Marketing Buys Attention and That's It

When Apple Music launched on June 30, 2015, Jim Dalrymple interviewed Eddie Cue and Jimmy Iovine on The Loop. As Jim put it:

When I asked Cue how he would try to convince people that Apple Music was better than competing services, he said, “Ultimately, you can’t convince them, it’s just got to be better.”

Leading up to launch day, Cue, Iovine, Trent Reznor and others made the rounds, spreading the word about Apple Music. That's marketing. But as Cue's response reveals, convincing people that Apple Music is better than alternatives is something altogether different.

The reason that this particular bit of Dalrymple's interview struck me is that it demonstrates an understanding of marketing that I think too many app developers lack. The job of marketing is to get your app noticed, but that's it.

This might seem obvious and simple, but it's lost on many people. Part of the problem is that the cost of marketing is typically clear, but the benefits are a mixture of imperfectly measurable sales and less concrete benefits, like brand recognition, that are hard to measure. Faced with this, there is a tendency to focus on measurable dollars only, a mentality that leads to reductive statements like "I spent $1000 to advertise my app but only made $400," which conflates marketing with sales.

It is important to recognize, however, that when you market your app, you are not buying sales, you are buying attention. Marketing is simply a "Hey! Look at me!" sort of thing, which is not to diminish its importance. In a crowded App Store, getting noticed is harder than ever and effective marketing is critical. But once everyone is looking, you better have something to show off because the attention is fleeting at best.

Analytics are imperfect, but now that iTunes Connect shows how many app store views your app has day-to-day, you can get a much better picture of the attention garnered when you spend marketing dollars. If the attention outstrips the sales, you may need to reconsider aspects of your app and how it is presented in the store. Marketing is necessary to get you noticed, but it isn't sufficient to drive sales by itself.

Which brings me back to Eddie Cue's comment to Jim Dalrymple. The App Store is a big place with around 1.5 million apps. "If you build it, [they] will come" only works in the movies. You have to find ways to get the attention of potential customers. With enough money, you can buy an awful lot of attention, but if your app isn't better than alternatives, the attention won't get you very far. Neither is sufficient by itself. Both are necessary and just one of the many reasons why running an app business is hard.