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Why You Should Start Thinking of Your App as a Brand

Being an app developer is a bit like starting a new store in a mall. Except this mall has millions of storefronts and billions at stake. With global app revenue forecast at $34 billion by 2018, Google Play’s part of the “mall” having 1.5 million apps to choose from and Apple’s with 1.4 million, making the business of apps a very lucrative, but crowded space. So how do you stand out from the crowd?

Mass appeal might be your first inclination. But the truth of the matter is this: High quality downloads at a lower cost is the most surefire way to create a deeper relationship between your app and your users. Sounds like it’s time we start thinking of apps as brands.

What’s the value of a brand?

Branding is the reason why people camped out for two weeks in the streets of London to be the first to get their hands on an iPhone 6. It’s why Starbucks released 6 new flavours of frappuccinos this week and caused a viral uproar.

The Business Dictionary defines branding as: the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind. This allows consumers to recognize and associate certain images or positive feelings towards a product or company. And it’s extremely effective: Brands account for more than 30% of the value of top publicly listed companies.


But branding isn’t just for Coke and BMW. It’s for any consumer-facing business. Which is what your app is – and why the tops apps are all branded as well (or better) than clothes and cars.

Facebook turned the noun “friend” into a verb. Uber, also now a verb. You don’t send your friends disappearing pictures, you send them snaps. Netflix is the chosen significant other of many Gen Y’ers. All examples of what effective branding can accomplish beyond the app store.

So how do you create a brand for your app? You go back to the marketing basics: What does your app do and who is it for?

1. Define Your Brand

Is your app a casual runner? What sets it apart from all the other casual runners? Does it have a background story. Are the graphics superior to all else? Do you have to dodge slippery kale? In order to create a brand, make sure it has a unique identifier. Otherwise, it’s just another game.


Another way to look at it is by defining the value proposition: What your app promises to deliver to users that:

  • is relevant: explains how your app solves users’ problems or improves their situation
  • has quantified value: delivers specific benefits; and
  • is unique: tells the ideal user why they should download your app and not the other millions of apps

Treat this process like you might treat prepping for an interview or investment process. What do your app do? Why should anyone care? What pain-point does it solve? What can it do better than any other app? What is it not? Answering these questions starts to pinpoint your brand.


2. Identify your Target Audience

Great, you know what the app does. Now, who is it for? Audience definition dictates how you communicate with your users and where you promote it. Understanding who they are and why they will open your app quickly gets you to specific decisions: What holidays you will update for? How you will provide support and in what voice? What content you will promote if your app has a website or social media channels. What types of ads will you display?



A classic business school trick is to create a personality of your ideal user. Are they male or female? When do they use your app? Do they have many friends? Who do they turn to for advice? Are they introverted or extroverted? What are their main channels of communication? Do they enjoy shopping? Did they like the last Star Wars series? These questions may seem mundane, but the more your know about your ideal user, the easier it will be to get them to install and keep them engaged once they do.

3. Promote Your Brand

Every promotional piece and touchpoint with your users should be on brand – because it actually will BE your brand. The good news is there are only three things to remember here: Be specific. Be consistent. Be honest.


App Icon: By far, the most important part of branding that your app has. It’s the first thing seen in the app store and is your most valuable real estate. Your icon IS your brand, so make sure you highlight your key feature and tailor the design to your ideal user.

Keywords: Turn to your value proposition when brainstorming keywords. Make them a blend of words with volume (high search results), relevance (explains what it does) and difficulty (what is unique). Use language that your ideal user would search for to communicate the value of your app.

Screenshots: Make sure they show the tangible and intangible benefits of your app. One shot to show the main feature. The others to show the secondary benefits that will resonate with your target audience (you should probably include a picture of the slippery kale here).

Bonus: Create a Tribe

Good brands sell products. Great brands create a following. Lately, people are calling these “the tribe”. Lulu lemon doesn’t yoga pants, they sell a lifestyle. And that lifestyle is promoted by their very passionate followers.

Creating a tribe requires three things: Staying true to your identity, communicating with your tribe and providing benefits beyond simply what your app does. Again, think about Lululemon.


Telling the story of who you are (identity) is a great way to set the foundations for your tribe. Does your app have a mission to change the world? Does it have a unique story behind conception? Maybe you just really like kale! Write a blog post on why you created your app and what you are hoping to accomplish.

Communication is key. A tribe needs a place to call home (social media) so use hashtags allows your followers to communicate with each other and see what the community is up to.

Use this profile to make more connections and provide additional value to your core feature through content, connections and creativity. (If you need help getting started with a social media strategy, be sure to check this out.)

It might seem like creating a tribe is a long shot- but what if your app goes viral on day 1? Have the foundations in place and prepare for the best! Branding is a long term process, but if executed properly will lead you to high quality, loyal users.

Yes, the Mall is Crowded

But the mall is where people go to connect with brands they like. Your job – like every storefront – is to define who you are, who your customer is and make sure everything they see, touch or experience is consistently on-brand. Tribes take time. But the value is well worth it.

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