Apple’s iOS Update Changes Review Strategies For Brand Marketers

Apple app developers will finally be able to respond to user reviews directly in the App Store, with responses available for all to see, beginning with iOS 10.3. Android developers have long had the option to respond to reviews in the Google Play Store, giving them the flexibility to address negative reviews and create a better and more meaningful dialog between developer and user, and now Apple is joining the party in giving brand marketers a more powerful tool for their review strategies.

Brand marketers are increasingly using mobile apps as a way of expanding their presence with shopping support tools. Sephora’s Makeup & Beauty Shopping app, for example, targets shoppers outside of the store by giving them a virtual try-on tool and beauty advice. Other traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are getting in on the app market as well, with new apps that go beyond simple shopping to make the online experience every bit as interactive as going to the store with digital tools, coupons and offers customized for each individual shopper, and immediate access to reviews from other shoppers.

Apple’s new API also addresses the “nag” function that some developers favor. From a marketing perspective, asking for a review should always be part of the overall strategy, but going overboard by asking too many times – as some developers occasionally do – can backfire and annoy users. The new system strikes a better balance, limiting the number of times the developer can make the ask, and also making it easier for users to leave a rating without having to leave the app.

Currently, developers can prompt for a review or rating as often as they want, but in the new version, popups asking for reviews can occur only three times a year, and once a user actually does leave a review, the popup will not be shown again. Users can also disable the review request popups with a simple toggle switch in the Settings menu if they prefer not to see the ratings request screen.

With barriers to entry low due to the availability of online app store platforms, along with easy platform-as-a-service models for developing new apps, we’re seeing thousands of new entrants into the mobile app market daily. In addition to the larger and more established purveyors of mobile apps, more SOHO entrants are testing the waters. With this new focus on establishing a firmer and more personalized connection between the developers / marketers and the consumers, marketers in this crowded field will be held to a higher level of accountability, portending a possible shakeout at the lower end of the market.

This increasingly crowded market also means that app developers need to pay closer attention to their marketing efforts and move away from boilerplate tactics to embrace a more direct, two-way dialog with customers. In an environment where there may easily be a hundred apps similar to yours, basic “try us out” advertising messages, spammy SEO content tactics and annoying popups aren’t going to help gain traction. What will help is a campaign that shows your app was created by real people, and that you’re not afraid to have a real conversation with current and potential customers.

Are Reviews Important To The Marketing Strategy?

Apple’s move is a welcome one for those who market the dizzying number of apps that are available on the App Store. Marketers are discovering that, especially in the younger Millennial generation, consumers respond to what their peers say much more than they will respond to what Madison Avenue says. A recent Boston Consulting Group survey showed that 52 percent of Millennials (as opposed to 33 percent of Boomers) use social media on mobile devices to indicate that they like a brand, and 39 percent of those Millennials post reviews.

Legitimate online reviews, along with two-way dialog through social media outlets, will increase in importance for app marketers’ campaigns, and in the all-important App Stores, a product with no reviews is a non-starter. With that in mind, startup app marketers struggle to get those reviews and often make some critical mistakes, by either attempting to game the system with fake or paid reviews or neglecting to respond to reviews when they are posted.

It has always been a productive practice to take advantage of the app store’s feature that allows app marketers to ask for reviews. By putting the brakes on spammy practices, Apple is offering a little savvy hand-holding to marketers that may otherwise go overboard; which will ultimately help them reap more sales. But reviews, in and of themselves, offer only limited value if they are not interactive. Marketers who take advantage of the ability to respond to reviews publicly will also get a sales boost.

Responding to reviews – both positive and negative – is one of the best practices a marketer can do. Every marketer will get a negative review now and then, and it doesn’t have to be a sales-killer when it happens. A meaningful and sincere response will mean a lot to consumers who are looking for a deeper emotional connection with the brands they engage with. Consumers are in fact, more likely to see a site with hundreds of single-line positive reviews as transparently fake, and will respond better to an app page with a more realistic mix of reviews, and real responses to consumers’ real concerns and comments.