What To Do -- And What To Avoid -- When Branding Your App

05/19/2014 12:00 pm ET

With more than 50 billion downloads worldwide, apps have become the new tool of choice for communication, education, navigation, entertainment and more. Apps are now one of the most intimate channels of communication: A study from Stanford research recently found that 75% of iPhone users take their devices to bed and an astonishing 25% say they think of their smartphone as an extension of their body. Clearly, some of the most valuable and personal real estate on the planet right now is on your mobile device.

Naturally, there is a constant and growing battle for brands looking to win an icon's worth of space on your smartphone. However, if you want your app to land some of the most valuable real estate in the industry, it is imperative that you make sure your target audience is emotionally connected with your app's brand. To help you achieve this connection with your audience, we have put together a list of Do's and Don'ts to help you navigate the app branding process.

Do's

Know your Target Audience

To understand what will appeal to your target users, it is important to identify their desires, behaviors and pain points, then align your app's branding accordingly. For example, if your app is offering mountain bike accessories, spend some time reading popular mountain bike blogs and staying apprised of current news within the space. Then refine your app's brand so it appeals to the lifestyle of a mountain biker, addressing their specific needs and desires. Ultimately, make your brand a personality rather than a mere representation of your products.

Make it Emotional and Inspirational

Your audience must feel a visceral and emotional connection with your app's brand to make it successful. This kind of connection serves to influence user behavior and create brand loyalty. So if your app's brand can spark an emotional connection, the app will inherit a personality and stand out in a crowded market. Returning back to the mountain bike example, when crafting a brand that inspires mountain bikers to explore and get outside more often, your app's brand is not only selling a product but also emotionally encouraging the user to engage in a lifestyle.

Simplify Your App's Brand

Simplification is perhaps the most important branding practice. Stripping away the unnecessary elements of your brand and keeping things specific will make your brand speak loudly and clearly. Additionally, brand awareness and recognition are facilitated by a visual identity that is easy to remember and recognize. Keeping the connotation associated with your brand simple and clear will make it easy for users to remember what you stand for. In short: simple and clear brands do better.

Keep In Mind That apps Are Branded By Their Initial User Base

When you create a compelling app, users will generate the content, share the app, and create the networks around it, all of which will contribute to the app's brand. During the development phase, keep this progression in mind, and make sure it's easy for users to interact with content and become brand ambassadors. Furthermore, because your brand will inevitably evolve based on the initial user base, make sure your app's brand is scalable and something you can build off of while simultaneously preserving its core values.

Put Some Thought Into Your App's Name

Naming is a complex, creative and iterative process. Unlike the app's icon, the name of an app should not be dynamic and must remain a constant. When deciding a name, be sure to consider sounds, cadence and ease of pronunciation. Instagram's name, for instance, is a fusion of words -- as children, the founders loved playing around with cameras and admired how Polaroid cameras marketed themselves as "instant." They also felt that the snapshots people were taking were kind of like telegrams in that they got sent over the wire to others. Therefore Instagram has created a name that was relevant to its function; the app delivers photos instantly and allows users to share them with others.

Put Some Thought Into Your App Icon

According to some estimates, average smartphone users have upwards of 40 apps downloaded on their devices at any given time. Take this opportunity to make your app stand out by designing an eye-catching icon that is immediately recognizable as your company's app. This will ensure that users can find it fast on a crowded screen.

Invest Some Time in User Testing

Take some time to test how users perceive your app's brand. Conducting user testing can hint at or confirm which branding elements add value and which are unappealing and convoluted. Watching users engage with your app for the first time can give tremendous insight into whether your brand is creating positive surprise or causing friction and confusion. A/B testing can provide quantitative data analyzing which colors and brand will be more successful with users.

Don'ts

Try to Be All Things to All People

One of the worst mistakes app developers make is attempting to appeal to everyone in a broad user base. Deciding whom to target is a balancing act; you want to cast a wide enough net to attract curiosity and gain connections with potential customers, but if your target audience is too general, it becomes difficult to deliver personalized value.

Allow One Operating System to Dictate Your User Interface

Another crucial mistake app developers make is to use a single platform as their sole standard, rendering the app less usable on other devices. To achieve an emotional connection and provide an inspirational user experience, the app must be designed to work with the user's device regardless of its platform. An app with an interface that frustrates users is worse than no app at all.

Overcomplicate

While it may be tempting to brand your app with bells and whistles--one color here, a symbol there--you would be wise to resist the temptation. Strong brands keep it clean and simple.

Miss Opportunities to Reinforce Your App's Logo

When users refresh your app or are waiting for an in-app image or function to download, make sure the app displays your icon or logo instead of a blank screen. It may only appear for a fleeting moment, but an icon or logo image reinforces your brand repeatedly, delivering valuable impressions.

Effective branding can make the difference between an app that supercharges sales and one that sinks into oblivion.

Do not underestimate the power of branding. Although it may seem pragmatic for branding to take a back seat in your app development process, investing time to develop a strong brand can improve your chances of creating the next big thing in the red-hot app market.

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