Should You Charge for Your App?

Every now and then I get asked if charging end users to download an app wouldn’t be the best way to defray the cost. The answer I always give is NO!!!!

I call this the Angry Birds syndrome. There are some people, who haven’t really been paying much attention to the mobile revolution, but have heard of this crazy game that some company in Europe came out with that’s been downloaded, like, a gazillion times at 99 cents a pop.  Surely, they reason, that’s a quick and easy way to pay for an app and make a tidy profit besides.

Well, first of all, Angry Birds came out in 2009. That’s like stone-age times in the fast moving world of mobile. I can assure you that these days, most people won’t pay 99 cents to download an app for a sports team, event or organization. In the last year alone, I’ve personally downloaded countless apps for sports organizations, including such prestigious brands as the Ryder Cup, Wimbledon Tennis Championships, ESPN and several major league teams. Every one of them was free.

We even heard of a tournament that polled their participants on the mattter. They offered a free app and then asked their users how much, if anything, they would have been willing to pay for it. The users said they’d happily pay up to $1.99. Based on that information, a competing event (our client) had us develop a paid app, in spite of our strong advice to the contrary. Barely a few dozen people downloaded it, which was a shame because it was a really nice app.

The moral of that story: Even if people tell you they’ll happily pay for an app, when push comes to shove, they won’t.

Charging someone to download your app is like charging them to surf your website. Sure, there are some websites that do, but you’d better have something really valuable behind that pay wall. Just ask anyone in the newspaper industry.

In my next email, I’ll tell you how you can get your app paid for and even turn it into a profit center in its own right.

What Kind of Lead Time Do You Need for Your App?

In an earlier email, I talked about the process for getting apps approved for sale in each of the two main app stores. It only takes about 24 hours to get approved by GooglePlay but for iTunes it can take anywhere from 10 days to several weeks.

That, of course, is on top of the time it takes for us to develop the app, which can vary from 4-8 weeks depending on the time of year (spring is our busiest season).

All of which begs the question: How much lead time do you need to develop an app for your club or tournament?

Well, it does depend on the kind of app. We do a lot of soccer club apps during the winter months so that clients can have them in time for the spring season, which typically starts in March. I prefer to have them in the app stores well before that, though, so that clubs can use player registration night as a big promotion for the app.

This also allows plenty of time for attracting sponsors, getting familiar with the editing tools, and getting it downloaded onto as many phones as possible before the season starts.

That said, we’ve also done apps during the summer so that they could be ready in time for the fall season. And of course, for winter sports, like Hockey and Basketball, all of those timelines get adjusted accordingly.

If your club runs its own tournament, we suggest your tournament app should be live in the app stores a minimum of two months before the event kicks off, and ideally 4-5 months.

Bottom line, get your app published as far in advance of when you’ll need it as you can. Don’t call up a developer a month or two before the start of the season or your tournament and expect to have it ready in time. Even if it’s possible to do it, you won’t enjoy the process and you may not be happy with the end results either.

An app is a critical part of your branding. It shouldn’t be rushed and, even when it’s finished, you’ll need to allow a lot of time to market it to your audience.

Affordable Smart Phone Apps

I mentioned earlier that the existence of twin platforms used to mean that app developers had to build the same app twice, once for iTunes and once for GooglePlay, which added significantly to the cost of development. That meant that a low-end price for developing even the most basic app used to be in the low-five figure range, and well above that for something more complex.

I say “used to be” because things have definitely changed in the last year or so. I liken this to the evolution of similar technologies that have gone “mainstream” in recent years.

Anyone who remembers the early days of desktop publishing will recall that it used to take quite a skill set to become proficient at building pages using that technology. You needed to know design, of course, but also had to be a font expert, a color expert, and a technical wiz, too.

Then some really smart programmers came up with software for the rest us, like Microsoft Publisher, Print Shop and others. Suddenly, laying out of flyers, brochures and even full-fledged magazines became a snap for regular everyday folks.

Similarly, in the early days of the internet, you had to be pretty smart to build your own website. It’s no coincidence that terms like Webmaster and Guru sprang up to describe what these early adopters were doing. Nowadays, just about anyone can put up a WordPress site in an hour, and you’d only need to hire an expert if you want it to do something fancy.

The same evolution has recently happened with apps. Not long ago, you had to be a programmer, not just in iOS but Android SDK, and countless other operating systems, too. It also helped if you had talent as a designer, not something you often find in a programmer, so you were probably talking about adding another person to the project. Then you might need a project manager to marry the conflicting agendas of the technical teams and the design teams.

It’s not hard to see why it was so expensive to develop those early apps.

But within the last year, new software has come on to the market that has allowed for apps to be developed without the need for a technical background, although you do still need to be a great designer.

