Getting Users in App Stores

Have you ever marketed a mobile app? Or even just thought about how you’d do it if you had a mobile app to market? It doesn’t have to be an app in healthcare. I’ll get to the punch line — it’s pretty damned hard!

It’s really not a “build it and they will come” sort of thing. Even apps that seemingly take off at launch usually had some legwork done beforehand to get the a buzz in the right circles, and I’m thinking of non-health apps for apps that took off at launch. There are exceptionally few types of apps that people are searching for that aren’t already available, so users are unlikely to find an app just because it exists.

Getting people to find, download, and use your mobile app is a lot harder than creating your mobile app. It doesn’t matter how hard it was to make your UI beautiful or your API highly available, finding active users is harder. Getting them to download and open your app is just the first step — keeping them active is an additional challenge. But this post is more about app discovery than user retention.

Even specific categories such as health and wellness have so many apps that yours instantly becomes the needle in the haystack. In fact, I’ve given up searching the app store at all. I only search when I’m looking for a specific app, such as the mobile version of something I already use on the Web.

I do browse for apps in the “featured app” section of the iOS app store. I feel bad doing it because it’s just Apple spoon-feeding me its preferences, but it’s the only filter that makes sense. I sometimes find cool new apps this way, though I usually download them and use them for a week or so before forgetting about them.

This week I discovered Taasky and Clumsy Ninja in the “featured” section. Taasky is a pretty cool task manager that’s fun to use. It’s a little too much for me, so I predict I’ll be going back to Clear in a week or so. Clear is simple and fast for keeping track of lists. I tried Clumsy Ninja for only a couple of minutes. It’s very cool if you’re into games, but I feel bad playing games on my phone for some reason.

I downloaded Clumsy Ninja because of this article about marketing iOS apps that describes how Apple now allows videos in their “featured” app store listings. Clumsy Ninja is the first. It’s a nice touch and probably a huge benefit for app developers.

Does the video option matter to the vast majority of app developers that fly below Apple’s radar without being selected as “featured” or “new and noteworthy?” Does it make marketing iOS apps harder as the article above suggests? I don’t think so.

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@haroldsmith3rd is right. The current app stores are just delivery mechanisms unless you’re lucky enough to be called out by Apple as featured.

This is the problem that several companies are trying to solve. The first and still probably best known is Happtique. The company has been talking about certification, prescribing, and verified mobile health app stores for a long time. So long, in fact, that I’ve grown suspicious of whether it will ever get there.

More recently, HealthTap launched its own app store concept for mobile health and wellness apps. From what I can tell on the site, there is a large listing of apps that are curated by the HealthTap community of providers. It’s an easier and faster process than a formal certification such as the one Happtique developed and the HealthTap process reduces the time to market. It also fits with how HealthTap has grown the rest of its platform around crowdsourcing answers to health-related question – the company is crowdsourcing clinical assessment of mobile health apps.

At the end of the day, you have to get consumers to app stores — whoever the app store owner is — if they are going to be of any value. Consumers have to be motivated to go to an app store. What is the value of a curated list of mobile health apps if consumers aren’t searching for them? If consumers are looking for a specific app, say one for their specific provider or system, then why would they bother going to a dedicated app store at all when they can just search the iOS app store for what they want? Curated app stores still require consumers to proactively be looking for apps and then add value to listings with provider reviews or stamps of approval.

The real value in these curated app stores is with providers, systems, and payers. In the case of HealthTap, I could see a provider looking for apps that other docs recommend. I could also see system-specific app stores where clinicians can recommend any number of a list of apps "approved" by the system. It’s the mobile app version of a medication formulary. Payers could have app formularies as well; these lists would be apps for which the payer will cover the cost. Either way, the ultimate end user is likely not going to be a consumer.

What do you think? How do you view the app stores? As distribution only? With a million apps, and tens to thousands of health and wellness apps, can you use the app store as a marketing tool? Are people browsing the app stores these days beyond those sections specifically called out by Apple?

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Travis Good is an MD/MBA and co-founder of Catalyze. More about me.

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