Branding for app developers

After my first blog post I had someone ask about what a brand advocate was and, while I was at it, what was a “good brand” for a developer? So, I decided to write a post about branding.

It’s probably easiest to start with what a brand is NOT. Your brand isn’t your:

  • Logo
  • Name
  • Product

All of these things should support and be consistent with your brand and over time they will hopefully evoke it. But in and of themselves, they are not your brand. The emotional and psychological relationship that app buyers have with you is your brand. It’s what people think of when they see your product, name or logo. It’s incredibly powerful and is something that social media is born to support because when you interact with your buyers on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere you are creating and strengthening your brand in a very personal way.

I think all of this is best illustrated by some examples and I’ve got a couple of non-app ones for you to consider first.

Starbucks logo and brand discussion

Grande non-fat, no-foam latte please.

I chose Starbucks because if I had $1 for every time I had heard developers say – “why do people have a problem buying an app for $1.99 when it’s less than a cup of coffee?” – I would have at least $46.

The reason most people go to Starbucks has very little to do with coffee – it’s certainly not the primary reason I go there. If it were, I’d drink Starbucks coffee at home because it’s cheaper. The reason I go to Starbucks is for the experience. It gets me out of the house. I get to hang out with other adults, people who read books and newspapers and talk in sentences (mostly). It’s a quiet, comparatively child-free space. For 30 minutes I get to remember that I’m not only a mother and I get some time to myself to recharge my batteries. It’s part of my “Oxygen Mask Project“.

All of that has nothing to do with coffee, but it is reinforced by coffee. Sensory experiences, especially those that engage our sense of smell, are very powerful. For less than $5 I can purchase an experience that, for a mother of two special needs children, is not only cost-effective but also priceless.

The second example I want you to think about is Coca Cola.

Coca Cola logo and brand discussion

There are volumes you could write about Coke and branding. As part of my Master’s degree I wrote a paper on Coca Cola and the invention of Santa Claus as part of a topic on marketing in the 20th Century. But the one thing I would like to focus on here is that Coca Cola is the perfect example of how a brand is so much more than its product. If the Pepsi taste tests and the debacle that was New Coke show us anything, it’s that the beverage is not the brand. People don’t drink Coke because of how it tastes, they drink it because they have an emotional and psychological attachment to Coca Cola. Mark Pendergrast in his book For God, Country and Coca Cola talks about finding the recipe for Coke in the company’s archives at their Atlanta headquarters. He asks them if he can print it in his book and is given permission because someone else could replicate the drink exactly and it wouldn’t be Coca Cola – it’s the brand that drives sales, not the beverage itself.

If you come to me interested in social media services, the first thing I will ask you is questions to find out what your brand is (as you see it). Ideally, you should determine your brand right from the beginning along with your business plan. Your logo, name and apps will then all be created to support and be in-line with your brand. If you’re an established business without a clearly defined brand then you should likely make developing one a top priority. Let me give you an example of a developer that I think has a strong brand.

Oceanhouse Media logo and brand discussion

When I think of Oceanhouse Media I think of childhood, education and quality. The apps they develop support and reinforce that brand – Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Five Little Monkeys and Byron Barton are already childhood staples for many. The Smithsonian and Hay House books affirm the importance of education to their brand and in terms of quality, not only do they develop books by excellent authors but their apps are benchmarks for how book apps should be produced. With their recent Record and Share upgrade to some of their titles they demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement of their apps.

Their brand has nothing to do with their logo but it’s what I think of when I see the logo. I hadn’t read the Kidwick books in hard copy before getting them as apps so my decision to purchase two of these apps was based solely on trust in their brand. When I recommend their books apps to others I am an advocate for their brand.

Returning to the start of this post, when I talk about using social media to turn people from customers into brand advocates – I’m describing a process in which you develop a relationship with your buyers. Individuals who have that relationship with you will buy your apps when they are launched and will recommend them to others via word of mouth.

But you can only create brand advocates if you have a brand…



  1. Great post, Deanne!

    A question for you though:

    Branding is sooooo difficult to do though….starbucks, coca cola spend millions every year on branding activities. How are we, indy developers supposed to create a brand without spending $?

    • Deanne Shoyer says:

      Great question Pavel – I’ll respond in detail to it tomorrow.

    • Deanne Shoyer says:

      Pavel – here’s some things for you to mull over:

      – All big corporations were once small businesses. 40 years ago, Starbucks was in the same position you are in now but you have an advantage they didn’t have then: the internet.
      – Large corporations have to work very hard not to seem ‘big and faceless’ to consumers. Small businesses have an easier time establishing their brand because buyers to see them as people. It’s far simpler for you to establish a personal relationship with your buyers than it is for large corporations and given that a brand is emotional/psychological in nature, the key to creating brand advocates is building relationships. This is why all the books out there on social media are targeting big business: because it’s extremely tough for them to make a connection with consumers.
      – Creating and maintaining a brand doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. It should be reflected in everything you do: every app you make, your website, every Facebook interaction, tweet, pin on Pinterest, etc. all of those things should be seen as an opportunity to create or reinforce your brand. A conversation with a buyer has the potential to be a much more powerful branding opportunity than buying millions of dollars in advertising.

      • Thanks for an awesome reply, Deanne! :) Branding is of course the way to go…it’s just so hard to do, because it won’t bring you any immediate returns (or guarantee any returns at all).

        One great book that really helped me clear many things in my head is: The 22 immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

        I would recommended to any app developer to read, it’s very well put together and written in a language anyone can understand (no marketing mumbo-jambo) :)

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