Brand Awareness And Its Hidden Impact On App Store Optimization (ASO)

Not all awareness is the same, and no ASO benefit from it is like the others

Binh Dang
Binh Dang
Apr 10, 2020 · 9 min read
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Image by Kristian Egelund on Unsplash

The relationship between brand awareness and app store optimization (ASO) has an undeniable importance. On the one hand, ASO makes use of the app store, such as the Apple App Store for iOS apps or Google Play Store for Android, as a channel to display your brand and increase overall awareness. On the other hand, brand awareness influences how people remember you, which, in turns, changes how they interact with your app in the app store.

However, discussions about brand awareness, and its relation with ASO, are taking it for granted. The impact of brand awareness on ASO performance often isn’t viewed past the “Why” and “What” levels (e.g. “why it matters for ASO” and “what to do about it”). As a result, the “How”, which stands for the hidden complexity of how brand awareness affects ASO, is overlooked.

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(Brand) awareness is the first step towards growth in ASO and mobile marketing (Image source: Feedough)

The industry deserves a better understanding of the topic. To achieve this, we need to take a step back to basics and review what brand awareness really is. Then, we can discuss what it means for ASO and organic app growth.

What is brand awareness?

In a nutshell, brand awareness refers to how well customers remember or know about your brand. The more familar they are with your brand, the stronger the brand awareness, and the deeper the influence on their actions. In marketing, such actions could be more purchases, orders or visits. In ASO, they mostly mean more app installs.

What makes it complex is the different forms of brand awareness, each works in a different way. According to David Aaker, the “father of modern branding”, there are 6 levels of brand awareness:

Brand recognition: Can you identify the brand when seeing it?

Brand recall: Can you name the brand spontaneously from memory?

Top of mind: Is the brand the first name you can recall?

Brand dominance: Is the brand the only name you can recall? (Also known as brand supremacy).

Brand knowledge: Do you know what the brand stands for?

Brand opinion: What do you personally think about the brand?

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6 levels of brand awareness (Image source: Kirti Dutta)

The importance of looking at brand awareness in different levels is that it helps you see beyond the “how much” or intensity of awareness. Indeed, it’s about the “what” or kind of awareness, each with a unique influence on user behaviors in the app store.

How can brand awareness benefit ASO?

The brand connects the app store with the outside world. You see a brand on TV, you become aware of it, and when you see an app with that brand in the app store, you’ll remember it. Your awareness of the brand constructs your awareness of the app — or app awareness — and with 6 levels of brand awareness comes 6 levels of app awareness:

1. App recognition:

This is the first and weakest level of app awareness. When users have heard of your brand, they’ll likely recognize your app in the app store, assuming they are associated. This is an advantage against apps with “stranger” brands, especially competitors. The reason is simple: familiarity creates trust, and more trust increases conversion rate.

For instance, a user who’s aware of the Uber brand will likely recognize Uber-related products anywhere it appears — including the Uber Eats app in the Play Store. When they search for “food delivery” and see it listed in search results next to the apps that they’ve never heard of, they’ll likely install Uber Eats. The conversion trigger, in this case, comes from a fear of the unknown.

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If Uber Eats is the only brand you recognize, you’ll probably trust it the most

The downside of this level is it isn’t strong enough to make users take actions. Your app has to appear in front of them and hope it’s recognized — they won’t look for it. To trigger something more active, you’ll need the next levels.

2. App recall:

If users can name your brand when thinking of a problem or category, they will eventually search for it in the app store when in need. For example, the Ada health care app once showed billboards all over Berlin to gain brand awareness. People, as a result, still recall seeing those billboards. As long as those images still linger in their minds, the next time they look for a health care app, they’ll search for Ada.

In ASO, this means branded search terms like “ada” will be used more often, by more users. This will boost their search volume. Eventually, your app’s search visibility for brand keywords will increase.

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A billboard like this could help users recall the Ada brand and, in turns, app in app store search

A disadvantage of recall is its low reliability. Users may recall many apps and you’ll never know when it’d be your app’s turn. Once another app is recalled and installed, there won’t even be a turn.

3. App top of mind:

When your brand is the first name users remember when in need of an app, your app becomes the first they search for. For example, users can recall many brands for vacation rentals, yet they still start with Airbnb as it’s the first name they think of. So, their first branded search in the app store will be “airbnb”.

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Airbnb’s strong brand makes it the first thing people recall for vacation rentals (Image source: Newswire)

The way top of mind helps your app is similar to recall, but with higher intensity. Since apps generally rank highest for their brand keywords, being the first pick in search means being one of the first results users see. Your app doesn’t have to wait till its turn, so the visibility advantage it receives is higher than from recall.

However, even when users search for your app first, if they don’t see what they’re looking for, they’ll leave for other names in mind. Unless your app already has a 100% CVR, there will always be users who continue the search beyond it. Sometimes, you’ll want to be the only one remembered.

4. App dominance:

App dominance is exactly what happens when your app is the only one recalled. It’s like Google for a search engine app. When in need of running a search query, most people can only recall it. In fact, Google’s brand has been so dominant that it’s become a verb itself.

