Marketing Your Shopify App: Networking and Partnerships

Marketing Your Shopify App: Networking and Partnerships

Networking to Grow: 2016Developers love to write and talk code. We can argue all day about GitHub vs. Bitbucket, whether to use tabs or spaces, or what’s the best JavaScript framework.

However, marketing a new app presents a unique challenge that can sometimes take us out of our comfort zones.

There are some important strategies and lessons that can help get your new app into the hands of merchants, but a vital skill central to your ability to grow your app is networking.

I don’t mean networking in the uncomfortable, “I’m going to conferences to hand out business cards to literally every person,” kind of way. Rather, you should focus on the kind of networking that sees you build partnerships with other software companies, or build networks of merchants who love and trust your products.

Using a network can lend authority and trust by having the network vouch for your product, open up partnership opportunities for mutual growth, and help you put your product in front of an audience when it’s most relevant or valuable.

This is Part 2 of a three part blog series on how to market your Shopify app. Part 1 covered the app listing page, and today, we’ll look at four ways you can build networks with merchants or other developers in order to expand your marketing efforts and grow your Shopify app.

You might also like: 8 Merchant-Driven Ideas For Your Next Shopify App

1. Expand your marketing network

As you approach your app launch (and after you’ve prepped your app listing page of course), you should start thinking about building partnerships with other developers. While it’s important that you build a great product that stands on its own merits, that doesn’t mean you have to be the only person promoting your app and encouraging merchants to use it.

Building marketing partnerships (also known as co-marketing) with other developers and agencies helps you offer additional value to your app users, while also expanding your marketing reach by leveraging your partners’ existing networks.

A great example of a marketing partnership is the one between Shopify and Zendesk. When Shopify goes on Retail Tour, a one week concept store that pops up in different North American cities, they often look for partners to support the events.

Zendesk does various presentations during the tour, and uses the opportunity to grow their brand awareness by supporting Shopify’s wide audience. Shopify benefits by having an industry leader lend their expertise to important merchant events. Shopify and Zendesk mutually benefit from this marketing partnership.Networking to Grow your Business: Zendesk

As a consumer, this kind of marketing is helpful since it’s relevant, in-context, and non-spammy; everyone involved benefits in some way.

When determining what kind of co-marketing efforts you’d like to pursue, keep in mind that your co-marketing should:

  • Help merchants access other services or tools that will improve their businesses.
  • Provide relevant recommendations or offers to merchants using your app(s).
  • Benefit both you and your co-marketing partners: you both should access new, engaged audiences, and possibly gain some form of compensation from the partnership.

If you’re an app developer, there are a few types of marketing partnerships you can pursue:

  1. You can reach out to other app developers whose apps complement your own, in terms of functionality or features offered. Either offer to promote one another’s apps on your respective websites, or provide a discount to one another’s users.
  2. If your app has frontend features, then partnering with theme developers to promote one another as recommended solutions can help you both gain exposure.
  3. You can work with agencies or Shopify Experts to recommend your apps, and in exchange, give their clients discounts or extended trials. The agency gets to offer their client an exclusive benefit while you become a preferred provider.

If Pizza Hut and Zynga can find ways to partner with one another successfully, chances are you can find other developers in the Shopify ecosystem to work with.

2. Build organic reach

Shopify merchants are the people (you hope) are using your apps, so in order to get them to notice you, you need to go where they go.

Find blogs, forums, Facebook groups, or other places that merchants will congregate (whether in person or online) to build word-of-mouth and organic growth. You could set up Google alerts (or use Mention) to get notified when people search for keywords in the Shopify forums or other public areas.

The key to promoting your app this way is to be helpful. If you comment on blog posts, forums, or on Facebook with a blatant promotion for your new app, you’ll often be ignored or even moderated. More importantly, you may create a bad impression of you and your business before merchants even have a chance to use your software.

