Winning on the Marketplace: The differentiation game

When a mobile app marketplace hits a population of five figures, it becomes a little tough at times to have your app stand out of the crowd. Even if your app or game is the most awesome thing ever invented since the spork, it’s still tough to get that initial traction when there is a sea of other apps that also get users’ attention. One of the ways to gain that traction is to create an app or game experience that is fundamentally different (in a positive way) from your competitors’ apps and even making your app stand out across apps that are not even related to yours. Experience trumps almost everything, so if you make the experience of your app amazing, then you will get traction sooner or later.

Differentiation is one of those buzzwords that seems to find its way into most tech-related conversations these days. It’s right up there with the phrase leveraging synergies. That said, there is a time and place for every word and phrase and I’m going to use Differentiation in this post.

Mobile app stores are funny things, really. When they are new and therefore not very populated, users complain that they can’t find the apps they’re looking for. Then, when a mobile platform takes off and becomes popular, users complain that they can’t find the apps they’re looking for. Interesting similarities, aren’t they.

If the marketplace is new, it’s much easier to get traction when your app is awesome because the focus becomes squarely on your app or game. This post isn’t about that scenario. This post is about getting your apps and games to stand out in a crowded marketplace (the Windows Phone Marketplace is rapidly getting to that state with over 50,000 apps published and growing and a fast clip on top of that).

The rest of this discussion will focus on strategies to make your apps and games shine and therefore get your users’ attention by implementing great features that will rock your app experience.

Understand your mobile app platform

The first thing you really need to do to succeed in differentiating your app from the rest is understand your mobile app platform.  The more your know about the capabilities of your target platform, the easier it is to determine scenarios under which your app will really shine on the platform.  Be creative with the capabilities; maybe there’s something you could do with a feature like push notifications in your app that no one has ever done before.

It also means to understand the personality of your target platform.  In the case of Windows Phone, this is largely about the Metro Design Language (more on that here).  If you were talking about iOS, the personality is more glassy and bubble-oriented.  For Android, it looks like Google has adopted something similar to Metro (focus on typography, flat style, etc.).  Going against the native style of the phone platform makes your app jarring.  That said, a jarring interface is likely going to differentiate your app from competitors but you have to be careful; it the app doesn’t feel like it belongs, then users will likely make sure it doesn’t belong in their app list, either.

Experience is a key differentiator

I talked a little bit about experience already in this post (and others) and it may sound a bit like a broken record, but I cannot stress the point enough that a great user experience sells more apps.  Users want to be delighted.  Users want to have intuitive interfaces.  Users want the cool features they expect in the mobile apps they already use in your app and they expect something different as well.  It’s up to you to define “something different” but suffice it to say, it’s that extra added touch that makes your app that much more in demand.

journeyUltimately, the experience of your app defines a journey for your user.  There are three stages to this journey as well and you need to think about all of them:


  • Attract:  The first thing you need to do is make the user want to download your app.  Clearly, if you can’t entice a user to download your app, you’ve lost the game with that user.  In order to do that, make sure you:
    • spend the time to describe your app appropriately in its Marketplace page (accurate, with strong value proposition). 
    • don’t make the description too long or short and leave out the flowery words. 
    • screenshots should be indicative of the experience of the app
    • feel free to add revision history (it shows the app has been “cared for and fed”), but keep it to at most the last three revisions.
    • entice existing users to leave comments.  If you are not confident enough that your app will get enough positive feedback, then ask yourself why, then try to fix it.
  • Delight:  So the user has downloaded your app.  Now you need to make the user feel good about his/her decision to either buy or try your app.  This takes some thought and you can employ strategies to make them keep coming back to your app.
    • The first experience a user has with your app is like a first date.  Users want to get to know your app, but you have to be careful not to let the user discover all of your app’s secrets and hidden features on the first try.  That is not to say you should hide things or make your app non-intuitive – just craft your app’s experience into a journey of discovery.
    • On the second and subsequent visits to your app, try to guide your users through the experience.  Don’t create a wizard (thats so 1990’s!); just make the flow of the app reward users as they get more familiar with it.
  • Retain:  Finally, you need to make sure you keep your long-time/loyal users happy with your app as well.  The way you do this is to keep the app healthy and vibrant through updates.  I mentioned that apps with appropriate care and feeding (i.e.:  updates) tend to do well in mobile app marketplaces.  If you have an app that has had some life on the Marketplace, make sure you update it in an appropriate cadence that lets users know that you, as the app’s publisher, care about it’s lifecycle and that you are committed to its success.

Ways to differentiate on Windows Phone

Now that we’ve talked about strategies on differentiation in a fairly general sense, it’s time for me to give you examples of features on the Windows Phone platform that you can use on your apps to create amazing (and differentiated) experiences that make your app more marketable!

  • Live Tiles:  One of the most in-your-face, signature components for Windows Phone is the tile interface on the home screen.  It’s unmistakeable and it may surprise you as to how powerful they really are.  For a great description of how to create Live Tiles for your apps that really pop, check out Chris Koenig’s post about it here.
  • Hub Integration: Hubs are amazing collections of information found on Windows Phone.  They include the People Hub, Music and Video Hub, Game Hub and Pictures Hub.  There is so much power in these hubs as it gets the user to info and content they need without having to traverse multiple apps.  Your apps can integrate into hubs as well.  If your app makes use of content or provides content to any of these hubs, you’ll want to learn how to do this.  Examples include:  Music and Video Hub Integration Tutorial, Pictures Hub Integration Tutorial.
  • Secondary Tiles:  Secondary Tiles are a great feature that allows users to pin a tile of your app to their home screen that sends them to a specific part of their app rather than the main screen of the app.  Take, for example, a news app.  The news app may have general news, world news and local news.  That app could have deep linking capabilities that allow the user to pin any or all of the tiles for your app for each of those news types.  There is a great tutorial on how to implement Secondary Tiles here.

Hopefully this article gave you some new ideas on how to make your app more marketable.  If you have found more ways to make your app more successful in the Marketplace, feel free to share!

This post was the fourth in a series of five posts on strategies for being successful on the Windows Phone Marketplace. The first post (publishing in the right geographies) is here. The second post (trial mode and the art of the upsell) is here. The third post (finding the pricing sweet spot) is here. The fifth post (how to get promoted in the Windows Phone Marketplace) is upcoming on this blog.