Marketing with App Store promo codes

Promo codes have been around since the early days of the App Store and are one of the most basic forms or marketing, yet they are often forgotten about and not used to their full potential. If you’ve launched an app and had some promo codes left over it probably means you could have done a better job at marketing.

In this article I cover what you need to know about promo codes along with how best to use them for marketing.

Things you should know about promo codes

When a user redeems a promo code it acts as if they have bought the app, however because they used a code they won’t be able to leave a review. I think Apple did this to prevent developers from giving away all of their codes to friends and family in return for perfect five star reviews. I’m not sure if apps downloaded using promo codes count towards your chart position (I doubt it), but even if they do, one hundred copies is pretty insignificant so it probably doesn’t matter either way.

Here are some of the most salient points you should be aware of:

  • Customers aren't able to rate or review an app download via a promo code
  • Promo codes are only valid for 4 weeks
  • You now get 100 codes per version of an app (it used to be 50)
  • You can’t generate promo codes for in-app purchases (yet)
  • You can’t sell or accept any form of payment for a promo code
  • To request a promo code the apps status must be “Ready for Sale”, “Pending Developer Release”, or “Pending an Apple Release”
  • Only an admin with the “legal role” assigned to them in iTunes connect can generate promo codes
  • [Update] You can't request a promo code when the app is “Processing for App Store” (thanks @vslavik)

It’s interesting that Apple specifically calls out the fact that you can’t sell or profit from promo codes (it's in the contract you agree to each time you generate a new code). I’d imagine this is in place to protect Apple’s 30% cut.

How to generate promo codes

To generate a promo code you need to log into iTunes Connect. Go to the My Apps section, choose the app you want to redeem a promo code for and scroll right to the bottom of the page. Hidden under Additional Information you’ll find the Promo Codes link. You then have to go through a multi-step process of agreeing to a contract and then downloading a file with the promo code(s) in.

iTunes Connect Promo Codes

It’s slow to redeem promo codes via iTunes Connect, but thankfully there is a better way…

I’ve been using Tokens from Supertop for years and can highly recommend it. It’s a native Mac app that does the promo code dance for you in the background. Tokens can also track promo code usage, perfect to find out if that press contact you emailed earlier in the week has had a chance to check out your app yet.

Tokens for Mac

Using promo codes to your advantage

Promo codes offer the perfect way for members of the media to get a copy of your app before it’s live on the App Store. This means journalists can have a review of your app ready for the same day as your app is launched. This is an essential ingredient for every successful app launch!

Smaller blogs and even some of the bigger tech sites often have competitions where they give away promo codes for a bunch of apps. If you notice a site doing this you should email them and see if they’d like to do the same for your app. It’s great exposure and like all good marketing, it’s free. If you can time competitions with the launch of your app, even better.

You’ve nothing to gain by hoarding promo codes, so you may as well use them all up. If you have plenty of spare codes you should organise monthly give-aways, competitions, and find notable people that might be interested in your app.

Here’s an overview of just some of the ways you can use promo codes:

  • Offer promo codes to journalists so they can review your app in time for its planned launch date
  • Offer promo codes to influencers to help raise awareness of your app, if they like it they will usually tweet about it
  • Organise giveaways on Twitter and Facebook, this is a great way to gain more followers and fans
  • Offer codes to tech and blog sites so they can run competitions and giveaways for their readers
  • Use them as an incentive to encourage sign-ups to your newsletter (e.g. chance to win 10 promo codes each month)

Before I wrap up this article I thought it'd be fun to put into practice the marketing tactics I've just discussed…

Win a copy of Ember for Mac!

I have ten copies of Ember for Mac ($50) up for grabs. That’s a grand total of five-hundred-dollars worth of software!

Ember allows you to take screenshots, record screencasts, capture full webpages, annotate images, and much more. It’s one of the most used apps on my Mac, I use it everyday. You can think of it like a digital brain, or perhaps Evernote for creatives.

To win a copy of Ember for Mac simply tweet a link to this article, I’ll pick ten people at random from the list. Update: Competition is now over, sorry!

Final thoughts

As with everything I write here I try to practice what I preach, this has possibly never been truer than with this article. By using some spare promo codes I’ve managed to raise awareness of Ember for Mac and also this blog. Hopefully a quick search on Twitter for this article will be proof of this!

If you have any questions or ideas on using promo codes please let me know.

Further reading

Dan Counsell

I'm the Founder of Realmac Software. I've been designing, building, and shipping products for over fifteen years. I write new articles every month on how to run a profitable online business.

Brighton, well Hove actually.