Games are a driving force in the fast-growing app industry. But there are now tens of thousands of "brand apps," designed to do everything from sell goods to drive rich, immersive engagement. In fact, the non-gaming side of the app business is growing even faster than the gaming side.
A few years ago, when launching brand apps began to get popular, lots of the activity was driven by the GMOOT. For those unfamiliar, GMOOT is short for "gimme one of those," and refers to those circumstances when senior execs demand a shiny object instead of allowing marketers to define and implement tactics based upon a strategic foundation. The objective of a GMOOT is usually to check a box rather than make a real contribution to a business. And true to form, lots of those early brand apps did little more than put an "x" in a square.
These days, there are lots of strategic reasons to launch brand apps. For one thing, comScore tells us that apps now account for more than half of total American connected consumer time. For another, apps are consumers' preferred way to interact with content on mobile. No surprise then that, according to eMarketer, global app install ad spending will increase more than 80 percent worldwide this year, to $3 billion. App remarketing and CRM are growing at even faster rates. But needing an app and successfully launching one are two very different things.
Successfully launching an app these days is tough. It's critical that brands utilize best practices to give their apps a strong start. Here are 10 bits of advice to help you improve your odds of getting everything right.
1. Bring the utility
Before you plunk down resources to promote your app, make sure you have an app with a realistic chance for adoption and success. In apps, the name of the game is utility. Where the best apps succeed is in giving the user valuable benefits they cannot get any other way. For most major brands, that means finding something category-appropriate. Charmin's Sit or Squat clean bathroom finder was a great example. Instead of trying to regale us with the wonders of its animated bear spokescreatures, it focused on helping people find a clean place nearby for a "rest."
2. Recognize that brand app marketing is a marathon, not a sprint
When people think of app marketing, their minds usually go to the hype tactics that gaming companies use to get their offerings to the top of the App Store. Game marketing is both an art and a science, and I have tremendous respect for those who excel in it. But generating frenzy and hype are not what brand app marketing is all about. For a brand app to be successful, it needs to get downloaded by a critical mass of folks, and then get used with a reasonable frequency.
Having a popular app in your category always has value, but what drives retail app success, for example, is very different from what moves the needle for casual games. It's important to understand how the app rankings work for your category. Learn more about the inputs that drive the app charts so that you focus your effort in the most productive places.
3. Take a data-driven approach to app marketing
You can't win a speed race if you don't understand what's going on in your car. Make sure that you have the data necessary to understand your marketing performance and how your customers interact with your app. While the tools for app measurement are different than those for the PC web, it's possible to get the same degree of quantitative insight for apps as you have for your web-based initiatives.
4. Invest in getting your app store presence right
Your app store page is like a shop window -- make sure you spend enough time making it as strong as you possibly can. Use Google AdWords tools (set to Mobile) to identify the most popular search terms in your category. Describe your app based on what it does for the user. Include exciting and appealing screen shots; you'd be amazed how many brands shoot themselves in the foot with blurry low-res ones. Successful brands test content for their pages, and update them to reflect new learnings, product updates, and anything else that will make them more appealing. And consider video -- more and more app developers are creating and including video content in their pages to bring the features and benefits to life.
5. Develop and deliver a powerful free/earned media program
Paid media have become a critical part of app marketing. But before you spend a cent on ads, get your nonpaid marketing infrastructure in place. Create a mobile-friendly web presence for your app. Promote your app on your site and in as many other brand touchpoints as you can. Print the App Store and Google Play urls on packaging, signage, shopping bags and anything else that touches the consumer. Incorporate your app message and links into your social media presences. Treat this stuff as job one, not an optional afterthought.
6. Focus on quality installs
Don't overvalue the importance of vanity metrics like daily install counts, and focus instead on reaching and persuading quality users to install. What constitutes "quality" will depend on your objectives. A quality user might by someone who makes regular purchases, or who returns to your app frequently, or who helps drive others to install. If you evaluate marketing options based upon the extent to which they drive quality installs, you'll be a lot more likely to nail your goals.
7. Consider featuring your app in specialty stores
While Google Play and the Apple App Store are the largest libraries of available apps, it may also make sense to feature the Android version of your app in other specialty app stores. While all iPhone apps must be installed from the App Store, Android allows apps to be downloaded from other locations online. Do some searches for specialty stores that attract your target audience or are relevant to your category.
8. Measure and optimize your install process
Apps lose lots of potential users in the install process. Some of the most common reasons why people abandon mid-process include having no social-ID-based registration process, having only social-ID-based registration, onerous forms, and reg page performance issues. Also, be sure and request permission to deliver push notifications during that first app launch -- about half of users typically consent, and push messages represent a very powerful and low-cost way to drive app re-engagement.
9. Architect a post-install communications plan for your app
Most of your users will forget about your app before they've established regular usage patterns. And recent data show that an astounding two-thirds of app users uninstall in the first 30 days. Your best defense against uninstalls and user neglect is to drive revisits in those critical first days and weeks. Apps that are launched on multiple occasions in the first days and weeks post-install are far more likely to remain on a device and become regular parts of a user's daily routine. Leverage all of the tools at your disposal to keep your app top of mind. Email. Push. Message centers. Advertising. And analyze your behavior and response data to optimize your program.
10. Personalize your user communications for maximum results
All users are not the same. Identify high-performing audiences for retargeting and re-engagement. Focus your remarketing on the levers that will best impact your KPIs. If you are focused on app revenue, identify and message target groups like shopping cart abandoners, lapsed users, and heavy buyers. If you are offering more of a companion app, concentrate re-engagement efforts on getting users to relaunch again and again. There are lots of media companies and platforms you can use to do any of these things. As always, what's critical is that you recognize the need to keep users engaged, and allocate money and time to capitalizing on the opportunities.
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"Mobile devices. Tablet PC, smartphone on laptop, technology concept" image via iStock.