Having played around with a number of apps now, I've been surprised at how little thought is sometimes given to the monetization of an app in the Windows Store. My guess is that its because many developers focus so much on the implementation of the app's functionality that they don't necessarily leave time to think through business-related aspects like monetization. I would also guess that many developers don't even feel qualified to think about such things, and thus punt on the question.

With monetization, the Windows Dev Center does have a topic entitled Monetization and business models, that really lists the different options and links to some helpful details on them. What I want to do here in this next series of posts is add some thoughts to those pages. I'm not claiming to be an expert on these matters by any means, but there are some observations that I think can be helpful in your app efforts, many of which, are really about speaking to a customer's emotional reality rather than their rational mind, as purchasing decisions in the one or ten dollar range (as with most apps) is an emotional matter. I think this is something that most product marketers will tell you time an again.

Our first topic, then, is offering app trials and converting trials into full licenses.

The Windows Store, as you may have already seen, allows you to offer a "try-before-you-buy" license for paid apps (see How to create a trial version of your app). When you enable a trial (which can be time limited), the user will see a "Try" button alongside the "Buy" button on the app's page in the Store. Clearly, this gives potential customers a chance to really know what they're buying, and because the app knows it's running a trial license it can disable certain features and take opportunities to encourage the user to upgrade.

What's surprised me about a number of paid apps is that (a) they don't offer a trial at all, and (b) those that do offer a trial don't take opportunities to remind me to convert to a full paid version.

So here's my short list of good practices for paid apps–again, I won't call them "best" because I don't have experience in how well these work, but they seem like common sense to me:

  • If you set a price for your paid app, always always offer a trial. Otherwise you're asking users to buy the app either on reputation or your product page alone. Perhaps if the app is famous you can skip the trial, but until then, this feature is, in my mind, essential.
  • Trials can be time-limited or feature-limited or both. Spend some time thinking about what your free/trial experience should be like. You want to give the user enough to really experience the app, but only enough to be a real teaser for buying the full app. Think of this like the movies. A feature-limited trial is like a movie trailer: you get a good taste, but not the full experience. Hopefully the trailer makes you hungry for the real thing! A time-limited trial, on the other hand, is like a movie rental: you get to enjoy the full thing for a time, after which you need to make a decision to own to continue the experience.
  • Trials are different from demo apps–I'll talk about those in another post.
  • The Store tracks time-limited trials by date, but you can certainly implement a time-of-use limit in the app itself, like games that allow 60 minutes of play time or such. This can be an effective way to focus the user's attention on the need to decide whether to buy.
  • Trials should remind the user–often, but not obnoxiously so–that they are running a trial. Think through every opportunity to remind the user of the features they're missing, how much time they have left to enjoy the app, and the benefits of buying ('ve been surprised how many trial apps never remind me at all!). Put yourself in the customer's place, of course, to you communicate to their needs and sensibilities and not yours as the developer.
  • With reminders, I think it's effective to use them to disrupt the flow of the app in key places (especially launching). You want the reminders to be just annoying enough that the user will want to get rid of them. In movie trailers, you build up energy but then leave the audience hanging, wanting to know the answer or the resolution. You can take the same approach here: let the user go through most of the experience of an app, but then break that flow near its climax with a little reminder. Again, play to the user's emotions, because app purchasing is generally an emotional decision.
  • If the user runs the app after it's expired, don't just say "the app is expired" but remind them what they're missing and remind them of any state or history they've built up in the app. For example, a note-taking app can say "You've written down 150 notes and reminders–upgrade now to keep them" or "You're only 200 points away from <some achievement>. Upgrade now to earn your next award!" In other words, remind the user of the key experiences or connections they might have had with the app (emotional) rather than the mere fact of an expired trial (rational).

Do you have other ideas? Please share them in the comments!

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