5 Huge App Marketing Failures That Ruin Acquisition & Retention Rates

app marketing mistakes

80% of branded apps are downloaded less than 1,000 times ~ Deloitte

When you consider that Apple’s App Store contains over 1.2 million apps, and Google Play’s over 1.3 million, it’s obvious why so many apps quickly become part of the startling statistic at the top of this page.

The reality is that apps don’t market themselves. You can’t just release an app and expect it to evolve on its own. Mobile app marketing requires continual iteration and investment to perpetuate growth, retain relevance and deliver positive ROI.

With so many apps fighting to be downloaded, and an average of just [i]42 apps per smartphone, even the biggest brands can’t rely solely on name prestige to drive acquisition.

But the wake-up call doesn’t stop there, because it isn’t just acquisition you need to concern yourself with when putting an app to market. In fact, as the statistic below reveals, acquisition might be considered a walk in the park when compared with its more difficult cousin, retention.

In 2013, 23% of iOS apps were only opened once, whereas this applies to just 16% of Android apps. ~ Localytics

The truth is that ‘hit and hope’ app launches fail. Of course, there’s always the anomaly app that gets featured by Apple or naturally attracts press and makes a wave through social media channels, but it’s rare, and no app should pin its hopes on such a windfall.

That said, regardless of the size of the app market and the difficulty in gaining visibility and maintaining traction, there’s still a million and one starry-eyed app entrepreneurs out there logging into their analytics each morning and hoping for a miracle – hoping that downloads suddenly spike and in-app purchases go through the roof.

So why isn’t your amazing app idea the next big thing? Well, quite frankly, because your app marketing is poor.

Don’t worry though, because we’re here to help you avoid 5 of the biggest app marketing failures proven to repel acquisition and decimate retention, and ensure that your app isn’t left rotting in the app store graveyard.

Before we begin, make sure you bookmark this post now. You will need it in the future.

Fail 1: Poor Keyword Targeting

Cool, ambiguous brand names and catchy taglines might capture people’s interest in the video and banner advertising world, but in the app stores you need to tell it how it is.

Keyword targeting is an integral part of the App Store Optimization (ASO) process, which is marketing terminology for improving the organic search visibility of an app within an app store. There are several aspects to ASO, but keyword optimization should be your first port of call.

Now, before you rush off and start making changes, it’s important that you don’t go stuffing keywords repetitively into your app’s title and description.

This can make your app appear cheap, if done in a blatant manner, and may even work against you in the case of Google Play, where excessive repetition is believed to be penalised after a certain point (but a modest 5 times or so is acceptable for your most important and relevant keywords). Make sure you keep your keyword targeting relevant and on-brand at all times.

Also bear in mind that changing your name too often to target different keywords may negatively affect your ranking. So do your research, develop a relevant, targeted title and stick to it. Try to keep your title to fewer than 25 characters too. A user is less likely to download an app if its title has been cut off and the intended meaning obscured.

The goal of keyword research is to uncover the keywords being used to search for apps that perform the same or very similar functions to yours, and as with most good marketing research, the best place to start is to engage in a bit of good old-fashioned competitor spying.

First, spend some time identifying who your real competitors are, and then begin analysing the titles and descriptions they use to achieve visibility.

Zone in on the industry-specific keyword phrases and pluck them out into a spreadsheet. You can then begin forming a deeper analysis by searching keyword-by-keyword to see which apps pop up in the top three spots for each term used. By analysing which of your competitors rank highly for specific, relevant terms, you’ll be able to compose a title and description that helps your target audience find your app in the marketplace.

For the record, you don’t necessarily need to change the brand name of your app. It may just be that you need to integrate or tag-on some keywords to the title to achieve higher visibility, due to keywords in the title carrying more weight when it comes to search ranking.

For example, maybe your brand name is ‘Dooberz’ and you help people buy and sell cars, and the name of your app in the app store is simply ‘Dooberz’. You might choose to change this to ‘Dooberz – Buy & Sell Cars’. As you can see, it’s not rocket science.

