The 7 Biggest Mistakes Brands Make When Launching One-Time Promotional Apps

Lion_King_featured_image_for_one-time_promotional_appsMost app developers and marketers debut an app with the hope that it will reign as king of the app stores for many, many years. But sometimes, brands show off an app with much pomp and pride only to purposely retire it a few weeks later. Sometimes, brands launch an app that is intentionally designed to have a short lifespan.  

These are promotional apps, and they play an important role in the mobile ecosystem. In this post, we’ll shed light on what promo apps do, why they matter, and how to introduce one to the public in a perfectly balanced display of spectacle and soul. As an added bonus, we’ll also compare and contrast the success of two promos apps: one that shined and another that flat-lined.


Promo Apps Vs. Other Promo Channels

To help illustrate the difference between promo apps and other promo channels, let’s look at one popular use-case: 

Television commercials are great, but your customers can’t directly engage with them. Imagine trying to run a contest through a TV ad. To enter, people would have to first see the commercial and then remember to go online later to submit their information. In this scenario, there is a fundamental disconnect between the marketing medium (TV) and the interaction medium (computer/smartphone) because you can’t click on content on your television screen.

People are also getting better and better at filtering out this one-way communication. Marketing needs to get more sophisticated and, right on cue, promotional apps enter the playing field. Now, imagine running a contest using a branded app that does both the marketing and lets users engage with it right away. 

The contest/sweepstakes scenario outlined above is just one example of how promotional apps help marketers tap into a growing medium to engage prospects across multiple channels. Put another way, promotional apps function as creative and interactive marketing assets whose life and popularity revolve around a time-sensitive event. 


The Biggest Pitfalls to Avoid When Launching a Promo App

The point of a one-time promotional app is to make a splash, get some love and attention from users, and then retire (or evolve) with grace as it goes out-of-date. These apps are meant to generate buzz to complement a larger launch. However ironically, sometimes brands overlook the mobile launch of promo apps because they’re meant to stay in the spotlight for just 15 minutes of fame. 

Here are seven of the biggest mistakes brands make when debuting a promotional app with tips on avoiding each pitfall. 

#1. Making your promo app too “gimmicky”

Yes, promotional apps are designed to be fun and attention grabbing, but make sure you don’t make them too “gimmicky.” In other words, don’t clutter your app with overly flashy features that are cool at first glance, but lack substance or any real value. Nobody (especially app users) likes blatant and obnoxious marketing that doesn’t provide any benefit.

App marketers should invest in creating a few exclusive features for their promo apps that capitalizes on mobile’s unique capabilities. The goal is to make your app interactive and useful so that it augments users’ experiences with your brand. Be innovative, not gimmicky. 

#2. Not tying your promo app well enough to your core product/event/service

Like marshmallows and hot chocolate, your promo app should fit well with whatever it’s trying to hype up. It isn’t the primary marketing tool for your big launch; it should instead function as a nice complementary tool. Take inspiration from promo apps that are paired with conferences (like TEDx), which provide additional information on the venue, registration, and agenda and therefore, enhance the attendee experience without acting as a substitute for it.

#3. Forgetting about the basics of app marketing

Promo apps are usually simpler to develop and deploy when compared to other full-fledged apps. But that doesn’t mean mobile marketers should forget about the basics of app marketing. On the contrary, promo apps generally stay relevant for a short amount of time so it’s especially crucial to use organic and paid acquisition strategies to gain new users, as well as push and in-app marketing strategies to engage them. If no one can find your promo app, then it won’t be an effective advertising channel. And if no one actually carries out a conversion action in your promo app, it will become a wasted investment and have zero ROI.

#4. Not making it timely

To avoid passing the unpleasantness of lateness to your mobile users, make sure your promo app is actually on schedule with whatever you’re unveiling. 

You can release a promotional app early to provide some sneak peeks, at the same time as your product/event/service to act as a nice add-on, or right after to keep some of the momentum going. But regardless of what timetable you choose, ensure it goes hand and hand with your bigger promotional strategy and doesn’t get left in the dust of a bandwagon that has already moved on.  

#5. Rushing and releasing a buggy app

On the flip side of not making it timely, is the mistake of rushing and releasing an app that has not been thoroughly tested and is chock full of errors. Users of promo apps are less patient with bugs because these types of apps quickly go stale. So, ensure your promotional app runs smoothly before listing it in app stores. If glitches do arise post-launch, fix them as soon as possible.  

#6. Investing too much money in it

As we mentioned earlier in the article, promotional apps typically have a finite life. So, don’t pour tons and tons of money into them. You want to build an app that is well designed, but not over-the-top or loaded with too many features. Remember, this app is a marketing tool for your brand, not an independent product. The key is to invest money in a small set of niche features that are inspired by your larger campaign.

#7. Forgetting to measure any metrics

Last but not least, don’t forget to track and measure app metrics. All good promotional strategies are backed up with analytics. A promo app is an investment so naturally, you should understand how much bang you’re getting for each buck. Answer questions like, “How many people are downloading my promo app? How do they use it? How does their app use correlate or contribute to purchases? How clear are my conversion funnels?” You don’t need to measure every app metric out there; focus on the main ones your promo app is designed to improve – be it in-app purchases, social shares, contest submissions, etc. 


A Prime Vs. a Poor Example 

Now that we’ve outlined the biggest pitfalls promo apps can run into, here are two examples that represent the best and worst of this subset of apps. Check out the images below to see why one promo app succeeded while the other tanked.

A Prime Example: Marvel’s the Avengers – A Second Screen Experience  


A Poor Example: The Olympics – Official App for the Olympic Games  



The Right Way Brands Can Promote Themselves on Mobile

When it comes to advertising and tooting our own horns, there’s always a smart and a not-so-smart way to do it. As both marketing and mobile evolve, people want less interruption and fewer self-proclamations of how awesome brands are. Instead, people want to see demonstrations of awesomeness. 

Promotional apps are one of the best ways brands can promote themselves (and/or their products) to the ever-elusive, tech-savvy generation because they constitute interactive marketing. It’s not about building an app that lasts forever; it’s about building one that owns the moment.

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