Instead, actively engage with merchants in these channels. Help them solve problems. Not only will you learn more about what pain points merchants have (which you can in turn use to build better software), but when they need a solution again, they’ll think of you or your app.

Here’s an example of something we might look for in forums for our Product Customizer app:Networking to Grow: ForumsWe’d respond with a few steps. First, help the merchant fix the problem if the solution is evident (in this case, it was some broken HTML). Second, you could offer your app as a solution with something like this:

“If you need to add more monogramming options in the future, or you want an easy way to change them on a per-product basis, you could consider giving our app a try, which lets you create and modify options like this without any coding :)”

Aside from forums, you can also look to meet merchants in person. There are lots of existing Shopify meetups, or you could even host your own meetup to engage with merchants.

3. Build cross-platform solutions

Wait, what? If you want to build apps for Shopify, why should you build for other platforms?

First, you’ll learn a lot by engaging with merchants using different ecommerce solutions, helping you in turn improve the software you offer. You can see what certain platforms do well, what they could improve on, what they offer as part of their service, and what premium upgrades they offer. This lets you offer new features in your existing app, and can give you ideas for new ones.

Aside from improving your software, you can leverage social proof when you have other merchants using your software and build the network of merchants who trust your brand. Kissmetrics tells us that people are influenced by similar people — what better way to encourage merchants to use your app than to have other merchants already extolling its virtues?Networking to Grow: Testimonials

This testimonial from Stitch Labs is a great example. Merchants care more about your app solving their specific problem than what platform the merchant providing the testimonial is using. Offering apps across platforms gives you more opportunities to gather social proof, building trust in your brand along with your reputation.

You might also like: Why App Developers Should Use Shopify’s Integrated Billing

4. Integrate with other apps

Why are apps like Zapier so popular? They let you connect valuable parts of your business together. You can use Zapier to integrate different workflows to improve your business management. At ShopStorm, we use Zapier for everything; from syncing FreshBooks clients and invoices with QuickBooks online, to automatically creating GitHub issues for our apps when Trello cards are moved to "scheduled" on our idea board.

If we're evaluating a new tool, the ability to connect that tool to our existing workflows or to Zapier is a big consideration for us. That level of integration is valuable for any business, so building integrations into your Shopify apps can help you tip the scales in your favor.

A great example of this is Kit, which helps merchants automate marketing and store functions. Kit has an API available that lets apps integrate with it, automating marketing functions related to those apps.Networking to Grow: Kit

If I'm a merchant looking for an app to handle discounts, I have some great options. However, Product Discount already integrates with Kit, and can automate marketing discounts (for example, automatically generating Facebook ads). As a result, the ability to integrate with an app I already find valuable immediately makes Product Discount my first choice.

You can do the same thing with your apps; if there are other apps that would complement your app (maybe even ones you’re co-marketing), see if there are ways they can work together. Both you and the other app developer can promote your apps as being compatible, letting prospective merchants know how easy it is to use these apps together, while also promoting one another.

Building different types of networks

Networking doesn’t just mean you want to meet and talk to as many people as you can. It means you want to build strategic partnerships to help both your apps, and the merchants using them, grow.

These partnerships can be based on co-marketing, building word-of-mouth referrals, or on interoperability to give your app a competitive advantage. Regardless of which networking strategies you choose to implement, the driving factor should be based on being helpful — help merchants find the solutions they need, help them use solutions together seamlessly, and help other developers grow. In turn, they’ll help you promote and grow your own apps.

In Part 3 of this blog series, we will investigate ways to improve your app by making it more appealing to prospective merchants, and how to retain or upsell to existing merchants.

You might also like: Marketing Your Shopify App: The Details We Overlook

About the Author

Beka Rice works at ShopStorm, a team of ecommerce Experts and Shopify app developers. ShopStorm offers ready-to-use apps such as Product Customizer, while also providing a range of customization and consulting services for merchants using several ecommerce platforms.

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