What’s more, some of those programs allow for a single app to be developed that is compatible with both the iTunes and GooglePlay app stores.

This is a game-changing development because, for the first time in the short history of the industry, the cost of developing an app is within the reach of every small business, church group, school district, and, yes, sports organization in the world.

So if you’ve been thinking that you’d like an app, but there’s no way you could afford the five-figure price tag, think again. There are companies out there (including ours) that can develop an app for less than $1,000. That’s still a sizeable investment, of course, but nowhere near as much as it would have cost even eighteen months ago.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how much time you need to allow for the development of your club’s app. If you want to read that installment right away, click here.

How to Publish a Smart Phone App

If you’re thinking of developing an app for your club or tournament, it would probably help to have a basic understanding of how the app marketplace works. Unlike a website, which can go live online as soon as it’s finished, an app has to be downloaded from one of the established app stores. The two biggest, by a mile, are the iTunes store for Apple devices and GooglePlay for Android.

Between them, these two venues are responsible for over 50 billion app downloads. They’re like the Mac and PC of the personal computer industry. Or for the older folks among us, the Betamax and VHS of the early video industry.

While the availability of twin platforms like this makes apps more accessible, the fact that there are two platforms that have to be coded for has traditionally added significantly to the cost of development. (More on that in a future email).

What’s more, each app has to go through an approval process in order to get accepted into the stores. While GooglePlay’s approval process is fairly quick and straightforward, Apple’s can be difficult. It’s also possible your app will be rejected if it doesn’t meet Apple’s stringent design and functionality standards, and they won’t necessarily even tell you why.

Frankly, dealing with Apple can be a giant pain in the “you know what”.

Imagine all those scary stories you’ve heard about Steve Jobs and the often unreasonable demands he placed on his staff as he pushed them to meet his own exacting standards of design and usability. Well, his legacy lives on in the iTunes app approval process. It’s no place for amateur designers, that’s for sure.

Some app experts even argue that it’s best to just develop for GooglePlay and ignore Apple altogether. But we’ve found that over 75% of the downloads for our sports-related apps are from iTunes so we really do have to find a way to work with them.

The approval process for each app takes about 24 hours for GooglePlay but for iTunes it takes a minimum of 10 days. And that assumes your app is approved first time around. It can take up to six weeks if it gets rejected and has to go back for another try, and perhaps even another after that.

It’s something you have to plan for if you want to develop an app for your upcoming season. We still get calls from people whose season is just a few weeks away and they’re looking for us to develop an app for them.

In my next email, I’ll talk about the game-changing development that has brought app development into the price range of just about every sports organization in the world. If you want to read that installment right away, click here. Otherwise, we’ll send it along in a day or two as part of the regularly scheduled sequence.

Five Reasons Why an App Beats a Mobile Friendly Website

With up to 60% of online searches now being conducted on a mobile device – either a smart phone, iPad or some other form of tablet device – pretty much every business and organization out there, whether in the sports industry or not, is going to have to tackle the issue of making their website mobile friendly very soon.

That said, there are a number of reasons why an app might be a better way to go for your organization. Here are five of them

1. Using the Phone’s Features

Scorpions_Screen_Shot_4A question we get a lot is, “Should we invest in an app or “merely” make our existing website “mobile friendly”? Well, the answer is quite possibly both.
A Mobile app can use the functionality of the phone in a way that even the most mobile friendly website simply can’t do.

Chief among these for sports clubs and the tournaments they run is the phone’s GPS function for turn-by-turn directions. This is a key feature for teams traveling to away games or for tournaments that attract a lot of out-of-town visitors. Users can also use the phone’s camera for photo submissions, its address book for sharing with teammates and parents, and its speaker and microphone for the sending and receiving of audio messages.

2. Push Notifications – A Great Way to Improve Communications

Unlimited push notifications are by far the most popular feature of our apps. They give club administrators and tournament directors a whole new way to communicate with participants instantly. They show up just like a text message on the front of a user’s phone and are 50 times more likely to be read and acted upon than an email.

Many of our clients claim that this feature alone lowered their own stress levels exponentially just by reducing the number of phone calls they had to take. Notices about weather delays, field changes, canceled practices, etc. can all be instantly sent right to the mobile devices of all participants.

3. A Year-Round Communication Tool

Our statistics show that up to 50% of downloaded apps will still be on users’ phones six months after your playing season or tournament is over. This, of course, gives you the ability to send out push notifications for next year’s registration information to an audience of people who are predisposed to sign up. It’s a great way to get your registrations off to a fast start, particularly if you’ve been keeping in contact with them throughout the intervening months. (Something we recommend, by the way). Push notifications can also drive attendance at tryouts, club meetings, AGMs and any other important off-season events.

