A case study
What does it take to launch an app? How does one create an app people love and use repeatedly?
If you ask me, I’d say the time where one could launch any old app is long gone. The app market is oversaturated, as people are no longer enthusiastic about checking out the latest thing and are in fact decreasing the amount of apps they keep on their phones.
So, the question remains, how does one successfully launch an app?
Recently I worked with a team in London on launching their new app. It was an investor backed venture, which enabled the founders to build the product with a design and development team they trusted. After finalising a working version of the app, they needed someone who would help to spread the word and I was the person they hired.
When they first contacted me, their app had not been submitted to the App Store. They were not sure if hiring a marketing person before the launch made sense but as you cannot launch an app overnight we agreed that I would come to London immediately. Our aim was to launch mid-December but for several reasons, explained below, we decided to postpone the launch to spring.
When I agreed to join their team as an online marketing consultant I assumed that the app was market-ready and that they just needed someone who would draft a communication strategy, hire the right people and train their interns to be able to work independently.
Upon arrival I learned that the testing phase had only started that day, which then changed my role from being a marketing strategy consultant to someone who does a lot of grassroots work and helping people to build the voice of the brand. As a community manager I see myself as the person who bridges the gap between user, product and the communication team. Being there during the testing phase had proven extremely beneficial.
I believe it’s getting harder and harder to get the attention of people online. Every day we are confronted with so much information that it becomes hard for upcoming startups to spark the interest of their target group. We started with no signups and had to find a way to talk to our target group directly. We needed to find people who were really into football and then had to find a way to interact with these people offline and build a community, ensuring that this wasn’t just another anonymous app. I figured the best place to start was in London’s pubs, with big screens and a good selection of draft beer.
I immediately registered the brand on Meetup and launched a group where I invited people to watch football in different pubs in London. We scheduled Meetups for all televised matches, which gave us a reason to go to pubs every single weekend. Because we had our own Meetup group, we could slowly but surely grow our online, and offline, community. If you need to find like-minded people Meetup.com has an amazing algorithm to help you reach your target group.
Our first step was to print stickers and cards we could give to people. Everyone loves free stuff, however small. We also had some shirts and hoodies made for our team to make it easy for people to find us.
When I was a teenager I used to do a lot of promotion work, so I know how much easier it is to approach strangers and talk to them about something when you wear a garment that gives you some sort of an identity. Additionally, because we were all wearing the same hoodies, people often approached us and asked what we did; a reaction I’d call a double jackpot.
After talking to about 80 guys in different pubs, I began to identify certain patterns; I also asked the team after every match whether they've used the app, whether they rated the players as the app "asked" them to do. After the response of “no” several times, I decided to gather everyone for a product session.
If you want to build a successful app then I don’t want to hear: “I’m not really the target group. I don’t use many apps.” Because truth is, the majority of people don’t really use apps and if you cannot build an app you’ll use yourself several times a week, you’ll not only have a hard time getting people to use your app but you will have an even harder time convincing people that using your app is worthwhile.
If you want to build a great app, then you have to consider ‘yourself’ as the target group and start asking what types of apps you use and why you use them.
Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down every app you use and also why you use them and how often. I guess the majority of apps on your phone are there because they either save you time, money, help you get organised or show you how to better connect to the people who matter to you or because your mates use the app.
Our product meeting turned out to be a ‘truth and honesty’ session. Here are some of the questions I asked:
What apps do you have on your phone and use?
Why do you use these apps? – I then asked ‘why’ for every app they named.
Why should people care about this app?
What do you offer to people that they don’t get elsewhere?
What would make your team use the app at least once a week?
What would make you use the app several times a week?
How do people usually solve what you’re offering when they don’t have this app? And what is their biggest problem with it.
When you have answers to these questions, you’re ready to start mapping out the improvements that are needed to build a better product. A product that has potential to get traction, what you really want is to build is an app people use over and over again, an app that creates a habit. I’d recommend reading Nir Eyals; ‘Hooked’ for further thoughts on this matter.
As soon as you spend £500 or more on trying to get people on-board who don’t return and if they don’t offer you feedback then it’s a waste of your money. £500 is already more than what’s necessary to prove if a concept works or not.
When you start testing your app with people you don’t know, look at how they use the app; listen carefully when they ask questions, watch what screens they skip and what screens confuse them. Also ask them how they currently deal with the issue you’re trying to solve and don’t forget to ask what their biggest criticism of the product is.
When you build an app, think about how you’ll re-engage users once they’ve downloaded it and also what you can do for them so they spread the word. Also, something that’s often forgotten is the way that you get people on-board. Don’t just write a bit of copy to explain how to use your app and why, figure out a way to engage them so they really understand what your app is for. Here are some good examples you can learn from.
I am a firm believer that word of mouth is the most valuable marketing strategy, much better than splashing out expensive advertising that takes a while for people to notice and has no guarantee of them actually buying the app.
Once you’ve built an attractive product that people like using, you should start looking into hooks you could implement to encourage people to spread the word amongst their friends. No-one will ‘share’ that they joined an app immediately after they’ve signed up, there is no social leverage and no one wants the potential embarrassment. Sorry to disappoint you but I think the ‘share button’ will be skipped if you don’t give the user the possibility to properly engage and find value in your product.
If sharing is an essential part of using your app that’s great; just make sure that when people see something that’s been shared using your app, add a hook that adds value to other people so they will also download your app. The biggest apps have not grown because of advertising but because people who were using the app were happy to spread the word; build a product people want to talk about!
Now you might ask what you should use your advertising budget for; I’d say that after you’ve found a way to connect with your users offline, you should do all you can to show your appreciation. Engage with your community and give your early users and testers something in return for their feedback; buy them a beer, crisps and raffle tickets to events they might enjoy. Make sure that the people who have already bought into your product find value in it and have a reason to spread the word for you.
My initial goal in this project in London was to make myself redundant. I wanted to take away insecurities, help create a voice and train interns to help them grow into their new role. Even if I’m not with the team for the launch I know they’ll be fine without me because they now know how to advertise on social media, what type of content to use and most of all, how to ask the right questions. Also, they know how to reach me if they need advice or have any questions. If you have any, here’s my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org