Slopes Diaries #34: Passive vs Active

Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.

What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.

I always have been ... one might say squeamish ... about upselling my premium IAPs within Slopes. Which is of course silly because Slopes Premium is the lifeblood of the app and the only reason I'm able to build and grow the product (vs selling user data or monetizing some other way). But after all, this upselling is basically marketing, and we all know most developers are allergic to marketing. 😅

Many of us take a lot of pride our craft and the designs we polish for our products. There is some purity that we feel we are losing when we upsell, that we're adding a dirty ad inside our otherwise beautifully created products. (see: recent iOS community opinions on Apple upselling their services within their own free apps).

When I'm working on Slopes, I often initially treat the premium features as things I hope users will naturally stumble on or just instinctively want and seek out. "Slopes is known for the 3D, so of course that is why they're downloading it, so they'll be looking for it in-app! So that one '3D' button on that single screen is enough!" It's kinda the "if you build it they will come" mentality a lot of golden-era iPhone app developers had about their own apps, but for the new freemium world. Build great features backed by an IAP and they will pay, no in-app marketing required.

Spoilers: way more often than not they don't know much about your product at all.

What's obvious to you is never to them, and there's good odds they didn't even look at all your App Store screenshots where you highlight these features. They just typed "ski tracker" and downloaded the first result that wasn't a game.

Talking to my users has backed up this: I'm hearing over and over this season from users that they had no idea how awesome the premium features in Slopes were, and if they had known they would have upgraded a lot sooner.

A great example of this is how I advertised the 3D feature compared to how I reworked it for this season. In past seasons I actually went out of my way to minimize the upsell (I mean, god, look at that low-contrast and tiny text) and provide free users with some kind of alternative feature (a 2d map):

I'm still a little squeamish looking at that last screenshot.

I've realized that I can't just hide away the premium features on some "About Slopes Premium" screen on the About tab, keep the app clean by shoving all that upselling to one dirty little corner of the app. I need to make the premium features discoverable along the user's natural usage so they'll know they want them.

These kinds of mistakes aren't new for me and Slopes, of course. I've always been bad at framing the conversation around an itch they want to scratch, something they want, vs just a list of features:

That change to the unlock block has made a pretty big difference. Framing the upsell in terms of their own content, that thing that they're coming to the screen to check out: "which run did I hit my top speed on, and where on the mountain was that?" has been much more effective.

With these change in place, this season was the first in which I received complaints (2 app store reviews) that the ads for premium were too much. Some people really don't like to be reminded that they are missing out on things.

If anything though, just like pricing, if no one was complaining I probably wasn't doing enough.

And you know what? They're using my app for free, they can deal with a few ads like this (which I'd much prefer over third-party ads with nasty tracking).

All of this is certainly a balance. You can go too far and litter your app with upsell ads. You don't want to loose effectiveness by having too many ads on screen at a time (even little lock icons everywhere), as people will start to get blind to it. In my opinion it's important to try to focus one call to action per screen. Figure out the most important thing on that screen that they can unlock, and focus on marketing that. If you can unlock a lot on a screen, maybe figure out a way to condense that into one upsell, or pick the most important feature and focus just on that. Advertise the other features elsewhere.