Another useful keyword research method is review mining. You can do this within your app’s reviews and those of your competitors. Review mining will help you uncover the words and phrasing used by reviewers when writing about an app related to your vertical. This will help you get an understanding of the words you should be using in your description. Start with the highly rated reviews first and ignore the troll reviews that offer little relevance or value.

Lastly, make use of a word suggestion tool like UberSuggest. This awesome free tool returns real user queries across a number of industry sectors, and allows you to add the phrases to a basket for download too. There are also a number of ASO specific tools such as Keyword.io that provide suggestions.

Fail 2: Targeting The Wrong Device & Platform

Do you know whether the majority of your target demographic is using phones or tablets, or a mix of both? Moreover, what platform are the majority of your users on, Android or iOS?

These might sound like very basic and obvious questions, but targeting the wrong device and platform is one of the biggest app marketing fails going.

For reference, think about your own experience of downloading apps. How many times have you wanted to download an app on your iPad that’s iPhone only? Sure, you can download the iPhone version and it works, but for certain types of task the experience can be painful and you soon find yourself deleting it and searching for a bigger screen alternative.

Similarly, millions of Android users are frustrated on a daily basis at not being able to download apps that are available exclusively on the Apple app store. We all know about the existing cultural divide between iOS and Android users, and such platform neglect creates a secondary breeding ground for brand animosity among smartphone users.

This fail is rife, particularly among websites that decide to create an app for their readership. Site owners pour a ton of money into producing an iPhone app without even thinking to check their website analytics to see where their mobile traffic actually comes from.

iOS has typically been the starting point for many companies, with fewer fragmentation headaches and traditionally higher revenues, but the gap is closing. Of course, these days most will require both an iPhone and Android app anyway, but the initial neglect of one platform versus another, or tablet users in general, will annoy a lot of the brand’s dedicated followers and lead to poor acquisition rates.

If you are about to build an app, the first thing you need to do is find out what platform the majority of your demographic is using. Established brands should really aim to develop for both major platforms in parallel to avoid animosity from either camp. Similarly, if your current iPhone app has a low acquisition rate, set about gathering intelligence on your target market and make sure you’re not missing out on a ton of downloads by neglecting iPad and Android users.

Fail 3: Low-Level Trust

Of 15,000 mobile users surveyed in 15 countries, 72% of respondents said they were unhappy sharing personal information when using an app ~ MEF, 2014.

The digital world is a fearful place to be. Scam, fraud, virus; these words are drilled into our psyche on a daily basis through news reports relating to hacking and cyber theft, making us acutely aware of the risks of shopping online. So when it comes to people spending money inside your app, they’ve got to trust you in a big way.

Earning a user’s trust is a step-by-step process that begins at performance level. This means creating a fluid, bug-free app experience with a smooth, intuitive feel. Trust is then reinforced by brand transparency particularly important for transactional apps where the user is expected to part with their cash, especially ecommerce apps where the average ticket price is higher than a typical in-app purchase.

Consider includes like having a help menu, detailing your refund policy and appearing highly contactable to make the user feel that a real person is just one message or phone call away. When the user feels comfortable enough with the experience, and confident that they are in the hands of a trustworthy company, they will then trust enough to add a product to the cart. For Android specifically, being responsive to user reviews on Google Play is another way to demonstrate your availability and customer care.

Trust is then fully realised by supporting recognised security features. This consists of trust badges that indicate a secure environment, and of course a recognisable payment gateway provider that offers a familiar recollection of earlier positive purchasing experiences. If a user feels uncertain, the cart will be abandoned, and such an action is likely to impact a consumer’s decision on whether or not to return.

In the event of abandonment, you have another opportunity to salvage trust, and of course the sale, by following up with personalised communication via push notification or email to remind the customer to complete their order. At this point you might also choose to offer an incentive such as an immediate discount or ‘next purchase’ coupon.

