How Neon Roots reinvented itself by putting marketing first

After almost going out of business, this mobile development firm turned things around.

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Apps have become an important part of marketing a business. Whether it’s for entertainment or information, a good app can increase customer loyalty. In addition to marketing businesses, some companies make money off the apps themselves, providing a solution that customers will pay to use. As busy as app development firms have been in recent years, though, often many businesses find they pay to design apps, only to discover customers aren’t engaging with them.

Neon Roots is a Los Angeles, California-based development shop that has developed apps for big names like Spotify and Epson. After one project nearly wiped out its resources, the Neon Roots team decided it was time to regroup. The end result of that period of introspection was a project called Rootstrap, which helps startups and small businesses strategize the digital products they create.

Marketing comes first

Rootstrap focuses on planning. Instead of turning over a basic concept to an app developer, Rootstrap members carefully consider what they hope to gain from making an app available. They consider the audience for their new digital product and keep that audience in mind as they come up with both the overall concept and details. This planning not only helps ensure their app will be effective, but also helps them save money, since they have everything conceptualized before development even begins.

The biggest benefit of this careful planning, though, is that it lays the groundwork for a business’s app marketing efforts. Neon Roots has found that many app development shops simply start developing, charging the customer by the hour. Not only does this result in a far more expensive product, but it also means that the team hasn’t planned its app with its own customer base in mind. When it comes time to market the finished product, they have work hard to sell the app to customers in a way that makes sense.

Customers first

Any effective product solves a common problem, ideally identified through careful market research. When a business puts customers first during development, a product or service is likely to connect with customers. Rootstrap doesn’t write a single line of code until businesses have completed a series of questions about the app’s intended user base. In doing so, both the business and the development team have a comprehensive picture of the customers who will be interacting with the app and the features that can best serve them.

Rootstrap does this through a workshop that encourages members to question every assumption. By the end of the workshop, members have an app idea that is ready to be developed into a working piece of software. The idea is so fully fleshed out, in fact, that many participants find they can successfully pitch to investors, if they choose to go that route. If they do choose to develop the app after their time with Rootstrap, they have an in-depth description of what they want that will save them time and money, since the developers can start coding without having to plan as they go.

Marketing an app

Whether your app is designed to market your existing products and services or it serves as a moneymaking product in itself, it won’t help you at all if nobody downloads it. Like any other product, an app needs strong marketing. Word-of-mouth relies heavily on the app being both usable and useful once those customers do try it out, but first you’ll need an app that fills a need. When consumers see how it can improve their own lives in some way, they’re more likely to seek out an app and add it to their mobile devices.

The best way to build buzz is to let a core group of customers try your app out for free. They can then spread the word within their own social circles, calling more attention to what you’re doing. As you get more downloads and reviews, you’ll increase your ranking on the top app stores, ensuring when customers are searching for apps in your subject area, you’ll feature prominently.

Developing a new app can be exciting, but it’s important to avoid getting too far ahead of yourself in the process. Take time to plan your app, considering your audience and how you’ll convince customers to give it a try. The more you build this into the planning of your app, the more likely you’ll be able to create an app that is easy to market.

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