Setting your marketing strategy during and after Covid-19

What the Chinese App Store trends may tell us about the future of the app industry in the rest of the world.

It has not gone unnoticed that user behavior in the app industry has dramatically changed as restrictions imposed on citizens worldwide force them to quickly adapt to a different life. Many of us now turn to apps for entertainment, utilities, workouts, education and much more. The resulting increase in app downloads and user activity highly correlates with the spread of the coronavirus and social restrictions imposed by governments. In Italy, one of the hardest hit countries, app downloads in the App Store are soaring to record heights. The trend is prevalent among most of the world’s largest app economies.  

This chart shows download volume and download index from app analytics provider Appfigures that, in an effort to help track the impact of Covid-19 on the app market, made their Mobile Download Index available for free (Mobile Download Index definition). I will be using some more charts from them in this post.

Why this is important for advertisers

Certain categories (education, entertainment, health and fitness among others) see downloads surging while others (travel) see them dropping. With this drastic change in the app world, advertisers ask themselves how this will affect their business and what will happen when life returns to a more normal situation. Enter China, where the outbreak has slowed close to a halt in early February and quarantines and curfews have since been lifted. I did some comparisons across App Store download trends in China and the US to try to understand what type of development we can expect. Let’s look at some different categories.

Soaring categories – expect significant bounce backs

Education

Entertainment

Productivity

Education, entertainment and productivity app downloads started to soar to unprecedented heights in most countries when people were told to stay at home. However, as soon as the outbreak was significantly slowed, the download volumes plummeted in China and are now back to normal levels. 

All of these categories are still soaring in the US, and as an advertiser within these categories, China provides important guidance. If we expect a similar development in the US as that in China, we should expect the current download spikes to remain only for as long as the virus outbreak is growing and people are forced to stay at home. As soon as the outbreak and, consequently, life stabilizes we could expect to see rapid drops in downloads in these categories and a return to a more “normal” level.

If you are an advertiser within any of these categories and you plan to run a special campaign during this period you must act fast since the behaviors in these categories are highly temporary and you can not expect any long lasting behavioral effects once life returns to normal. Perhaps the most important thing to consider now is how you can keep your service relevant over time for all the thousands of new users you have gotten over the past weeks.  A similar behavior was observed in the Social Networking, Business, Lifestyle, Photo and Video and Utilities categories.

Health and Fitness – a remaining change?

The Health and Fitness category, despite being highly seasonal, displays the same strong upward trend at the local coronavirus outbreak. However, look at what happens in China after the peak in mid-February. After downloads initially dropped the positive trend picked up again and remains at a high level. This could indicate a sustained effect for Health and Fitness apps post-corona. Now look at the strong seasonal trends for this category in the US. It typically has a huge spike just after New Years (let’s go beach body!) and drops just a week or so later and then slowly decreases over the year down to a bottom around Christmas, except for a summer bump. Now, with the sudden surge in health and fitness app downloads and the potential of a sustained positive effect afterwards, that may put that slow yearly decline at a much higher download level than expected, making 2020 an exceptional year for the health and fitness category.

For you as an advertiser in the health and fitness industry, you could be facing your best market opportunity right now. With the entire world (since the trend in most countries is the same as in the US) showing an unprecedented interest in health and fitness apps, millions of people will be wondering what app best helps them stay healthy. Passively, you should expect an influx of new organic users but with an active marketing strategy you can be top of mind for the masses looking for the right app for them. The sustained download trend seen in China makes a stronger marketing case in this category as the investment in setting up a new campaign can be leveraged over a longer period of time. Similar trends were observed in the Music and Games categories.

Travel – a slow recovery

The hardest hit category is, unsurprisingly, Travel, plummeting in every App Store country. When things turned around in China, so did the download trend for Travel apps. It has not seen a rapid turnaround but it has been on a slow rise since bottoming out mid-February. A likely explanation for this is that while China stopped its outbreak, the outbreak took off in the rest of the world leaving travel significantly limited. When the world recovers from the coronavirus it will likely not happen simultaneously so there will probably be a gradual return to normal for world wide travel. The travel app download trend we see in China is, therefore, likely to be observed elsewhere too.

But, the trend in China also shows us that as soon as people can move around again they are starting to download travel apps. An advertiser in the travel app segment therefore does good in preparing for this moment on a per country basis and have their strategy all planned out so that when the trend turns, they can just press a button and have their new campaigns live.

Note: I only looked at the App Store because Google Play is not officially available in China, so there was no data to compare with.

Rikard Karlander
Head of Analytics, Twigeo
Rikard has an MSc in Engineering and Mathematics and has been active in the digital marketing sphere for five years. He has working experience with apps across all App Store categories through his time at Twigeo.