Marketing a destination mobile app – the sweat equity approach
More than half of the adults in the United States alone already own smartphones. Look around any coffee shop to see why you want your destination’s information behind those ubiquitous mobile screens.
For destination marketers, there are dozens of reasons to consider an app in addition to a mobile-optimized website. In our opinion, the three most significant are:
- Generating new content: Access to built-in cameras, which are game-changing tools for destination-based photography and writing
- Sharing to Facebook: All app actions — such as new photos and itinerary items — are just a tap away from Facebook with single-sign-on implemented.
- Marketing with push notification: 30-70% of new app users opt-in to receiving notifications. In our experience, notification “tap-rates” are significantly higher than email click rates.
If you are tasked with generating content about your destination, developing destination-based buzz on social media, or marketing to prospective visitors, at some point you’re going to want to a branded mobile application.
Your app is a long-term investment
First, the bad news:
- Success in the app space requires a baseline standard of quality that includes excellent content, a clear user interface, and ongoing engagement. Only after this baseline is met can you expect to find success building a user base. Even then, there are no shortcuts. Like anything else worthwhile, a successful app is a long-term strategic investment.
The good news:
- You are not a small, independent app developer releasing a first-time app from her garage. As a DMO, you have tremendous assets to leverage in marketing your app, and many of them are free.
Get started with sweat equity instead of paid advertising
Paid mobile advertising is tricky for a new, free app. Until you have established the lifetime value of a user, and a churn rate, it’s very difficult to determine how much you should pay for an install.
While there are a slew of cost-per-click options targeting mobile devices and specializing in apps – Apple’s iAds, Google’s AdMob, Facebook and Twitter mobile-targeted ads – before paying for clicks, we strongly recommend establishing a baseline of users to first get an understanding for what they’re worth to your organzation.
Six free (or inexpensive) channels
1. Message mobile website visitors
- Financial investment: $0
- Time investment: A couple of hours of developer time. Your app developer may provide this for service for free.
2. Leverage email list, Facebook fans, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr followers
You already have a base of people who are interested in your destination. This audience will be the most receptive to your new asset.
But don’t just tell them about the new app. Instead, ask them to contribute to it in a meaningful way and provide an incentive.
For example, give away a night at a hotel to someone who performs an action within the app, such as submits a photo. Many your fans already have photos of your destination on their phone from the last time they visited.
- Financial investment: $0
- Time investment: Crafting clever promos and managing an editorial contest can take anywhere from 3 to 40 or more hours, depending on the size of your audience.
3. Display stickers in local business – free
Many business owners display TripAdvisor, Yelp and Foursquare stickers in their windows, even though they have no control over how their businesses are represented on those sites.
Your member businesses should more receptive to displaying your app’s stickers because they have some control over how they are represented.
A regular sticker will do, although it’s also worth exploring QR-code stickers, those futuristic-looking patterns, which are an up-and-coming way for users to point-and-download.
- Financial investment: Highly variable depending on design and printing choices, and the number of stickers required.
- Time investment: Sticker design, including research, can take anywhere 5-10 hours. Managing communication with local businesses will take a significant amount of time, but may be roped into other efforts.
4. Negotiate for signage
Whether it’s inside a visitors bureau, on sandwich board on the street, on a billboard, or on a well-placed sign at a festival, a sign is a great way to get installs.
If possible, make it your sign flexible so you can include a message about time-sensitive incentives available inside the app.
- Financial investment: Highly variable depending on design and printing choices and if the media is free or paid.
- Time investment: Sign design, including research, can take anywhere 5-10 hours. Time spent negotiating for media depends on your relationships with the players.
5. Promote to locals
Your app should be good enough that locals want to use it too, as contributors, and consumers. There are a few ways to approach the local market.
Get the app reviewed in the local paper, magazine or radio station.
Arrange to promote photos from your app in local newspapers or on TV, for example, showcasing the best photos from an event on the local news.
Hire locals for freelance gigs, such as a $250 freelance photography gig. Post ads for the gig in the local paper or Craigslist.
- Financial investment: $0 – $300
- Time investment: 5-10 hours.
6. Leverage cities, towns, neighborhoods
Within your destination may be smaller localities with their own fanbases and followers. These sub-regional groups tend to have a very strong pull with locals.
City promotional agencies, chambers of commerce, winery organizations, and other industry alliances are good bets. Tap these organizations to get new faces, and content, flowing through your app.
Only after we fully explore these six channels will we consider a click-based advertising campaign.
Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.