4. A Profit Center in its Own Right

A well promoted app can become a profit center in its own right through the sale of local advertising. Many of our clients use their apps to replace those old printed throw-away programs and yearbooks clubs and tournaments used to have. They cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to print and often have outdated information in them because they have to be produced weeks ahead of time. They then end up strewn all over the fields, as anyone who has had to pick up trash after a day’s play will attest.

An app, on the other hand, has only the very latest info, is never thrown away (whoever heard of a throw-away iPhone) and offers a much more engaging environment for local businesses to advertise. One of our soccer club clients runs the Grove United Memorial Day Shootout and was able to sell several dozen ads in their app to generate more than enough revenue to cover the cost of development, and a lot more besides.

5. Increased Merchandise Sales

The sending of frequent reminders via push notification as to the availability (or shortage) of particular merchandise items had a noticeable positive impact on merchandise sales for several of our tournament clients.  The Sandwich soccer club for instance, was able to sell out all of its merchandise over the course of their tournament weekend by continually alerting participants that certain popular items were selling fast.

Four Reasons Why Sports and Mobile Are a Perfect Match

In my last post, I talked about the mobile revolution and the impact it’s having on all of our lives. The good news is that the sports industry is particularly well positioned to take advantage of this mobile revolution. Here are four reasons why:

Instant Updates

Sports, more than most industries, has a need to provide its customers with instant updates of scores, standings, schedules, weather, news, you name it. Mobile provides the perfect vehicle for doing that through push notifications, text messages and app updates.

Mobility

Screenshot1-Apple
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a “duh” as my kids might say. We are, after all, talking about the Mobile Revolution. But the fact is, not all industries really count on being able to reach their customers wherever they are the way the sports industry does.

Sports participants are often on the field or the sidelines, well away from their home offices and without access to their computers. A mobile device is not just the best way to reach them, it’s often the only way.

Visual and Interactive

The highly visual and interactive nature of sports makes it an ideal fit for the Mobile Revolution. A sharply designed mobile app with lots of images, logos and bright colors can go a long way to selling a sports brand in a way that’s simply not that important to some other types of businesses.

Affinity

People feel an affinity towards their sports teams and clubs in a way they don’t towards, say, the local dry cleaner. Mobile is a really helpful tool for both capitalizing on that affinity and enhancing it still further. After all, mobile phones are often referred to as “personal devices”. And the best way to build customer loyalty is to build a personal connection with them. Mobile can help you do that.

But here’s the thing. If the good news is how well the sports industry lends itself to mobile, the bad news is for those organizations that don’t embrace it. As I’ve said before, there will soon come a time when every self-respecting sports organization will be expected to have a comprehensive mobile strategy in place.

The longer your organization waits to implement its own, the more out of touch it will eventually start to look.

Introducing the Mobile Revolution

Back in the late 1990s when I first got into the sports marketing space, it was almost unheard of for a club to even have its own website. I worked with a lot of soccer clubs at the time, and they mostly used a combination of print ads and printed flyers to promote their programs tryouts and tournaments.

Fast forward 15 years, and the idea of any club not having a good website would be ludicrous, and would have would-be participants seriously questioning what was wrong with them.

In many ways, what I’ve witnessed in the last year or two has mimicked what I saw in the late 1990s, when every club, team and sports organization I was working with was scrambling to get their very first website built.

The new online frontier, of course, is mobile, and it’s one that is particularly well-suited to the sports industry (more on that in a future email). I’ve come to believe that, just as with websites today, any sports club or organization that doesn’t have a strong mobile presence within the next couple of years will be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to attracting players, sponsors and media attention.

The truth is that, every once in a while, a new wave of technology is introduced that completely revolutionizes the way we do things.  Things like electricity, the automobile, email and, most recently, the mobile revolution.

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at some of these statistics:

The growth of the iPhone was 10 times faster than the growth of America Online. (Source: Neilson)

  • It takes 26 hours for the average person to report a lost or stolen wallet. It takes 68 minutes for them to report a lost or stolen phone. (Source: Unisys)
  • 90 percent of all Americans who own one have their mobile device within reach 24/7. (Source: Morgan Stanley).
  • It takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email. It takes 90 seconds for the average person to respond to a text message. (Source: CTIA.org)
  • The average cell phone user picks up their phone every 6 minutes and looks at it about 150 times a day.
  • People have an average of 41 apps downloaded onto their phones.  And that number keeps growing.  It’s up from last year when the number was 32.

So the question is, how does your club, event or organization stack up? Do you have a mobile presence that you’re proud of or just some old-fashioned website that just shows up in miniature form when accessed on a mobile device?

