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What does it take to make a popular app? Here are 7 key lessons for start-ups on how to excel at early-stage app marketing


Today’s competitive landscape has emphasized marketing’s growing inherency to a business’ success. However, the best marketing strategies may not always be obvious, particularly for start-ups still trying to find their feet in the market and industry.

Marketing for start-ups can be an overwhelming ordeal and often neglected due to the presumed excessive costs. The key to startup marketing success is maintaining a focus on efficiency – finding the best possible marketing solutions for a particular business.

A simple way to ensure marketing efficiency is planning the implementation of strategies at appropriate times. Poor timing can render even the best marketing tactic ineffective, and certain marketing strategies are better suited for certain stages of a campaign.

The early stages of an app start-up are crucial, but not necessarily worthy of expensive and highly developed marketing strategies. Instead, here are seven not-very-obvious lessons for early-stage marketing.

1. Marketing goals should be different for each startup stage

The startup lifecycle has three key phases: validation, commercialisation and expansion. Each phase should have different goals, designed to guide appropriate marketing strategies at each stage of your start-up’s development. The early stages for app start-ups should be focused on gaining feedback from real users to validate product demand.

Spending excessive money on marketing activities for the app’s soft launch is unnecessary, and would be better focused on the hard launch, when bugs have been ironed out and the product has been perfected to meet existing customer needs. During the validation period, focus on ensuring there are adequate channels for first users to provide feedback.

When the app has a clear purpose, need, and audience, the commercialisation phase can begin. This phase focuses on profitability, and therefore warrants larger marketing budgets.

2. Block out the white noise. Focus on strategy

Everyone has an opinion about marketing. While some can be helpful, taking advice from multiple sources can be overwhelming and distract from the start-up’s desired direction.

Among the clutter of others’ opinions, it’s important to devise a thorough strategy and stay focused. Although this requires a large investment of time and (potentially) money, a solid strategy will ensure particular milestones, outcomes, and deliverables are strived for and achieved.

3. Use the platforms your target audiences are using

Don’t fall into the trap of being on more platforms for the sake of reaching more people. Marketing budget and resources are better spent on targeting a concentrated group of people who are most likely to become active users. Early-stage marketing should be defined by controlled costs for reaching a hyper-targeted audience. This is where having a solid purpose, need, and audience for the app comes into fruition.

Online platforms can be advantageous if they are the most appropriate according to your objectives. i.e. if they’re the best way to reach and engage with your target audience. For example, paying for Instagram ads at 10am on Mondays would be useless if the target audience is corporate executives.

4. Hustle the right way with networking and collaboration

Attending meetups and start-up events to meet like-minded people in the industry can help startups make crucial contacts, particularly in their early stages of marketing. Introducing the business to others in the industry is a hugely under-emphasised acquisition strategy for getting a start-up’s first customers.

Use tools like LinkedIn to connect with other business people, mentors, potential partners, and freelancers. These types of communities can be valuable for getting a fast second opinion on who to work with, website design, product packaging, and more.

5. Practice the right level of stealth

It’s common for start-ups to feel insecure about potential copy cats, due to the competitive nature of the industry, causing them to ‘hold hostage’ their idea and any information about their business or product that other people could steal. However, complete concealment can be counter-productive for the business, as spreading ideas can accelerate and support the development and validation phases. Furthermore, when startups choose to give away nothing, they also give away the chance to receive valuable feedback.

At the very least, prepare to disclose target audiences, industry, and gap in the market. These can provide insights for potential investors and other business people, without revealing any key details about the app’s features and functions.

6. Focus on the product. Marketing is secondary

In the early-stages of the start-up lifecycle, the product is more important than the marketing. The aim of the business during this stage is to ensure the initial success of the product validates and justifies spending money on future marketing.

The majority of time and money should be spent on developing the product itself. That means focusing on logos and design collateral, performance testing, and ongoing maintenance and updates. Ensuring the product works in the first place, is crucial for the app’s first users. Once the first users are secured, their usage can be assessed to determine the most effective marketing strategies moving forward.

Without a strong product to market, even the best marketing strategies will fail.

7. Collect more data than anticipated

When it comes to data for marketing, more is more. The capabilities of contemporary digital technologies can track almost every customer action online and even offline, thus giving great insight into how people are using apps and interacting with brands. This data can then be used to optimise marketing spend.

Once data is collected, it then needs to be analysed. Before diving into the analysis, approach the data with a set of questions based on broader marketing and business goals. This will help the steer process and help find gold among the dirt.

Marketing for early-stage app startups doesn’t have to be rocket science. It’s based on the premise of identifying marketing goals that are appropriate for each phase in the process, and that focusing on a strong successful product comes first.

Logan Merrick is the Co-Founder and Director of Buzinga App Development


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