabi Productions. 

She has a global focus, naturally, as an Australian born in South African and now living in Atlanta, Georgia. She sees herself as ‘always curious and on a mission to get the most out of life’.

Category: All About Apps, Guest Posts, Marketing Apps

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.

Comments (9)

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  1. Jodi Murphy says:

    “That ads on Facebook are sort of like an annoying salesman trying to corner you at a party.” What a great line and a super article. I’m coming into this storybook app arena as a marketing person but in a different industry and it appears that the challenges are very similar.

    WOM, having a platform, and building a tribe seem to be the best chances for success. I have also found success in collaboration partnerships too.

    Again, great article and continued success.

    • Amy Friedlander says:

      Jodi, thanks so much for the feedback and it’s comforting to hear the challenges are similar even in a different industry. We’re just moving into collaboration partnerships but they do feel like a promising area with the current state of the market. I’d be interested to understand what you find most beneficial about building a platform – is it just a catalogue of similar products from which to cross-sell?

      Thanks again, appreciate it.

  2. Great article Amy! I found similar results with the teeny, tiny ad dollars I threw out to test the possibilities. Best to build the platform to fuel discoverability.

    As discussed with a few other storybook app devs, I believe owners of iPads (the device of choice for storybooks) are just beginning to discover there are great kids’ apps–not just adult tools & games. 100 million iPads sold and Apple expects to double that in 2013! That’s a lot of potential sales!

    • Amy Friedlander says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thank you!
      I agree that the sheer growth of iPad ownership is a massive positive and we are so early in the process of users understanding the potential of using the technology productively for entertaining and educating kids. The confusion between what’s an ebook / iBook / enhanced ebook / book app doesn’t help at the moment – but with such immense growth and the technology entering the cultural mainstream, our futures are certainly bright and there is a ‘cure’ in sight!

  3. Fantastic article Amy! Really enjoyed the writing and the wealth of information and candid sharing of your experience.

    Am interested in your thoughts about the difficulty of CPC with app prices being so low. This seems to be a very limiting factor for paying for any advertising of apps. Seems that this may only worthwhile if you have a ‘suite’ of related apps or a brand with lots of similar apps?

    I also loved your description of Facebook advertising. I’ve tried to run some FB campaigns for some non-profits, but FB CPC rates are just too high for them to be practical or worthwhile. Much better in that case to ask supporters to use WOM.

    Very interested to see where this is all headed. As you mention, this market has to consolidate at some point with the ways in which consumers find out about apps (not just within the app stores themselves).

    • Amy Friedlander says:

      Thanks Liam! Glad you found the info in here interesting.

      CPC is definitely not the ideal model for marketing apps, and we tried to go with CPA, where we only paid when a user downloaded an app, wherever possible. This option is becoming more and more common but the reality is, the majority of digital media still runs off CPC and so we had to give it a go. As you say, it is really hard to make this ROI positive for apps where the prices are so low. And lots of our CPC campaigns weren’t a success on paper as a result.

      Our approach was to try to make our CPC ads as specific as possible (trying to discourage people who were unlikely to convert from clicking) so even with limited characters in Google search ads and Facebook homepage ads, we jammed in the age group of 2-6 year olds, together with as detailed a product description as possible, compatible devices and pricing information. This wasn’t easy but meant people looking for Android apps wouldn’t click, or those who wouldn’t pay $2.99 wouldn’t click…etc. We also used manual bidding so we would never be paying more for a click than we would earn after the Apple 30% cut from an app sale.

      The other part of CPC with potential for apps is long tail search – so when people are looking for something very specific, delivering your ad to them in search marketing. Long tail keywords also tend to have a lower CPC, making them easier to turn into effective campaigns. One example that worked well for us was bidding on ‘lizard stories’ and then serving up one of our Larry Lizard book ads.

      The other factor here is looking at CPC as an opportunity to acquire one user who you will then cross sell your other apps to. So the cost is more justified if it is more than the revenue from one app sale and you can bid higher, therefore appearing higher in the results even though you are effectively paying for a new user (with no guarantee they will actually become a customer after clicking). This is great in theory but hard to track to prove that it is working as you hope to justify the spend. This is all a bit long winded but I hope it makes sense. Could discuss it for hours!

      I am hopeful that with the sheer volume of new device owners, that even a small % using different discoverability channels will make a big difference for all of us. And as apps become a serious industry, more ad formats that work for the business model will become available (I hope!).

  4. Max Haynes says:

    I’m doing iBooks, not apps, in a related market– books for young adults with cognitive disabilities. After reading your article, I am beginning to wonder if iBooks is the way to go. Apps certainly have more bells and whistles, but my readers would be overwhelmed by all of that. Simple buttons for sound, slide shows and interactive questions are enough distraction and stimulation for them. Still, I wonder if I’m paddling around in a backwater format while apps are the main…stream.

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  6. Terrific article, Amy. I too have a background in marketing so I’ve done a LOT of testing. And like you, I’ve found that most paid marketing efforts do not return on investment and the most effective techniques are free (but take a lot of time).

    We’ve yet to find Nirvana.

    Our most successful techniques are event driven (co-op holiday events for example) and App Friday.

    We’ve found the same results you’ve found on price.

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