Cell phone usage is consistently going up and up, with more and more people using their smartphone for everyday tasks from simply browsing the web, to following their interests and passions, through to shopping and paying bills.

With this rise in online smartphone usage, mobile apps have also creased in number and variety.

The question is, as a marketer, how can you benefit from mobile apps?

What Are Mobile Apps?

Just in case you’ve spent the last decade or so in a cabin in the woods, here’s a little mobile app primer:

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  • Mobile apps are small applications (programs) that are installed on a smartphone
  • They have a variety of uses, from games and frivolity, through to productivity.
  • They can be free to purchase, or cost a small amount of money (averaging a few bucks each).
  • They earn their makers money through purchase cost, advertisements, in-app purchases, or even affiliate marketing.

Apps are designed specifically for downloading and using on phones. What I’m not talking about here is websites that look good on mobile phones, though sometimes they get lumped with the app label.

Do You Need an App?

This is the big question that a lot of marketers may not even think about before jumping on the app band wagon.

There are two broad types of apps from a marketer’s perspective:

  1. An app to simply make money from
  2. An app to complement an existing business

Each of these styles of apps has their pros and cons.

Most often, creating an app to support an existing business/product/service is the least risky way of going.

These apps are sometimes monetized, but are just as often free and simply there as lead generation or added value for customers.

A good example of this would be a banking app. A bank generally doesn’t charge for the app, but provides a lot of features such as balance checking and even bill payment.

The bank offsets the cost of creating and maintaining the app by firstly having a direct connection to their customer that can be used to upsell additional services, and secondly by offsetting costs against customers coming into the branch to do basic things.

Creating an app with the sole purpose of generating income is risky, though no more so that creating a website with the intention of making money.

Creating an app like this takes a lot of forethought and planning, and knowing the risks involved. Internet and mobile app users are a picky bunch and it doesn’t take much to fall out of favor and have your app removed from their phone.

There are many different ways to look at apps for profit; here are some common ones that marketers tend to use:

  • Product finding
  • Product comparison
  • Recipes
  • Diet Trackers
  • Inspirational apps
  • The list goes on!

The riskiest app of all is a game.

Games are not only hard to make but are very subjective. They really only make decent money (millions) if they become viral, as creating them is less about the science of knowing what people want and more of an art form. I mean who would have anticipated that Flappy Birds would be the runaway viral success that it was?

Flappy Bird

That being said, companies such as King or Rovio find a formula and stick with it milking as much as they can, and both are multi-million dollar enterprises!

Games then should not be shied away from but definitely should be researched and thought out before making any investments.

The next step of your app journey would be to take your idea and make it.

All Aboard!

The first thing to consider is your platform. There are several out there, but the big 3 would be Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Window’s phone platform.

As each one is different, you would need to have an app coded for each one.

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Currently Android has the biggest market share in the US based on operating system, but Apple’s App Store has history to it and a fanatical user base.

Personally I’d go with either Android or iOS as they are the biggest players in the mobile market, and which one is ultimately up to you and your developer!

smartphone market share Smartphone market share. Screenshot from Statista.com

Are Apps Easy to Make?

There are 3 broad ways to get an app made: code it yourself, hire a professional or use a service.

Coding by Hand

This is the most labor intensive way to get an app made and requires coding skills. IT will take time and effort to get an app built this way, but is perhaps the cheapest (in terms of initial outlay, not time), and most flexible option. You may still need to outsource where you lack certain skills, such as graphics or sound.

Hire Someone

There are plenty of app developers out there nowadays hungry for work. Finding someone who is capable and at a reasonable price is always the hardest thing though, not matter what you are trying to achieve.

A Google search or trying freelance sites like Upwork is most likely your best bet in finding a decent developer.

However, be prepared to pay a premium, as a 2014 report suggests that your average mobile app can cost $270,000.

56 percent of mobile leaders surveyed say it takes from 7 months to over 1 year to build one app and 18 percent say they spend from $500,000 to over $1,000,000 per app.

Obviously you can get an app created for much less than this, but just keep in mind that costs can spiral.

If you’re looking to hire an app developer, Entrepreneur.com has a list of handy interview questions.

Use an App Builder

Web technologies now make it even easier for people to build websites, and making an app is no different.

There are numerous services out there that allow you to make games and business apps via simple drag and drop systems.

Of course, there are limitations with each service, such as platform, costs, flexibility, and revenue but these app builders allow you to create an app at a fraction of the cost of hiring a developer and a fraction of the time it would take to manually code one.

These sites should get you started, but remember to read their terms:

Monetizing an App

Depending on your app style and how you built it (not all app builders allow for revenue making apps), you can use a suprising variety of ways to monetize your app.

Sell the App

The most obvious way to make money with a mobile app is to sell it! Having an upfront cost can certainly bring in revenue, but the cons are that it can be a barrier to entry for people and that there are usually free alternatives to your app (obviously depending on what you’ve made!).

Another option would be to have a premium version of the app. This could provide additional features and benefits or simply remove any adverts from the free version.


The bread and butter of making money online, and it continues with apps.

It isn’t however, the best way to make money as the revenue per click is often pennies. However, clicking adverts often happens more often on a mobile due to their size and forcing people to watch or view an advert is very easy to do.

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Lots of people do get frustrated with adverts, so combining this with a premium version is often an effective method of income generation.

In-app Purchases

Also called microtransactions, in-app purchases are most commonly seen in games. Here you can buy extra gold, health, weapons, etc. that can improve your gameplay or make it easier. These purchases can become a huge money maker for the app developers, much more than advertisements.

The hardest part with microtransactions, is making them unnecessary (as in they are not needed to use the app) but desirable.

Also, microtransactions within a business app are hard to do as there is usually little incentive for a user to purchase them.

Affiliate Marketing

Good old affiliate marketing, it can come in useful even in mobile apps.

This is especially so if your app caters towards product comparison or product finding, as you can link the user out to the web store with your affiliate link.

Promoting an App

Once your app is finalized and in the app store, you need to promote it. This is especially the case nowadays simply due to the vast number of apps and games that are available. Google Play has 1.6 million apps, Apple App Store has 1.5 million.

You need to stand out from the crowd!

Having a website for your app is a must, and therefore you can use standard internet marketing tactics to funnel users there: SEO, mobile and web advertising, social media, content marketing, etc.

With an app there are other things you need to consider.

The App Description

Properly wording your app description is really important. This is used as a basis for search terms, so make sure it is natural but keyword rich.

Use Beta Testers

Using your website as a launch pad, find and make use of beta testers before adding the app to the marketplace.

Not only can you gain some important and useful feedback prior to release, you can make sure as many bugs as possible are squashed.

The marketing use of these beta testers is to instantly have a small audience when you launch. You can leverage them to share the launch news and spread the word about your app.


Pre sell your app release to influencers in the appropriate niche, let them know about the app ahead of time and remind them regarding the launch date. Giving them a review copy is a good idea too.

Remember that marketing your app is no different from marketing your website or product or business: it’s a long term endeavour. Therefore make sure you have a plan and schedule in place so that you and your team know what needs to be done and when.

The Bottom Line

Creating an app is not an easy process. It requires a lot of forethought, and research. If you opt for hiring a developer it will take time and money to produce. Finally the marketing and app maintenance are both ongoing things that need to be considered and budgeted for.

Creating an app for the sake of it is generally pointless but if you have a clear idea and goals, then jumping onto the app band wagon can be very rewarding both professionally and financially.

Have you created an app before? Share your experience in the comments below.

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