In 2020, you might often want to just hide under the pillow and forget everything that’s going on, but this is hardly a good marketing strategy. Fires and disasters, mass protests, and their suppression, acute international conflicts, and, of course, the global pandemic – the media are turning all those alarming events into trends that affect the mobile app market. How are developers responding to the iron tread of the apocalypse, and how does this affect their reputation? We’ve collected a few examples from which any developer can learn.
Lesson 1: Get ready for the worst to come
At the very beginning of the year, on January 3, the United States launched an airstrike at Baghdad airport. Panic discussions of WW3 unfolding turned various hashtags like #WWIII and #WorldWarThree into trends that day. Weight Watchers International, a weight loss and fitness app company, couldn’t have foreseen that. Back in 2018, it shortened its brand name to WW, and on January 2, 2020, it launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #ThisIsMyWW. The situation turned out to be a good piece of black humor rather than a failure, but it hardly brought any benefits to the brand either. Weight Watchers already had a controversial reputation after they had released a weight loss app for kids in August 2019 and many parents blamed the app that, in their opinion, was likely to trigger eating disorders in children.
What can we learn?
- Be ready for an unexpected changes in context. When launching a new slogan or promotion, it may be worth double-checking it for ambiguities and unwanted connotations that may occur in different contexts.
Lesson 2: Take care
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our behavior and is obviously having a tremendous impact on the app market. Many apps have begun to promote ways to combat the virus: add masks to their logos or send notifications with reminders to take care. Such actions are supposed to show that the company cares about its customers, but it’s not always obvious how users perceive them. Developers’ actions that respond to real customer needs look more profitable. For example, many delivery services have introduced a contactless delivery option. Yandex added a self-isolation index to its maps. Such services respond to one of the controversial needs that occur in unstable times, the need for control.
Users want to control what’s happening around them, which leads to apps executing more control over the users. There are more contact-tracing or distancing apps that may compromise personal data safety. At the same time, control often depends on algorithms, not people. For example, the Uber app has a new feature: it checks if the rider has a mask on by taking a selfie. It’s caring for passengers with a slight dystopian flavor.
The growth in control applies to content too. Everyone is really tired of the post-truth as trusting unreliable sources can be dangerous to health. Stores have to limit the placement of coronavirus apps as Apple only places apps from reputable institutions, while Google Play hides all coronavirus apps in the search results. Content control sneaks even into messengers. WhatsApp introduced a feature that makes it possible to check information in forwarded messages.
What can we learn?
- Track your competitors. How do users react to innovation in other apps? Study user reviews so as not to make the same mistakes as others. You also may want to study someone else’s graphic ASO to track situational design. For example, Yandex Maps has added a mask to its icon. That was relevant as the pandemic started to unfold. Another thing is that they backed it up with real help by developing maps with a self-isolation index. From that, the second point follows.
- Meet new customer needs. Perhaps you can add a new service, or slightly change the current one so that the users feel calmer and more confident.
- Make sure to not overdo it. New needs do not replace old ones. By offering care and control to users, you shouldn’t take away privacy and usability.
Lesson 3: Show solidarity
In an emergency, it is not difficult for companies to find a way, on the one hand, to provide real help, and on the other hand, to express solidarity and get the loyalty of users. Careem, Uber’s Middle Eastern counterpart, brokered the deal between customers and victims of the August 4 bombing in Beirut by introducing a button into its app to donate and help affected families.
Telegram’s reputation is linked to freedom of speech as the messenger has turned ‘the fight against censorship’ into one of its slogans. Thus, since the beginning of the mass protests in Belarus, Telegram channels have become the main source of news about what’s happening in the country. Durov soon expressed his solidarity, announcing the launch of anti-censorship tools in Belarus, and users noticed that the emoji of the Belarusian flag changed from official to opposition one. It is unlikely that we, mere mortals, will ever find out what the relationships between the Telegram leaders and the leaders of different countries are, but it’s obvious that the messenger does provide some help to the protest movement.
Tinder’s attitude to mass protests is developing in exactly the opposite way. In June 2020, dozens of users complained about being banned for supporting BlackLivesMatter. The corresponding hashtag was enough for the ban. Tinder was quick to express its support for the protesters as they said supporting BLM would no longer be a reason for a ban. However, the situation has not changed as user accounts continue to be blocked, apparently due to other users reporting them. But reports must be moderated. That is, it’s Tinder employees who decide who to ban in the end. Tinder representatives suggest that anyone who believes that they have been unfairly banned should contact their support service via email, but never divulge a reason for the ban.
Trusting apps that show their solidarity with protesters can play a cruel joke. Bridgefy was promoted as an end-to-end encrypted messenger that works offline, that is, it might be suitable for mass protesters. Representatives of the company emphasize being politically unbiased, but, at the same time, when answering a question about the app being used during the Hong Kong protests in 2019, they expressed pride that they were “helping the people of Hong Kong at a time when communication is so necessary.” In addition, they portrayed the protest as a typical situation of using the messenger in their promo video (2015). Detailed research has revealed many privacy vulnerabilities. Bridgefy responded promptly on their blog that they did not expect their app to be used by protesters, but since it happened, they would offer an update by the end of September 2020 that could significantly improve security.
What can we learn?
- Be brave and express solidarity. People need support in difficult times and users will be grateful.
- Support your words with some action. The help you can make has a stronger effect on user loyalty than consistency in your ranking. No one expects you to climb the barricades, but you can always act as an intermediary, become a fundraiser or make a discount.
- Monitor the quality. Emergencies can unexpectedly impact how your app operates. It’s important to respond to user complaints on time.
Many apps have to do situational marketing during depressing events. For someone, it is a success while for others it isn’t. To users, apps that prove their attitude with real action like introducing new features, collecting donations, or providing 100% uptime look much more profitable as small miracles are more spectacular than bombastic declamations.