Remember that earning the user’s trust starts the moment your app is opened. This is a building blocks process that must lend empathy to the sensitivities of the user and psychologically reinforce trust the entire way through the purchase funnel.

Fail 4: Lack of Personalisation

42% of mobile users expect a mobile app to be designed for their convenience ~ Forrester

In the same way no employee wants to be “just another number”, no app user wants to be “just another app user”. And for this reason, user retention is massively dependent on an app’s ability to deliver a personalised experience.

High-level user engagement can be achieved through the use of push notifications, but to make users feel special, you’ve got to do a lot more than sending out the odd random message prompting your user base to download an update or buy something in your sale.

To maintain a consistently high retention rate, communication needs to be segmented and highly relevant. It needs to be based on user behaviour and preferences; think referencing previous purchases and recommending complementary products. This type of personalisation makes consumers feel understood and valued, helping drive high-level engagement, loyalty and increased sales.

Research shows that open rates for personalized notifications are double those of blanket messaging, and frequent poorly targeted notifications are likely to be perceived as spam, which will see notifications swiftly disabled and this line of communication cut.

To make the most of this intimate channel with your users, you’ll need to understand who they are, what their usage habits are and what they want from you. The only way to gather such data is to begin communicating regularly but respectfully and to track interactions through an analytics platform. Doing so will enable you to track interactions across the customer lifecycle, obtaining insight to precise outcomes and the events that triggered them, right down to the exact time, place and call to action.

Fail 5: Multi-Channel Confusion

45% of consumers say the user experience across devices is inconsistent and frustrating. ~ Mobiquity

This last retention-related fail is an obstacle most commonly faced by the retail sector, but also applies to any company whose products and services can be accessed through multiple channels such as calling a customer service phone line, using an app on a smartphone or tablet and by browsing to a desktop website.

While having a multi-channel operation might feel as if your business is super customer service focused, if your multiple channels aren’t Omni-optimized, you will inevitably cause your customers confusion and frustration.

You see, while the multi-channel approach segments each experience and handles it uniquely through an individual channel, Omni-optimization ensures that the consumer’s experience is seamless and consistent from platform to platform. In a nutshell, Omni-channel is multi-channel done the right way.

For example, let’s say a customer goes into a store and spots a discounted jumper at $20. The customer begins to queue up to buy the jumper, but suddenly gets an urgent call and has to dash off without making the purchase. Later that day, the customer accesses the store’s app via a smartphone with the intention of buying the same jumper, only to find that the discount isn’t applied in-app and costs $30 instead of $20. The customer is frustrated, but in one last attempt decides to jump online and look for the jumper on the company’s website. Sadly, it’s nowhere to be found.

Of course the customer is now very annoyed at the lack of transparency and poor interconnectivity of the company’s media channels, but worst of all, the customer feels as though the company doesn’t understand his or her needs. The result of such disjointedness in a store’s purchase funnel is a recipe for loss of business, and where mobile apps are concerned, a recipe for high uninstall rates.

When putting an app to market, you must anticipate that customers may start their purchase through one medium and finish it through another. Consider the obvious actions of this process, like a customer adding an item to your desktop shopping cart. The item should still be in the shopping cart if the user decides to leave their desktop computer and access your mobile app on the fly, whether through the iOS or Android version. It is essential that the ‘hand-offs’ between channels are fluid and strung together in one seamless experience.

In a Nutshell

An app is a very unique digital marketing machine. You can’t just toss it out onto the app store tundra and expect it to survive without nurture. To acquire users, you must understand your target demographic and appeal to its needs through high relevance. Only then will you begin to gain the visibility required to achieve traction.

To retain users, your app must continually evolve to the user’s needs and preferences in a highly personable manner. Integrate analytics to better understand user behaviour and to assist you in A/B testing different aspects of your UI and marketing campaigns.

Don’t forget to listen to your users by reading their feedback, and by reading the feedback of your competitors too – as these are also your potential users. Go the extra mile to understand what users want and how you can deliver their needs in the most effective way possible.

[i] Nielsen’s Mobile Apps Playbook.

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