Mobile Parallels from the Youngest Female Billionaire

Partner Post

- Adperio Premier Mobile Acquisition Partner

Jill  Fletcher has driven operational, legal and financial policies that have contributed to Adperio’s stellar reputation and growth, establishing the company as a leading global performance marketing firm. Over the past 15 years, she’s enjoyed many client-shared successes working with world-class brands and media sources. She believes a company’s strength is its people – she strives every day to challenge, engage and develop those that set Adperio apart. 

At 45 years old, Sara Blakely is the youngest female billionaire. She is the creator of the Spanx apparel company. I just heard her interviewed on the radio, and as I drove back to work (and sat in the garage, listening to the end of the interview) I was thinking about her story and its parallels for mobile app developers.

Anecdotes from the Spanx Story

Blakey got her big break when a meeting with Neiman Marcus Group (through a cold call) converted into a seven store distribution test. One issue was that her product was shelved in a “quiet corner” of the store, namely hosiery, when her product was aimed at many women who might never wear hose. She didn’t leave her success to chance. She asked all of her friends, and her friends’ friends, that lived in the area of the seven stores to buy a pair of Spanx. She told them that she would send them a check to reimburse. She also, without asking, set up a table at the front of the store to merchandise and call attention to her product, which she showed off by wearing it herself. Since she didn’t ask, employees in the store assumed someone else had given her permission. Assuming that no one would find her product in that quiet corner, she moved it to the front of the store.

Spanx is now, of course, a wildly successful brand. But what does its beginnings have to teach us about mobile acquisition?

Categorical Fit is at Odds with Disruption

One of Blakely’s first challenges was where Neiman Marcus Group shelved her product, which was a logical fit but also missed that Spanx was a new product category. Like her product, so many apps are trying out novel ideas about the way we communicate, share, and interact with the world. The app store categories are by design broad and bland. They don’t capture what’s unique about your app’s vision, they don’t capture disruption. In other words, it’s easy to get lost in your category.

One advantage of the app stores is you get to pick your category. Use this to your advantage. It’s a critical choice. One strategy is to avoid picking the most obvious category, and instead choose one where you stick out, one that reflects a core experience of your product. For example, an app that is obviously in the Food and Drink category could have the experience it provides be better represented by Photography, Social Networking, Travel, Health and Fitness, Lifestyle, or Navigation.

But just like Spanx in a little browsed section of the store, app store categories are less effective than keywords. Just as everyone comes through the front door where Sara Blakely set up her table, most organic installs for apps come through search. Thoughtful app store optimization is your way to rank on powerful, specific keyword searches that are your way to set up a table at the front of the app store.

Gaming the System

One aspect of the Spanx story that struck me was Blakely networking and reimbursing her social circle to inflate sales. She believed in her product, but if the test markets didn’t generate enough sales, Neiman Marcus Group would drop the product. How is this different from incenting app downloads to increase visibility? The incentivized installs themselves have little value, but just as shelf space in retail is a formula that multiplies churn times margins, the app store uses installs times reviews.

If you are ranked 71st in a massive category like Social Media, that’s impressive, but also pointless. How many people browse a category through the 70 apps on the shelf in front of you? Just as Blakely laid out her own money to keep a retail presence, app developers must be prepared for the fight to get noticed among the 1000s of me-too apps clogging the app store aisles. Don’t wait to be discovered. Demand to be discovered.

Intro the App

Finally, mobile apps has become a largely freemium marketplace. This decreases the friction for a curious consumer to download your app.

Blakely got the meeting with the Neiman Marcus Group buyer, but the woman was unconvinced by the pitch. It was only when Blakely took her to the bathroom (which must have been an awkward moment in the meeting) to show her the product that she was wearing did Neiman Marcus Group agree to a market test. In the same way, Blakely stood at the front of the store and showed potential customers her product by wearing it.

You can’t wear your app, but when you get a download through organic traffic or paid acquisition, you have a small window to show them what it does, what it will mean to them, why they will return to it and not delete it from their phone. That’s not an easy task, but as creators it’s our job to communicate our vision. This can be accomplished through a pared-down clarity in function and features, stellar UX design, demos and intro screens. But don’t waste an install and open. That’s just the beginning of the funnel. Put on your Spanx and show them.