The explosion of interest in smartphone applications over the last decade or so has been a positive thing for developers and consumers. However, standing out from the crowd has become challenging with so many products on the market.
When people talk about developing a successful app, most of their energy is spent on things like design and functionality. Far less attention is paid to app branding.
However, app branding is an essential part of the overall product for several reasons. When app branding is done right, it helps:
- Focus your app
- Drive customer loyalty and retention
- Align your employees
- Boost sales and growth
- Create meaning and value
In this article, we’ll talk about why app branding is an integral part of app design and how you can use it at every stage of development and sales to drive key decisions.
What is app branding?
Branding, as a practice, has been around since the 1800s. Simply put, it’s a set of big-picture marketing techniques businesses use to promote their product or service.
Good branding shapes the perception of a company in people’s minds. It encompasses a mix of visual elements alongside things like product quality, value, pricing, customer service, and more.
Think of a brand you like. Now think of all the things that you associate with the brand.
While logos and design are a substantial part of branding, they are merely part of the picture. Branding also includes things like the company’s purpose and mission statement and even the language and tone of their copy and company emails.
When it comes to apps, branding is the totality of the feelings a consumer has about your product. Even if you don’t set out to consciously build a brand, your target audience will still have a perception of your business.
For example, if your app is buggy and unreliable, that will form a part of the user’s perception when they think about your brand.
Why is app branding important?
1. Brand recognition
App branding is important because it affects how customers see your brand. As we mentioned above, there is so much competition in the app space that standing out from the crowd is very hard.
On a basic level, branding is instrumental in cutting through the noise and helping you secure downloads and subscriptions.
Brand recognition is important when people are in the market for a solution. When it comes to weighing up a product against competitors they haven’t heard about, many consumers will choose the brand they know.
2. User Retention
Branding also helps with user retention. It’s about how you speak to customers, deliver on your promise, and the look and feel of your product. Good branding helps forge stronger connections with your users that can gradually turn into loyalty.
3. Increases word-of-mouth advertising
Word-of-mouth advertising is vital in an age of cynicism towards marketing. A recommendation goes a long way if it’s from a friend, family, or influencer. If you get your branding right, customers will be happy to spread the word.
4. Talent acquisition
The tech skills shortage is an ongoing concern for many businesses. A strong brand can help you attract applicants because they know who you are and they love what you are doing.
Working at a good brand carries prestige. That can be a differentiating factor when you’re going after top talent.
Elements of mobile app branding
OK, now that we’re clear on what app branding is and why it’s important, it’s time to think about how to implement it across your sales and development process.
There are three main areas where app branding is expressed with your product. They are:
- Brand positioning
- Brand identity
- Brand image
If you’re not sure what each of these concepts describes, don’t worry. We’ll explain each of them in detail below and show how you can use them to improve your app branding.
1. Brand positioning
Brand positioning is an essential early marketing step. It’s about consciously thinking about your product and what place it can occupy in the market.
Brand positioning asks two significant questions:
a) where does your app sit in relation to its competitors?
b) What space does the app occupy in the consumer’s mind?
These are important questions that can define the design, feel, and even the price of your product.
Finding your brand position is about carving out a distinct niche for your business. But how can you figure out your brand position?
First, let’s expand on the questions that brand positioning asks. If you want to define your brand position, you need to know the following:
a) What consumers want
b) What can your app offer
c) Where have your competitor’s positioned their brand
Let’s say you have an idea for an app that offers discounted theatre tickets. You could do your research and look out at the landscape and answer these questions:
Q. What do consumers want? Theatre tickets
Q. What can your app offer? Heavily-discounted rates
Q. Where are your competitors positioned? Stuffy and elitist
Looking at your competitor’s position, you can go the other way to try and take advantage of a gap in the market. So your offering would be something like “heavily discounted theatre tickets delivered in a fun, informal way.”
Armed with this knowledge, the whole design of your app, from the copy, text, colours, logo, UI and UX, should feel warm, friendly and easy to use.
Additionally, the app name, your communication strategy, and even how you monetise your app should all flow from where you position your brand.
As you can see, you need to get your brand positioning right. In a crowded market, your app is competing for a limited audience. You must be clear about who you are targeting and be able to tell them why your app is a good fit.
2. Brand identity
Brand identity is another essential element of app branding, kind of like your brand’s personality. You should express it in the following ways:
- How your product works
- How your talk to your customers
- What values do you communicate
- Your company mission
Overall, your identity is about what you want your customers to feel when they think about your brand.
If we take the example of the discounted theatre app from the brand positioning section, we can think about how you can reflect that in your brand identity.