What’s the difference between a Mobile app and a Mobile Website?

In my last post, I highlighted the importance for every small business of developing a mobile optimized website. That often leads to the question, What is the difference between a mobile app and a mobile website?

There are a number of technical differences, which I’ll get to in a moment but, since our company is called Gameday Mobile Marketing, rather than Gameday Mobile Apps or Gameday Mobile Websites, let’s first address the key differences from a marketing point of view.

In a nutshell, a mobile app is a great way to interact with your existing customer base, while a mobile site, is a great way to attract new customers. It’s not always that cut and dried, but this is a pretty good place to start.

Because an app actually resides on the end user’s phone, it’s sometimes referred to as a native app. And certain phone specific features are known in the industry as native functionality. So features that make use of the phone’s camera, or the phone’s GPS for directions, or the phone’s address book for sharing with friends, all set mobile apps apart from mobile websites.

Most of the data used to run a mobile app is right there on the phone and, therefore, load times are much faster and the app can be used even when internet access is spotty or non-existent. A mobile site, on the other hand, is just like a regular website, except that it’s optimized to look good on a mobile device.

If there’s no internet access, there’s no access to the site, and even with internet access, load times can sometimes be painfully slow, like taking a trip back in time to the 1990s, when all we had was dial up access (although this is improving as high speed wi-fi access is becoming more widespread.

Apps can also deliver Push Notifications (perhaps their most popular feature) while a mobile site can not, at least not at the time of writing. What’s more, when a mobile app is first launched, the user is asked point blank if they are willing to receive those push notifications. An affirmative answer to that question says something very important about the relationship between an app’s user and your company.

You see, by taking the step of downloading an app to their phone, a user has made a very clear statement about their relationship with you. Someone’s cell phone is a very personal item. Even among close friends and family members, there is a quiet etiquette evolving about when it may or may not be appropriate to look at someone else’s cell phone.

So it stands to reason that, if someone has downloaded you company’s app onto their device, there must be a certain level of trust between the customer and the business. That brings with it, not only great opportunity, but also responsibility. You can interact with your “appers” in a more friendly and intimate way, but must also be careful not to abuse your coveted place on their personal device.

You can offer certain discounts and “insider deals” that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate to just anyone who happens across your mobile site. And you can deepen and enrich the relationship you have with your customers.

So whenever anyone asks me whether they should invest in a mobile app of just do a mobile website, I usually shoot back with a question of my own. Are you interested in marketing to you existing customer base?  If the answer to that is “tes”, then a mobile app is probably the best way to go.

The First Thing About Mobile Marketing

I get asked all the time, “What if I don’t know the first thing about mobile marketing and I only have the time and budget to do one thing in order to start the ball rolling on this. What would you recommend I do?”

The answer is simple: Make sure your website is optimized for Mobile.

Up to 60% of online searches are now conducted on a mobile device – either a smart phone, iPod, iPad or some other form of tablet device. And yet fewer than 10% of small business websites are optimized for mobile. That means the first impression that 60% of your prospective customers are going to have of your business is likely to be a negative one.

Take a look at the images to the rightNo Text Website Looks Odd:

The phone on the left shows what a typical small business website looks like on a mobile device. It’s basically a miniature version of a desktop site – so miniature, in fact, that it can’t be read. Oh sure, you can turn the phone on its side and use the horizontal view. Now you can only see the top banner and the first few lines of text, and you’ve only increased the size by about 30% so you still can’t read it, much less use the navigation buttons to work your way through the site.

Far worse, is the phone on the right.

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Don’t Let Your “Web Guy” Handle Mobile

Let me start by saying that I don’t have anything against designers per se. Some of my favorite products have great designs (think Apple). My own son is currently studying at Mass Art in Boston. And, clearly, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would look pretty plain and ordinary were it not for the work of that great interior “designer” Michelangelo.

But in this day and age, you can’t afford to be “just” a designer.Web-Guy-Image

I’ve spent most of my career working at the intersection of design, technology and commerce. In fact, it’s precisely that combination of disciplines that drew me to the publishing industry in the first place. And while dealing with the technological and commercial issues is usually pretty straightforward, the design aspects are always made more complicated by the involvement of – you guessed it – designers!

I’ve discussed with a brilliant but eccentric art director whether it really is cost-effective to add a metallic ink to the traditional four-color magazine cover, just so that the logo will glisten a little more. I’ve also explained to a web designer that, while the sales page she designed may look beautiful, the analytics clearly show that this “ugly” one converts better.

I’m often baffled by the advertising industry’s propensity for awarding agencies based on how beautiful, or clever, or witty their ad campaigns are, but seldom for how much they improve sales.

The reason I write about this today is because Continue reading