Are apps medical devices? Part three: How do you create an app which also creates downloads and engagement?


In the third of their three-part article, Paul Dixey and Sam Walmsley discusses some of the promotional and communications techniques you should consider when marketing your health app.

(Continued from Are apps medical devices? Part two: Apps as medical devices – the regulatory framework)

In part 1 of this series, we included some useful tips and questions to consider when developing an app. In part 2 we reviewed the regulatory framework surrounding app development for pharma companies and agencies. In this final article, Bluelight will provide helpful advice on how to successfully market your health app.

Healthcare professionals are heavy users of smartphones. A study published in late 2010 by d4 showed that 81% of doctors in the UK own a smartphone. 59% use their smartphone to access work-related content online, and 30% run work-related software and apps. Since this survey, we would estimate these numbers have only increased in the UK. European and US data from EPG and Manhattan support these numbers.


"...only 20% of branded apps in iTunes reach 1,000 downloads, and only 1% reach 1 million..."


The challenge for any brand is that only 20% of branded apps in iTunes reach 1,000 downloads, and only 1% reach 1 million (Deloitte). This highlights the challenge of brands in this space and the need to maximise how users find and engage with your app. However downloads alone aren’t the only consideration, with 30% of apps only used once, and less than 5% still in use after a month, how do you create an app which also creates engagement? Following Apple’s advice, successful apps should be: Delightful, Innovative, Designed, Integrated, Optimised, Connected and Localised. For healthcare add Useful into the mix.

On both the Apple and Android platforms there is a distinct category for ‘Medical’ and ‘Healthcare &amp, Fitness’ amongst their app stores. Although these categories only make up 2%, out of a combined total of 21,000 apps, you still need to consider how our audience will find your app. Additionally, app discovery doesn’t start and end in an app store. Finding new apps to download can rely heavily on word of mouth e.g. recommendations by friends and colleagues, social media, app review articles and importantly search. Healthcare professionals are no different. Just because your content on your app is innovative, useful and well designed your users will not discover it if it is not optimised or marketed effectively. When it comes to apps it’s very much ‘Content of apps is king, marketing of apps is queen – and the queen runs the household’.

So what should pharmaceutical companies be doing to maximise downloads of their apps? Here are Bluelight’s 15 top tips for successful marketing of your health app:

1. Make sure it works

Ok this is an obvious one, but don’t use your audience to test your app, make sure you have completed a thorough user testing before the app goes live. Your audience won’t continue to use an app that doesn’t work from day one and will delete it.

2. Your brand equity

If you are a pharma company don’t allow your agency or developer to put your app under their own account in the app store, it should be under your own brand, or company name. Consider what you call your app, make sure it is unique, but also includes either keywords in the disease area or brand name where appropriate.


" still need to consider how our audience will find your app..."


3. Maximise exposure in the app store

Make sure you maximise downloads by using the full description, that it is well optimised around what people will be searching for and includes information about how the app functions. If you are unsure, use free tools like Google Keyword Tool to understand your audience behaviour in search. Link to your website, or additional information on the disease area, rather than to a corporate site.

4. Listen to feedback from users

Positive feedback on your app can encourage others to download your app, but don’t fake this by getting your agency and own team to write a review. Do listen to negative feedback, this will help you update your app and improve your app for users, you can promote updates and advise when problems have been fixed. Include an analytics package within your app to learn from your user how they are using your app content.

5. Create an app website, or have its own page within your website

We would highly recommend you create a page or a website featuring your app. This then means you can optimise the page for search, focusing on those who are seeking information via search engines. It also means you can add more resources and information, as well as drive traffic through promotional techniques. Also ensure your website is mobile friendly if linked through from your app.

6. Promotion

Don’t be afraid to use promotional techniques such as PPC, display and email advertising to drive traffic to your app website page. Don’t forget to use analytics to maximise downloads for spend, to work out Cost Per Download.

7. Connect offline activities to your app

Consider promoting your app at healthcare conferences, in printed media, via sales force and other offline activities. Use QR codes for quick downloads of app.

8. Allow users to share your app with colleagues and friends

If your users like your app, allow them to share it amongst their friends and colleagues, either by email, or through their social media channels. Also add a ‘Share This’ functionality within the app website. Allow users to distribute your content for you.


"...Do listen to negative feedback, this will help you update your app and improve your app for users..."


9. Use Twitter &amp, social media channels

Don’t forget where appropriate to promote your new app to your audiences on Twitter, Google+ and other corporate social media channels. Don’t forget to use popular hashtags to aid discovery (#hcsmeu #mhealth etc).

10. Create a video of your app

This is a great tool to drive users to your app, with YouTube being the 2nd largest search engine it not only increases exposure in search engines, but allows users to see benefits of the app. GSK recently launched My Asthma App includes a YouTube video.

11. Use the blogging community and app review sites

Reach out to pharmaceutical marketing press, health channels, bloggers and app review sites. This helps create a wider exposure for your app with consumers from reviews with sites they trust, encourage a link to your app website, or at least link to your app page.

12. Use internal / external emails to promote app

Don’t forget your customers who have already subscribed to hear from you, make sure they are notified, and include links on your own email signatures.

13. Patient group endorsement

A patient group can add credibility and exposure for your app. However if you are proactively seeking endorsement, you will need to have full disclosure and paperwork in place. In the UK contact the PMCPA if you have questions on what is required.

14. Use PR channels

Don’t forget to include traditional media within your mix. MSD Clarityn app received 70,000 app downloads within two weeks of launch after the app was reviewed in the Daily Mail.

15. Create engagement

Use push notifications to bring users back to your app – this doesn’t need to be a daily occurrence, but can be used for content updates, breaking news or additional content on your mobile website.

There is no point spending money on developing an app that isn’t used, or downloaded. The majority of these marketing activities are free to do, or can be incorporated into wider digital, PR or marketing campaigns.

Should pharmaphorum readers like access to the D4 research we can offer 25% off reports on mobile use of GMC registered doctors, nurses and midwifes, when quoting pharmaphorum.

About the authors:

Paul Dixey @pauldixey

Sam Walmsley @sammielw

Paul Dixey and Sam Walmsley are Managing Partners at Bluelight Partners, which is an independent experienced digital and mobile consultancy focusing on the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. We develop innovative and integrated strategies, so that digital, social media or mobile can be an integral and compliant part of pharmaceutical marketing and communication mix.

How do you create an app which also creates engagement?


8 February, 2012