Frankenstein apps: how to bring a dead app back to life


5 minute read
Alumni: Charlie Harman

Alumni: Charlie Harman

Marketing Manager

Digital Insights

Mobile Technology

There are 2.2 million apps out there, many of which have been abandoned by developers and users alike – indeed, most apps can expect to lose 80% of their users in the long run.

Owners are often reluctant to spend time and money on saving an app from the grave, and we understand the pain. Sometimes there’s nothing left but dust. But sometimes a few stitches, a brain transplant and a well-timed lightning bolt can bring these lurching monsters back to life. Telling the difference is about knowing what went wrong with your app in the first place.

Poor marketing

Sometimes, an app fails for reasons which have nothing to do with the app itself. Photo manager Everpix fell down because the developers expected it to sell itself – they packed it with features, they tuned the user experience to pitch perfection, but they didn’t tell people about it or invest in any ad spend. E-taxi service Hailo was doomed from the start because it went for the wrong market niche – it was pitched to cabbies who weren’t having any problems finding fares, rather than aiming for fares which had trouble finding cabbies. 

Even Google makes the odd misstep. Google Wave was… difficult to describe, merging a pile of twitching parts from email functionality, calendars and conference calling. That’s why it flopped within six months: it wasn’t addressing a clear ‘pain point’ for users, and therefore people had no incentive to try it out.

If you have an app in slow decay, the cause and solution might be marketing. Are you telling people how your app solves their problems? Is your app fulfilling a clear, defined need? Are you regularly updating your app – and are you telling users and subscribers about the updates? Regular updates improve app store rankings and retention, but only if you tell people about them.

Market research, marketing spend and a clear product narrative go a long way. Snapchat made the jump into staggering success when it came up with the idea of ‘sponsored lenses’. Snapchat’s marketers looked for companies with a lot to spend on user-generated content; they spent time and money building up a user base so they had something to offer; and they addressed a clear pain point, namely “how to get those teenagers on Snapchat to digest a marketing message”.

Poor performance

Even if an app is well marketed and acquires a healthy user base early on, it might not be quite ready for them. Some apps fail because they’re simply not up to scratch. They might be poorly designed; they might be slow and unresponsive, or the app might be perfectly functional but delivering content that’s grimmer than the inside of a coffin lid. Or there might simply be something else out there which does the same job better.

To fix this, you need to know why users are abandoning your app, and respond to their grievances by fixing and updating the app. This isn’t merely a technical issue – making the app work better isn’t going to build (or rebuild) user goodwill. This is where user engagement comes in. Mailing lists, social media presence and regular updates on the app store you’re using all ensure that users know you’ve added, adjusted and improved features, that you’ve fixed bugs, and that if a grievance has been raised – for instance, in a poor review – it’s been noted and addressed.

Yo started out as an April Fools’ joke and would doubtless have been dead in the water by teatime on April 2nd, but for further features which rolled out to make the novelty app useful. Merely sending a ‘yo!’ to someone’s phone is a gimmick. Sending ‘yo!’ and linking your latest blog post to your subscribers’ phones is convenient, snappy and functional. Sending ‘yo!’ and a link to a random article you found while aimlessly browsing – that helps with something people do all the time. Sending ‘yo’ and your location to someone’s phone with a double tap – that’s a lot quicker than composing a message. Yo turned itself around by making itself useful. That’s what you need to ask yourself. Think like a user. “What’s my problem? Does this app solve it? Does this come at the price of more problems?

If your app is floundering, expertise from marketers and developers can bring it back to life. Ask yourself where you went wrong first time round: is your app at fault, or is the marketing you put behind it? Does it work fine, but offer no incentive to users, or are users trying to use it and giving up? Once you know what’s gone wrong, you know who to approach for help – a developer, a marketer, or both. Just… don’t ask this guy.


Featured image credit: Tom Margie, via Flickr


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