Some things to consider here are:
a) your target audience
b) your unique value proposition
You should reflect this sentiment across a variety of elements, such as your:
Name: Your company name is important. It can communicate a lot about your brand. You need to pick something unique, clever, or catchy that gives at least a strong hint about what you do.
Your name is one of the first things your users will be exposed to, so it needs to make an impact
Keywords: The words people use when searching for similar apps. If you can find a way to work that into your name, you could boost your SEO (search engine optimisation) and ASO (app store optimisation)
Logo / Icon: Your company logo and app icon are two other elements that will make up a part of your first impression. These elements can communicate your brand’s personality and sense of style
Copy: The copy of your app will include your app store description, taglines, and anything on your product page. Again, this should reflect how you want your audience to see your app. Tone, voice, and word choice can make a big impression
Graphical elements: UI has a significant bearing on your brand. Slick, polished, and professional graphics instil confidence in your users. They can subtly communicate trust and quality
Colours: Colours evoke moods and feelings. Picking the right colours can help you establish a connection with your users
Additional elements: Other design elements contribute to brand identity, too, such as what screenshots or videos you use to promote your app, the look of your landing pages, the influencers you associate with, and how you onboard new users.
All these elements work together to create a brand picture in your audience’s mind. Get them right, and your app will stand out, attract an audience, and have a strong UX.
3. Brand image
Brand image is the final piece of the jigsaw. At first glance, it seems as though it’s part of brand identity. However, they are actually different things.
While brand identity is something you can control, brand image depends on your audience. It’s about how your target market perceives your brand, which is something you can influence but not govern.
Ideally, your brand identity and brand image will be the same thing. If that’s the case, you can give yourself a slap on the back because you’ll have successfully marketed your brand. But things are rarely that easy.
Going back to our example of the ticketing app, you might want to project an image of being helpful, user-friendly, and a source of value.
However, if your app is clumsy, difficult to use, and rarely offers low-priced tickets, your brand image will be “unhelpful and worthless,”. Regardless of how amusing your name and logo are.
If you’ve taken the time to research your market and identified a need among your target audience, your app needs to deliver on that promise.
Failure to do so will leave you in no man’s land, where you have a product, but it doesn’t have a purpose or a positive image in your consumer’s mind. That’s a recipe for disaster.
While you can’t control brand image, there are a few things that you can do to at least influence how consumers feel about your brand.
The first thing to consider is communication. Good communication between you and the consumer can go a long way in the world of app branding.
Here are three key things you can do to subtly change the perception of your app in the consumer’s mind.
a) Stay on top of user reviews
App reviews are an excellent source of feedback. If users complain about a particular feature or function, at minimum, you should let them know you are taking it on board.
Communicating to users that you take their feedback seriously demonstrates that you are serious about building a better app.
Of course, it’s not just criticism that warrants a response. If users leave positive reviews, don’t be afraid to thank them for their support. These little things show that you care and can subtly change brand perception.
b) Engage with your users
Engaging with your users can happen across any channel, not just your app store reviews. You can also engage with your target audience on social media in various ways. Ask for their thoughts and opinions, share interesting content, and offer help. It all adds up.
c) Incentivise loyal users
Finding ways to reward and incentivise loyal users can improve your brand image. For example, little things like achievement badges or referral programs can help build a positive association in the consumer’s mind.
As more apps and services move toward a product-led growth style of marketing, finding ways of leveraging your customer network to promote your product is essential. Marketing costs are spiralling.
Privacy changes have made digital marketing less precise and driven up the price of customer acquisition. So use your brand to get your app in front of new users.
App branding is a crucial part of marketing modern products. While the success of your app will ultimately depend on its quality, many great apps fail to find a market because they get their branding wrong.
A common misconception about app branding is that it’s solely about visual recognition, like logos and icons. While that is undoubtedly a part of app branding, it’s only one element.
Branding is about all the things that contribute to the consumer’s perception of your product. It’s about the UI and UX, your messaging and tone, customer service, and other interactions. Click here to discover more about numerous trendsetters in App UI design over the years.
A strong brand is distinctive enough to cut through a crowded marketplace and win the trust of its target market. It’s clear about what pain points it can solve and the value it can bring.
Branding isn’t an afterthought that you should leave to your marketing team when you’re ready to go to market. From day one, it should be a fundamental part of the design process the minute you identify a target audience and a problem that needs to be solved.
About the Author
Joseph Russell is an award-winning app designer, app strategist and founder of DreamWalk. Over his 11 year career, Joseph has helped hundreds of businesses and startup founders plan, design, develop and launch successful apps.
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