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Google is so dominant people say “Google it” instead of “search for it” (Image source: Corus Radio)

Dominance is a powerful ally of ASO because mobile users seek convenience. In fact, the whole idea behind mobile apps is they’re convenient. So, when users need an app and can only recall one name, it becomes their final destination. Any further searches will likely be generic, non-branded — which take time and efforts, and won’t be quick and easy. As a result, they’ll likely avoid it and stick with what they’ve already found. This means higher CVR, unless your app’s app store presence is so bad it pushes users away.

Speaking of the app store presence, sometimes it is indeed not attractive enough to make app dominance work. Sometimes, you won’t have time and resources to timely produce and update your app store assets. Can you make users install your app without relying on those assets instead? You might, if you can trigger the next level of brand/app awareness.

5. App knowledge:

This is a high level of awareness where users already understand the complex meanings behind your brand or what it stands for. This gives them in-depth comprehension of the products associated with your brand, including your app. In shorts, the more users know about your brand, the more they understand your app.

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Understand the brand and you’ll understand the app (Image source: Pixabay)

The implication of such knowledge could be massive. Imagine dealing with users who already know what your app is about even without looking at it in the app store. Your brand has already taught them about the app, so they won’t need to learn about it again via its app store assets. Best practices for app store icons, screenshots, metadata or otherwise won’t be needed. As soon as they think they need it, they’ll go look for it and install it. This means a boost in both visibility and CVR.

A great example of this is the Starbucks app. The coffeehouse chain was already a global household name with an extremely strong brand awareness in the physical world before it went mobile. For this reason, what the name “Starbucks” stands for and promises to customers was never a surprise for most, including mobile users. This is why when the app was launched, everybody instantly knew what they could expect from it without relying on the app store assets. In the end, despite the multitude of its ASO mistakes, the app still managed to convert over 26 millions installs within a year.

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Starbucks coffee and app: You learn about one, you understand both (Image source: Starbucks)

6. App opinion:

Brand opinion is the highest and most elaborate level of awareness. It triggers when a user gets deeply or extensively engaged with your brand. Their involvement, thus, turns from receiving meanings from your brand to injecting their personal thoughts, perspectives and even beliefs into it.

For better or worse, this is where customers grow mentally attached to your brand. They will take actions to either sustain their relationships (positive and negative alike) with your brand, or publicly express what they think of it, or both. This means the way your brand makes users think about it will have tangible outcomes with amplified intensity and scale.

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Pepsi is merely a substitute of the globally popular Coca Cola in public opinion — and it’s visible (Image source: Kalinax/boredpanda)

For an app, what customers think about your brand will affect their opinion of your app. Their actions will have an implication in the app store. Moreover, because engagement and attachment precede opinion, it affects existing users more than new users. Thus, this has less to do with the immediate goal of increasing (organic) installs and more to do with the long-term growth of the app. To be more specific, its impact includes:

  • Ratings and reviews: This is a convenient way for users to express what they think (or how they feel) about your app. Such convenience lets users instantly bring their opinion of the brand into the app store. They won’t rate because of the product. They do it because of its affinity with the brand. As ratings and reviews influence both app store visibility and CVR, managing your brand opinion means managing ASO performance.
  • Retention and engagement: Loyal users tend to express their brand loyalty by maintaining their usage of your app. By contrast, disappointed users who abandon your brand will stop using or uninstall your app to stay consistent with their values. Either way, its retention and engagement metrics are affected. Because these metrics are search ranking factors, your brand opinion can alter your app’s keyword/search performance.
  • Advocacy or boycott: Word-of-mouth or brand advocacy is powerful in all marketing, including apps. Advocating customers tell others what they think of your brand, influencing their purchase decisions. If they are made on your app, the purchase means an install. However, users aren’t always so benevolent. Angry users will express their disapproval by blacklisting the brand and, as collateral damage, boycotting the app.

The Uber app is a perfect case to exemplify app opinion. In 2017, the ride-hailing giant was involved in a major sexism scandal that began with a personal blogpost but quickly escalated into an industry-wide “war”. As a consequence, public opinion against Uber as a company became incredibly negative and everyone began punishing it by raining their wrath down on its app. Their punishments include deleting the app, telling others to delete it, and sending one-star ratings with complaint-filled reviews in the app store.

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Public opinion against Uber visibly turned from the brand to the app in the app store (Source: Quartz)

At the end of the day, the Uber app did nothing to deserve such dreadful consequences. It was the brand all along. Next time you see something this strange happen to your app, don’t forget to question your brand.

To sum up, brand awareness and the resulting app awareness aren’t as straightforward as you may think. They take on many forms: recognition, recall, top of mind, dominance, knowledge and opinion. As they evolve, their impact on ASO gets complicated, from visibility and CVR in the app store to user sentiment, retention and advocacy. This means your ASO and brand strategies will need to adapt. It will be exciting to see new developments in how to handle the relationship between the app, the brand and ASO.

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Binh Dang

Written by

Binh Dang

Mobile growth manager by profession. Curious about many things by nature. Passionate about culture, marketing, education, innovation and games by choice.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +752K people. Follow to join our community.

Binh Dang

Written by

Binh Dang

Mobile growth manager by profession. Curious about many things by nature. Passionate about culture, marketing, education, innovation and games by choice.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +752K people. Follow to join our community.

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