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Headed for app branding? Think before you act!


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This post will guide you through a structured and short thinking exercise that can help you nail down your app’s branding objectives and take the first steps in creating your app’s brand. Also available a worksheet guiding you through the structured thinking exercise.

Acting fast could prove to be a major advantage. But, when building your app’s brand, it’s better to think before acting. Answers to some key questions you need to ask yourself can help you come up with the optimal brand for your app. Optimal brand means consistent, clear and eye-catching for your target audience. And yes, it is crucial for your app discovery and buzz.

Developing a great brand for your app can be fun but quite challenging. We all have the tendency to start working right away on the fun, creative stuff like app name, logo and visual identity.

Hey, hold your horses! There is critical value in taking a few moments to brainstorm and think about what you are trying to achieve. This thinking time will influence your full mobile app branding process, and ultimately the success of your app.

Start with asking the right questions

You need to ask yourself a few key questions, the answers to which will help you set your app’s branding direction (mainly elevator pitch, positioning, key messages, name and tag line). Color scheme, logo and full visual identity will then follow.  Also, this will better prepare you to clearly explain (and in many cases justify, as everybody tend to be experts in marketing, rightJ…) the logic behind the chosen direction.

So, here are the questions, by order:

  1. Is there an existing brand to rely on?
    This is relevant in case the app belongs to a company that has a well-established brand, and is currently expanding its presence to the mobile apps arena. In other words, an app that supports an existing business.  In this case, you have a readily available brand, and you need to make sure you adapt the brand and its “promise” to its target audience, to the mobile apps space.
  2. What is my app all about? What need(s) does it serve? Which challenges does it solve?
  3. Who are my users? What do they want? What will motivate them to use my app?
  4. What should my app be remembered for? What’s unique about it?
  5. What do I want people to think about my app? What do I want them to tell their friends (when they recommend it of course)?
  6. Who are my competitors? What’s unique about their app? 

Done answering all these key questions? Perfect. Now it’s time to start developing the brand’s key strategic assets (the visual assets will follow). The key strategic assets will later on serve as the base layer for all of your marketing communication materials, from the app store pages, to your website, social pages, digital advertising, and really, everything you are going to do to promote your app.  Having the answers to these questions at your disposal will ensure that you are approaching the right people, with the right messages; being consistent and hitting the points that will motivate people to prefer your app to the competitor’s app.

What are the brand’s key strategic assets?

We briefly mentioned these earlier, but basically, here we are talking about the positioning of your app, your key messages and your elevator pitch.

  • Positioningthis is the perceptual definition of where you see your app fit in the competitive landscape and what you want it to mean for potential users. It’s about how you fulfill the target audience’s needs in a unique way, and how you want them to consider you in relation to other solutions in the market (e.g., competing apps) 
  • Key messages2-3 messages (in the form of a few sentences for each message) describing your app’s value proposition, key features, and key competitive advantages. These are the messages you want your target audience to remember. 
  • Elevator pitcha brief speech (designed to be delivered verbally) describing in a few sentences what your app is all about. Two things to remember: the purpose of the elevator pitch is to get your potential user to say: “interesting, I want to hear more”. It needs to be short.. Imagine a scenario where you are in an elevator with a potential user going from the ground floor to the 3oth floor; that’s the time you have for your speech. 

These assets should be based on the answers to the key questions, and should be relatively easy to construct once you have gone through the initial thinking process. Get trained on how to do it.

After you have defined the core values, messages and spirit of the brand, you can go on and develop your app’s visual identity (logo, color scheme and so forth).

It’s time for a sanity check

No matter how much you are in love with the brand you have developed (trust me, you will fall in love), it does not necessarily mean that others would love it too.

So here comes the testing. Before you go-2-market, test the brand’s strategic assets with potential users. Now is the time to collect on past favor from friends and family J it’s the only way to make sure that the brand you have created works for the target audience, before it’s a done deal. Check if they “get” the unique benefits, the needs that it answers, the challenges that it solves and so forth. Explain the app using the elevator pitch and the key messages; present the prototype or screenshots with the name and visual identity. Ask them how seeing / hearing/reading all of this make them feel. Do they feel excited? Curious? Willing to try the app? Can’t wait to get their hands on it? Do they understand the unique positioning you are trying to communicate? Ask them not to be easy on you. You need real feedback that you can learn from.

Here is an anecdote:   Initially, we decided on a lock as the main visual element of our logo, because we “reveal all app marketing secrets”, unlocking all this knowledge for our users. Once we started asking for feedback, we realized that the immediate association people have is that of a security solution. What we were trying to communicate wasn’t even on their radar (OMG  🙂 ). We had it changed, fast. Of course we changed everything about a million times, but that’s a different story.

Take time buffers to allow for necessary changes

Make sure testing is done when there is still time to change things. Keep an open mind. Again, we all tend to fall in love with our work and shut our ears to helpful, constructive criticism that can actually affect our future success. Easier said than done, but still…

If you are lucky to have enough budget for a focus group, that’s great, but really, you can do without it. There are cheaper techniques. You can start with friends and family, your professional and social network, and/or use some online forums and panels.

IMPORTANT NOTE: finally, make sure you go back to the questions and answers when you have an app prototype in your hand, to double check that the actual app and its features indeed reflect what you were initially trying to achieve.

Now that the thinking process and validation are completed, you’ll see that the actual branding work, including the fun part of naming the app and developing its visual identity will be easier, quicker, and more focused

We have prepared especially for you, a worksheet that will help you go through this thinking exercise in a structured way. Click here to download the worksheet.

Good luck!

P.S. for specific questions about your app branding efforts, feel free to post questions in our forum and we will personally address them.

Tsipi Joseph
Tsipi is one of Co-Founders, a mobile expert and a mentor. Over 10 years of experience in the mobile and marketing industry: Director of Marketing at Telmap, Comverse and marketing professional development director at the American Association of National Advertisers.
Tsipi Joseph
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