Marketing Kids Apps (Part I) – 3 Things No Amount of Code Can Fix

| August 18, 2011 | 15 Comments

An enormous amount of time, energy and money go into app development these days. And after the programming dust settles, an app is born into the App Store or Android Marketplace. But many developers are unprepared for the really challenging work of marketing their app … so much so that they may overlook some of the most important things that get that shiny new app the consumer-attention it deserves.

Dash & Ditto's Playground

While toiling away this past year on our popular new review site for iPad kids book apps, I have also been moonlighting as the marketing consultant for a kids game my husband developed for Android last year (and just released for iPhone today). This experience has gotten me thinking a lot about how people shop for apps, so I began asking a series of questions on my Facebook fan page to do a little informal market research.

So, what are those ‘most important’ qualities to get a kids app (or any app for that matter) noticed? I’ve synthesized dozens of comments on Facebook, asked friends who download a lot of kids apps & considered my own shopping habits (since I download over a dozen new kids apps everyday to screen them for our curated daily deal page).

While there are a lot of factors that go into the decision-making process, three things seemed to be ‘gatekeepers’ for consumers … things that need to be done, and done well, to get an app noticed in the first place … way before anyone bothers searching for a review on a site like Digital-Storytime:

1. Icon: The icon for an app not only matters more than most developers realize, it also matters more to consumers than they realize. We humans use a lot of visual shorthand in our brains to make decision-making easier, so we unconsciously gravitate toward things that ‘appear’ to meet our needs. In the case of app icons, this means an exceptional app may never get noticed, simply because the icon is not eye catching or attractive.

Dash & Ditto's Playground - iTunes Icon

Dash & Ditto's Playground - iTunes Icon

And for kids apps, this is even more true, because consumers unconsciously ignore app icons that don’t look ‘child-like’ in some way. As shoppers for kids apps, we have to search through categories in the different marketplaces that include both child-friendly and very adult-oriented apps. This means the average person looking for a kids app is going to first glance at the icons and gravitate towards those that look the most like something for a kid. This means that even if the app only contains sight words, for instance, and no images at all, the ideal icon is still going to be something illustrated like it’s right out of a children’s picture book. It also helps to have an image that looks good from a great distance, since these icons are very small in many of the places consumers will encounter them.

A sampling of some of the most interesting comments about the app ‘icon’:

“… if the icon isn’t catchy I wouldn’t even click in to check out the reviews. With so many apps out there the icon needs to look professional and intriguing.”

“I want something that has strong well drawn illustrations … it needs a good icon”

“(how the icon) looks is the first attraction”

“(I look at) the brief look you are given on itunes … (t)hose first few glances tell alot.”

“A really gorgeous icon … will lure me in.”

“I first look at (the icon) for visual appeal … the graphics are what catch the eyes of kids the most, so I look at them first.”

“I look at the initial picture …”

2. iTunes/Android Market Description: It may seem obvious that an app description needs to be well-written, eye-catching and thorough, but you wouldn’t guess this from reading a lot of iTunes descriptions. Every day I read dozens of them as I cut and paste a few choice sentences from these descriptions into our deal page listings for free & reduced price kids apps. It is the well-written ones that stand out simply because the vast majority are so awful.

If you forgo proof-reading, editing and word-smithing your app’s description in iTunes, expect consumers to forgo downloading your app, especially if it’s educational in nature. According to consumers I’ve polled, people are really reading those descriptions, although sometimes not more than the first few words. Find a way to make this description interesting & enjoyable to read and you will have gone a long way to making your app something people will be curious enough about to download. While there were fewer detailed comments about the iTunes description in the comments I collected, this was the thing mentioned first by the most people who responded.

Some of the valuable insights include these responses to the question “What is important to you in app shopping?”:

” … Absolutely the description”

“Icon is important, but also description with great screenshots.”

“I look at the information provided to see if it will be a good match for …  (my) students.”

“I … review the full description to see … if (it) will engage my children.”

“I get as much info as possible … (I like to) read the iTunes notes.”

“(I look at the) … iTunes description … (w)hat the content is, and whether it is of value to my child educationally or morally and appeals to their interests.”

For a couple examples of the descriptions I penned myself for Dash & Ditto, see Android Market (released July 2010)iPhone – Lite Version (released August 5, 2011), iPhone – Full Version (released August 17, 2011).

3. Video on YouTube: A video details what an app looks, sounds and feels like, giving the consumer the best opportunity to evaluate an app before actually downloading it. It’s the ultimate visual sales tool. Considering all the marketing a developer can do to get a new, unknown app discovered by the shopping public, a video is one way to get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’.

And yet a lot of great apps have only poorly made videos or no video on youtube at all. Creating a video of an app comes at the end of the development process, which can often be plagued with delays & tight time-constraints. It also requires decent software to capture the app in motion with sound & added text describing key features. However, I have yet to meet an app developer who regrets this little bit of extra TLC they gave their shiny new app.

Having a good promo video also gives an app a much better chance of getting the one thing many app developers want most … good reviews on popular review sites. Many sites, including Digital Storytime, do not regularly review apps without a demo video to embed next to the review. These are your ‘moving screenshots’ and an essential part of marketing any successful app.

Among the observations of shoppers I polled asking the question “How do you decide on an app?”, videos were mentioned often, like in the following comments:

“The best (way to decide) is to find a video …”

“I like videos …. (and for them) to let the viewer hear as well if possible, … (t)he sound of the (app) is important to me. I have bought (apps) based on it, or avoided (apps) because of it was well.”

“I really examine the samples … youtube, screenshots, etc.”

“It would be a plus if I was able to see a video …”

“I like to get a Demo video (before I buy).”

“I like to find a video and watch it with my child … I watch him watching it and the look on his face helps me decide.”

“I look for app demos (on youtube) … “

“… if it is a new (app) from a new (developer), a video of it (in) use is always a seller, assuming it’s a marvelous app. When you can see it in action you don’t even have to take the risk, you know what your getting.”

*About Dash & Ditto’s Playground: This 7-in-1 iPhone kids game app was published on Android a year ago. Initial marketing success was found by getting featured by 101 Best Android Apps as well as receiving lots of nice reviews. But the experience of marketing a kids app in the Android universe was beyond challenging, like trying to market from the moon.

And stay tuned for part 2 of this post with more insights from consumers …



Category: 100+ Reviews ... What I've Learned So Far, All About Apps, 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.