The value of free apps


4 minute read
Alumni: Kieron Gurner

Alumni: Kieron Gurner

UX & Design Lead

Digital Insights

The majority of the apps in the marketplace aren’t making the millions that Angry Birds has, but this doesn’t mean that these apps don’t have value. The best way to enter into app development is to consider the potential for marketing and a new form of engagement with your customers. The app market is notoriously over-populated now, and more apps are being added daily, so how do you make the most of publishing your app, if it’s not about the money?

A study from Flurry recently showed the growing preference for free apps over the past few years, and suggested that users tend not to go for paid-for versions of apps when they’re available (these versions usually remove ads, or give extra functionality). Of course, this doesn’t mean that paid-for apps don’t sell, but it indicates that making your app free is the best way to go if you want to reach a wide audience.

A free app might not sound like an appealing prospect to your finance department, but several recent examples have shown that if they’re properly considered, can you exposure, and sometimes, your competitor’s customers.

Use apps to engage with customers

Although the most popular apps so far have been for gaming and socialising, we’re starting to see other kinds of apps increase in popularity – as a wider variety of people start using smartphones and wanting more from them. While this portion of the app market is increasing, it’s a perfect time to think about how you can engage with your customers in less traditional ways.

Apps like Soho Stories, from the National Trust are a great example of this – offering users an entertaining audio history of the Soho area in London. The app was launched in an attempt to engage with a broader audience, giving visitors to the area an adventure through the area’s colourful past, voiced by some of Soho’s more famous regulars. The app allowed the National Trust to gain exposure and re-introduce itself to a new crowd, helping to strengthen the message that the organisation is taking steps to make its portfolio more accessible to younger audiences – as well as winning a Digital Impact Award for the app.

Use apps to expand your offering

Apps can also be a great way to expand your existing services in new ways, by utilising the fact that a large proportion of the population carry smartphones with them all the time.

Barclay’s bank launched Pingit, an app that allows you to send and receive money just by knowing someone’s phone number. This makes the transfer of money between individuals much simpler, removing the need for account numbers and sort codes, and making the whole process feel effortless. By taking the initiative to make their customers’ lives easier, Barclay’s is seeing a rise in the number of people becoming customers that used to bank with their competitors – showing just how powerful this kind of “utility marketing” can be.

Use apps as marketing

Of course, more traditional marketing is still a great use of an app, but with an app, your campaigns can be a lot more interesting for your customers.

The Guatemalan shoe store, Meat Pack, launched a campaign that would hijack customers from their competitors. Their app would trigger a discount offer to their customers whenever they entered a competitor store – a discount that started at 100% and decreased by 1% each second. The campaign saw customers running across shopping malls and claiming discounts on their shoes, using money that would have spent on the same shoes elsewhere.


These kinds of free apps all help build awareness of your brand with your customers, and give marketing apps the freedom not to try and make money, but develop a stronger relationship with customers, and customers are increasingly finding this kind of engagement a lot more appealing than ads.

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