App Distribution: Alternative Routes to Market for Android Developers

Jul 03, 2019
By: Marissa Camilli

For many Android app developers, the Google Play Store is the only route to market. However, this approach can be somewhat limiting because the Google Play Store, despite being the default app store on most Android devices, doesn’t reach everyone in the Android ecosystem.

In fact, depending on who you are trying to target – your app may never achieve its full potential if your marketing strategy is limited to promotional activities within the confines of the Google Play Store. 

No other product or service would limit itself to a single marketing channel. So why shouldn’t app developers explore other options to position their apps in front of the right person at the right time?

The question you need to ask yourself is: If I want to reach more of the right people, should my app delivery strategy be more “multi-channel”?

But first …

What’s Wrong with the Google Play Store?

At first glance, absolutely nothing. The Google Play store is the number one route to market for app developers. It’s the first place the majority of smartphone users will turn to when they are looking for app recommendations or want to download the latest “must have” app. As such, we recommend all app developers should include and optimize their app listings on the Google Play Store.

However, this doesn’t mean the Google Play Store isn’t without its problems.

While it could be argued that the Google Play Store has created a level playing field, where app developers can compete regardless of size and marketing budget, this isn’t always the case.

In a highly competitive market, there are currently more than 3.3 million apps available on the Google Play Store, getting your app seen can be something of a challenge. To remain visible and drive engagement, app developers need to invest in an ongoing App Store Optimization (ASO) program and paid promotion strategy.

Getting to the top of a category in the Google Play Store and staying there can be really expensive – and this is before you take into account the fact that Google will receive 30 percent of any revenues you generate from premium downloads or via in-app purchases.

Note: The high cost of in-app purchases was just one reason why games developer Epic decided to sidestep the Google Play Store when launching the Android version of Fortnite.

Further Reading: Will Epic Games Change The Way Smartphone Users Download Apps?

Successful exploitation of the Google Play Store, like any other marketing channel, requires app developers to get their heads around concepts like cost per acquisition and customer lifetime value. Until you know these figures – you will never truly understand the profit potential of your app.

It’s also important to remember when your marketing budget dries up, your apps will lose visibility.

There are other issues app developers need to be aware of when focusing all their efforts on the Google Play Store. The most pressing, and perhaps sounding somewhat counter-intuitive when we are discussing the world’s biggest app store, is the fact that the vast majority of smartphone users don’t actually download apps from app stores.

More Than Half of Smartphone Users Don’t Download Apps

A recent study suggested that 51 percent of smartphone users downloaded zero apps every month. Those who do actively download apps tend to do so very sparingly with 13 percent downloading just one app per month, 11 percent downloading two, 8 percent downloading three, 5 percent downloading four, and 7 percent downloading five to seven apps. At the top of the scale, only 5 percent of smartphone users download more than eight apps every month.

There are many reasons why people don’t download apps from the Google Play Store. These include limited device memory, limited wi-fi connectivity, fear of fraud, or just lack of interest. If you are going to reach these people, you’re going to have to get a little more strategic about your app distribution plans.

Alternative App Stores

The Google Play Store isn’t the only Android app store on the market. However, most of the big players (either independently operated or offered by smartphone manufacturers and mobile networks) have the same problems as the Google Play Store concerning competition and trust (compounded with much smaller user-bases).

Is it worth making your app available on these platforms? Yes – but pick them wisely. An app store operated by the likes of Amazon (the Amazon App Store is the default choice for owners of Kindle Fire devices) or Samsung will have a considerable user-based and therefore have the potential to distribute apps in volume. Others might not have the same reach. As you will have to invest time, effort and money in optimizing these secondary app stores just like you would on the Google Play Store, you may find smaller app stores don’t deliver the same bang for your buck as the big guys. Don’t be a busy fool and try and work with everyone.

Alternative Distribution Strategies

Thanks to Android’s open platform it is possible to distribute apps outside of the app store environment.

Apps can be made available for download via your own site or even by email.

This can be an attractive route to market if you have a high-traffic website, extensive social media following or extensive email subscriber base.

By offering your apps direct to users, you may be able to bypass those hefty Google Play Store fees for premium (paid) app downloads and in-app purchases. However, while this might be an incredibly lucrative strategy for high profile apps, such as the aforementioned Fortnite, for most developers this strategy may not be worth the additional development time to create a standalone application (completely outside of the Google Play eco-system which will manage things like payments and subscriptions).

Trust and Security

The biggest challenge app developers have in going direct is one relating to trust and security. Users will be very wary about downloading an application or sharing credit card details with an organization they are not familiar with.  As such, conversions (downloads) may be limited and fail to deliver an acceptable return-on-investment. It’s also worth pointing out if you are delivering apps via a website or email – there is a greater potential for piracy and fraud.

Because of this, most developers who promote their apps via their websites and email, tend to direct users back to the, you guessed it, Google Play Store. The reason for this is simple. Online marketing is difficult enough – why do something that will ultimately restrict your conversions – when a perfectly usable (and secure) solution is at hand.

It’s also worth noting that 30 percent of nothing is nothing – so don’t try and save money by cutting off your supply.

Between a Rock and Hard Place

OK, we may be painting a rather bleak picture here. App developers have a choice between investing heavily in App Store Optimization and then giving a further substantial sum of money away in the event of a download and future engagement, or spending a considerable amount of time, effort and money promoting an app via an environment which might not be suited to most smartphone users and will definitely restrict downloads and any future potential.

Thankfully, there are a number of alternative and highly successful routes to market.

SingleTap™ Installs

For app developers who want to emulate Epic Games and offer their apps direct to their public, Digital Turbine’s SingleTap™ solution takes care of all the heavy lifting involved with such a distribution strategy.

The SingleTap™ soluton does exactly what it says on the tin — it downloads an app from a simple link or banner on a website or email from a single tap. By bypassing the Google Play store, users do not experience the disjointed brand experience of jumping from website to app store to app and save money by avoiding the 30% tariff charged by the marketplace.

As well as maintaining brand integrity and saving money on acquisition fees, this creates opportunities for app developers to explore alternative (more low cost) app marketing strategies, including email marketing, social media marketing and content marketing.

The SingleTap solution is particularly beneficial to organizations with high traffic websites, large email lists and social media followings. But what if you are starting from a less prominent position?

Pre-Loaded Apps

Digital Turbine helps developers of all shapes and sizes deliver pre-loaded apps to highly engaged audiences all over the world.

A pre-loaded app is presented to the smartphone user at the time of maximum device engagement – the moment of unboxing. Pre-loaded apps can be targeted by device, geography, network, and many other criteria, ensuring your app is essentially delivered to the right person at the right time.

Pre-loading takes the problem of discoverability out of the equation. Your app is available from the moment a device is first activated. In fact, pre-loading may be your only chance to favorably position an app in front of the 51 percent of smartphone users who never visit the Google Play Store. It also guarantees user trust and dramatically reduces the risk of marketing fraud.

Further Reading: How Pre-Loading Apps Can Help Developers Circumnavigate Fraud.

A pre-loaded app is primed for engagement and will not disappear from view the moment your marketing budget runs out or a competitor prices you out of the market. This means engagement does not end just because your campaign has.

Further Reading: Smartphone Apps with a Future – Long Tail Profitability.

Depending on your target market, we may even be able to guarantee engagement with our Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) pricing strategy.

If you are looking for a real alternative to the Google Play Store, Pre-Loading your apps across Digital Turbines network of device manufacturers, and mobile networks will almost certainly give you’re the edge.

To learn more about pre-loading your app, speak to one of our app marketing and distribution experts today.

Marissa Camilli
By Marissa Camilli
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