Last Updated: December 7, 2020

It has become a familiar image – a man on a bus sits hunched over a smartphone while his finger moves methodically across the screen. Beneath this simple gesture is a revolutionary new way to interact with the world. This hypothetical man is likely scrolling through his list of applications, looking for the one that will turn his bus ride into an opportunity to work, play, communicate, or educate. His smartphone offers a portal to the world that gives him unprecedented access to tools for life.

Mobile devices have become so popular because they serve as truly portable computers. With the development of applications (apps) for smartphones and tablets, it is now possible to access and interact with all the tools and content that the internet has to offer. Apps allow users to access maps, find coupons, conduct business, and play games to pass the time. With hundreds of new apps appearing daily, there is an app to meet every need. The challenge for app marketers is getting noticed over the competition. Marketers have to convince consumers that their app is the most helpful, creative, and intuitive app available.

The Psychology of Marketing Moble Apps

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited “Shopping App”Average looking people are shown using their smartphones to look up the products they are shopping for in stores on and Women 20-60Convenience – The ad suggests that the app makes it easy to buy products online that you encounter in your everyday life.
ESPN “Watch Live”A stereotypical looking cowboy sits atop a horse deep in the dessert. As he begins to wrangle cattle, he watches sports and live broadcasts from ESPN.Men 25-50Accessibility – If a rough cowboy in a remote location can access all of his favorite sports content, then anyone can access it from anywhere. The commercial suggests to ESPN viewers that they can watch sports anywhere, even when they are on the go.
Fixel “Living Photos”A couple is shown photographing their young daughter on her birthday. Using the Fixel app, the father animates the picture and loads it instantly to the internet.Men and Women 20-40Sentimentality – The ad positions the Fixel app as a bridge between your real life and the social media sites where you share memories with friends and family. It uses a sentimental moment to suggest that sharing is important.

Embracing the App

Apps are presented as an antidote to the clutter of the internet, taking the most useful and enjoyable features and wrapping them into an easy-to-use package. This is one of the most appealing features of using apps, and a common pitch in app marketing. People are shown accomplishing important tasks like paying bills or making reservations all while they ride in a taxi cab. Apps market themselves as a streamlined version of the internet that is accessible everywhere.

The Growth of the Tablet Market

Tablet computers are only a little more than two years old, but they have been widely embraced by consumers. A recent study conducted by The Online Publishers Association illustrates the astounding growth of tablet commuting in a very short period of time.

One finding that is relevant to marketers is how the tablet app market has almost doubled from $1.4 billion in 2011 to an estimated $2.6 billion in 2012. Some marketers have neglected the tablet market in favor of the still much larger smartphone market, but this study suggests that the two devices will soon be equally important to customers.

Source: (2012). A portrait of today’s tablet user wave ii. Online Publishers Association

App marketing also highlights the trendy nature of technology. Bold advertisements that state “Millions of Downloads” suggest that there is something popular and appealing about the app. Other apps are marketed as lifestyle signifiers, implying something about the people that use them. Trendy young people are shown using apps to compliment their style or access exclusive events. The message in all of these ads is that an app will enhance a person’s identity. Having it is a sign of cultural relevance.

The very nature of the app means that it is often marketed as a disposable product. Consumers are invited to spend 99 cents on a goofy novelty that they may use a few times and then disregard without being out much money. App marketers often invite consumers to be impulsive and download an app on a moment’s whim. By portraying apps as fun, simple, and consistently cheap, marketers can encourage consumers to download apps without giving much thought to their quality or utility.

App usage around the world

A joint study conducted by Google and The Mobile Marketing Association surveyed thousands of smartphone users around the world to find out how they were incorporating the devices into their lives. One of the most revealing insights was the disparity between total app downloads by users in different countries.

Japan topped the list with 45 apps installed on the average phone. The Japanese are considered to be “active” smartphone users. They embrace the opportunity to use their smartphone in every aspect of their lives. The study authors consider the Japanese to be a model of global smartphone usage moving into the future.

Average Number of Apps Installed on a Smartphone by Country:

  • Japan – 45
  • France – 27
  • United States – 23
  • United Kingdom – 23
  • Germany – 21

**Source: (2011). Global perspectives: The smartphone user and the mobile marketer. Google and The Mobile Marketing Association

The age of smartphone and tablet users

User Demographics

A study conducted by Flurry Analytics examined the demographics of smartphone and tablet users. A graph presenting this market segmented by age appears below. Understanding which customers use which devices is important information for marketers of mobile applications. For instance, seniors use tablet computers in much higher numbers than smartphones. An institution like the AAAP could reach more seniors if they focused on tablet, rather than smartphone applications.

The importance of psychology in marketing

Consumers have over one million different apps to choose from. In order to stand out in a crowded market, app makers must understand the psychology of their customers. For more information about how marketers use psychology, click here.

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Related Careers

Marketing apps on smartphones and tablet computers requires a careful understanding of how consumers feel about the integration of technology into every aspect of contemporary life. In order to get a better psychological portrait of app consumers, marketers rely on professionals like these:

Consumer Insight Manager: Consumer insight managers conduct polls, surveys, and market research in order to better understand the wants and needs of potential customers. Their insights are used to develop new products and identify new markets for companies to explore. App marketers will rely on consumer insight managers to identify the subject and style of apps that consumers most want. Learn more about consumer insight managers.

Interactive Marketing Manager: Interactive marketing managers design and supervise the advertising that takes place in interactive, online environments. They must understand consumer psychology in order to design interactive ads that are intuitive, informative, and attention grabbing. Since most of the app market exists online, insights into online consumer behavior are extremely valuable. Learn more about interactive marketing managers.

Are Apps Intrusive?

A 2012 poll by The Pew Research Institute revealed that:

  • 54% of people who have downloaded apps had declined to install at least one after finding out how much personal information they would have to share.
  • 30% of app users have uninstalled an app after learning that it was collecting personal information about them.

This suggests that privacy and information security is a major concern for app users. App marketers can connect more effectively with consumers if they can reassure them that sensitive information will be kept private.

Source: Boyles, J. L., Smith, A., & Madden, M. (2012). Privacy and data management on mobile devices. Pew internet and American life project