Behind the App: Laura Mustard Shares Her Secrets To Marketing An App
ChAIR Entertainment is one of the top game developers on iOS. Year after year, they create some of the most anticipated and impressive games on the platform. Their Infinity Blade series created and popularized an entirely new sub-genre of action RPGs and has made the company a fortune. Thanks in part to the series’ boundary-pushing graphics and chasm-deep gameplay, Apple has invited members of ChAIR on stage during press events to show off the power of new iOS devices. Not bad for a company that hadn’t released a mobile game until 2010.
Laura Mustard has been with ChAIR Entertainment since its inception in 2005. She oversees marketing and communications for the company, and manages relationships with their creative partners. If there’s one person in the mobile space who thinks outside the box when it comes to marketing mobile apps, it’s her.
I chatted with Mustard over email to gain some insight into how she does what she does. As it turns out, her role in marketing ChAIR’s games starts very early in the development process. She says, “One of the benefits to being embedded within the game development team at ChAIR is that I gain a lot of insight into the game’s design from early on and have the ability to help shape unique hooks or build in partnerships that become some of the pillars of how we begin generating interest in the game.”
For smaller developers who often wear many hats (programmer, marketer, sales person, etc.) this kind of early access to their apps is a given. And it may sound obvious, but it’s true: The best way to generate interest in your app is to flaunt what makes it special. If your app doesn’t have a “hook” or anything to make it stand out among similar apps, it would be difficult for even the best marketing professional to spread the word about it.
Mustard goes on to say, “We never feel compelled or rushed to announce a game before it’s ready, even if that means we pass up some great promotional opportunities. We take our time to understand exactly what the game is, find what makes it truly unique and let the game influence our announcement strategy.” In other words, your marketing strategy completely depends on the strengths of your particular app. Don’t just look at what other app developers are doing and copy their marketing techniques. Think of unique ways to illustrate what’s most interesting about your app.
By way of example, Mustard says, ChAIR has “partnered with #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson on Infinity Blade with a series of novellas that allowed us to further expand the game’s story. Our partnership with acclaimed animator Ben Hibon enabled us to create an Infinity Blade animated short that provided a different take on that story. And we were super excited to work with the band Imagine Dragons, who wrote an original song that we were able to debut in Infinity Blade III.”
Smaller developers may not have access to famous authors, animators, and bands to help market their apps, but these are creative marketing angles that not even other big developers have used. As ChAIR has grown as a company, Mustard says, “One of the most valuable things I’ve learned working in games is that you don’t always need a massive budget to do really cool, effective marketing. Big budgets are great, but smaller budgets force you to get more creative (and careful!) with how and where you use your dollars and also finding new ways to build more awareness.”
Key to any successful marketing campaign is getting the press interested in your work. Mustard says, “We place a great deal of importance on creating assets that show the game at its very best, whether it be key art, screenshots, or video.”
If you pay attention to their marketing campaigns, you’ll notice that ChAIR tends to tease out information about their upcoming titles and major updates in a controlled manner designed to pique the interest of their target market. This helps to generate and build buzz for weeks before the new content is launched.
Knowing which press outlets are likely to influence your potential customers is also important. “We’ll often reach out to a few key, trusted journalists before the game is announced and see how they respond to certain elements of the game–do the features we feel are unique stand out to them too? Are they drawn to other elements of the game that we didn’t anticipate as much? Are they interested enough to partner with on exclusive coverage of the game?”
This approach applies equally well to non-game apps. Would Daring Fireball’s audience be interested in the app you’re working on? If so, be sure to send a preview build to John Gruber.
One more recent marketing approach ChAIR is taking is direct communication with fans of the games, “whose opinions and feedback we value tremendously,” Mustard says. “We’ve definitely shifted our approach to marketing to allow us to strengthen that community and to provide fans with better direct access to us through forums, social channels, our new ChAIRGAMES YouTube channel, the new InfinityBlade.com website, and additional programs we’ve been implementing to help us share even more with fans.”