The zombie app escape strategy: How to get your users to drive downloads and use


Apart from stars like Uber, Angry Birds and Facebook most apps are destined to join the ranks of the ‘living dead’, languishing unfound and unloved among over a million competitors in the Apple Store and Google Play. Even those that make it to a smartphone are often forgotten and uninstalled after a few months. In other words, they will be zombies until you finally apply the mercy blow and remove them from the App Stores.

Here are a few stats:

  • Localytics found 20% of apps were opened only once during the first six months
  • In 2013, Stardust found between 41-69% of apps in App Stores had less than ten reviews and had never been updated.

Considering an average app costs US$50-100k, including ongoing testing and updating (although Kinvey found that 18% cost US$500k-1m), it’s no wonder Gartner predicted that by 2018 only a ‘dismally low’ 0.01% of apps will be considered a financial success. 

But as customers are spending more time on mobile, apps are increasingly important for driving sales and bookings across ecommerce, retail, travel and personal finance.  

So how can you escape the clutches of the zombies?

Zombie escape part 1: Be found, be seen

An app that is not seen has no chance of being downloaded. Simple.

Even though the Apple App Store reportedly gets around 300 million visits a week, the competition means you would be ill advised to rely on the ‘featured pages’, ‘trending’ or ‘related’ searches, or being found via the ‘explore’ tab. And App Store Optimisation, like choosing search friendly app names and keywords, imagery and getting reviews will only marginally increase your chances of being seen.

Even if you create some launch buzz, all download spikes eventually wear off, and last year Apple changed its algorithm to discriminate against manipulation of rankings with ‘burst strategies’ of paid ads and incentivised downloads.

But App Stores are already becoming less relevant. Gartner stated that, faced with so much choice ‘app users are increasingly turning to recommendation engines, friends, social networking or advertising for app discovery’.

Given how powerful friends’ recommendation are, we’re great believers in motivating and rewarding your most enthusiastic users to supercharge discovery, by injecting social buzz and rewarding them for sharing.

Provided you make it easy for them to do so, you can ask your most loyal customers to talk to their friends and family about your app and to leave and share reviews. You can do this via a combination of in-app push messages, email newsletters, tweets and posts in your forums and Facebook Groups.  You should also be constantly engaging users, not just focusing on launch. Otherwise your reviews and new user acquisition will likely dry up.

But to really super-charge this you need to combine concepts like tiered rewards, gamification and mutual targets. A tiered rewards means your reward increases for each additional friend you encourage to download the app. Gamification engages super referrers to compete for a special ‘money can’t buy’ prize and  mutual targets means everyone benefits as milestones of new customer acquisition are achieved.

To be clear, what we are talking about has nothing to do with incentivised downloads where a list of  ‘More Games’ is included inside an unrelated app and users are offered in-game credits to download the app or watch a video. Instead we are talking about targeted recommendations from friends and family where the sharer believes the recipient will find the app interesting.

Zombie escape part 2: Drive use, drive retention

Even if your app is downloaded you have still not yet escaped the Zombies. When you consider that, in 2012, Comscore reported that the average smartphone user had over 40 installed apps it is little wonder that many are ignored.

Use will also be increasingly important for monetisation given that Gartner predicted that by 2017 94.5% of apps will be free, relying on in-app purchases and advertising to make money. This means you should spend as much effort on retention and engagement as on getting the initial download.

Thankfully many of the same principles of tiered rewards, gamification and mutual targets can be used to drive discovery and use of app features. By using in-app push messages, email or social posting, users can be alerted to a new feature or promotion and encouraged to try, review, and share it.  In this way a series of micro-conversions can be created with rewards for each desired action like trying a new feature, linking a credit card or creating a profile.

Zombie-proofing your app

Ultimately the strategy you take will depend on the nature of your app and the kinds of behaviours you want to encourage. But whatever the purpose of your app, you can mobilise existing users to drive both downloads and app usage and retention.

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11 Jun 2015, 5:29 p.m.

Thank you, this information is indeed helpful and extremely valuable. Surely, it has pointed out a few things one need to consider and reconsider when building their Apps.