What marketers can learn from the COVIDSafe app

Thinking of using apps as part of your marcom strategy? Appetiser Apps co-founder Jamie Shostak examines COVIDSafe to highlight what not to do.

The government’s COVIDSafe app is a great idea in theory. The app is designed to track and hopefully eradicate the Covid-19 virus by stopping the spread before it gets out of control. However, after being downloaded by 7m Australians, latest reports tell us that the COVIDSafe app has only identified 17 coronavirus cases.

The government isn’t the only one who finds apps a challenge: great ideas but poor execution rule supreme on the app store. So what are the takeaways for marketers to ensure their own apps don’t suffer the same challenges?

When tech problems and low usage combine

When the COVIDSafe app first launched, Prime Minister Scott Morrison compared the app to “putting on sunscreen to go out into the sun”. The idea was that the app would become a regular, familiar part of daily life.

The app’s instructions say “to keep COVIDSafe active, open the app every few hours”. Yet without constant reminders – either via notifications or on-location posters – it becomes difficult to remember to open the app.

This has caused a problem, especially for iPhone users, who have been hampered by an issue where unless they have the app running in the foreground or they are using an older model phone, the app might not be recording all the data required for the app to work correctly. There was also confusion about what ‘running in the background’ actually means. Can you take phone calls while it is open, and can you still lock your screen?

The government is engaging in ongoing discussions with both Apple and Google to figure out how to integrate a technical framework that claims to be more effective in identifying contacts. But until that day arrives, the app still has a long way to go before it’ll work entirely as planned.

The takeaway for marketers: nothing will persuade customers to battle through a bad user experience. You almost always only get one chance to get it right. Get your UX and tech issues ironed out as a first priority.

Trust issues

When the app launched, legislation was released that included jail terms of up to five years and a fine of $63,000 per offence for misuse of data. Despite this, public privacy concerns remained, and are still a big blocker to many downloading and using the app to this day. As reported by the ABC, one security researcher has compiled a dossier of weaknesses they believe could make the COVIDSafe app vulnerable to a range of different attacks.

For marketers, the takeaway is clear: address any and all privacy concerns as clearly as possible, and before they have to ask. The more information an app asks of its users, the more you also must do to reassure them of privacy and explain how their data will be stored and used. Avoid technical jargon, and make efforts to outline exactly when, where, and how users’ data is being used.

Mixed messages

The government spent an estimated $60 million dollars advertising the app, with spend split across television, radio, outdoor and social media ads. The messaging was around the vital nature of the app, and how critical it would be for easing restrictions.

But as time goes on, the app is mentioned less and less. Even NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has said that COVIDSafe has “obviously not worked as well as we had hoped”.

The lesson for marketers? If you’re in, you’re in. Any sense of uncertainty will hamper your campaign, reduce usage and stop the surge of downloads necessary for a successful app.

The importance of positive feedback

One major missing feature of the COVIDSafe app is any kind of feedback or reward that either an action has been completed or something useful has resulted from them using the app. Some users received the message: “you haven’t opened the app for x days, make sure you do”, while others received nothing.

Positive feedback could be as simple as a notification or a message on the screen that encourages people and gives some satisfaction that using the app was worth it. This kind of positive feedback loop can also be used to encourage people to come back to the app again and again.

People also need a reason to visit the app, beyond mere compliance. Using the app to see updated information about case numbers/locations is a great reason to visit the app again, for example. Just as social media apps like Facebook use notifications and alerts to lure you back in, apps need to offer an incentive and reason to return.

Ultimately, the takeaway for marketers is twofold: build apps that are appealing, robust and easy to use, and ensure that you have complete confidence in it before launch. That way, your comms will be strong and incisive, and users will respond with greater confidence and engagement as a result.

Jamie Shostak is co-founder and head of growth at Appetiser Apps.


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