The branding lesson from Evernote every app developer should jot down

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

When I first heard about it, I assumed Evernote Marketplace referred to some kind of new, niche app store. Which made sense to me, in a way--there are so many productivity needs out there, and perhaps Evernote could become to that category what has become to enterprise users. I would never have imagined that Evernote will be offering branded socks instead.

As attendees learned at its recent user conference, Evernote Marketplace will include all kinds of offerings that are not typical of the average mobile app developer. There's the Evernote Moleskine notebook, born of a partnership with the famous paper journal company. If you're a tablet user, you may soon want to jot down thoughts with an Evernote stylus. The messenger bag, co-branded Post-IT notes and laptop sleeve are surely for fanboys. Assuming there are, in fact, Evernote fanboys.

This is either a sign of a major app maker truly "making it" or an example of branding gone wild. Of course, most developers will probably never reach a level of adoption so massive that they will have to consider something akin to Evernote Marketplace, but that's not the point. Through the wide range of physical products it now offers, Evernote is giving its customers a way to extend its value proposition. Evernote's app is designed to make people more productive, and all the merchandise is a way of reinforcing that its customers are true converts to its approach.

There are ways to do something similar without breaking the bank. The first is to think deeply about what your app represents. If it's not productivity, it might be some form of entertainment. Certain mobile games, for example, can help turn their users into heroic knights or athletic explorers. Developers of such apps could easily and inexpensively create digital wallpaper with their best characters that users can download on smartphones or tablets. If a newsreader app helps busy consumers make sense of their day, it wouldn't be hard to create branded labels that users could download and print out on file folders to collect hard copies of their favorite articles.

Of course these things could flop, but what Evernote is doing will probably attract only the most engaged percentage of its installed base, its top users. It's about marketing to those users, which increases their engagement, and perhaps attracts others. The reason you can buy anything from Angry Bird pillowcases to footballs, for example, is that Rovio's game has become iconically recognizable as something fun. If Evernote can get even close to achieving a similar level of brand association, it may become among the most successful app developers ever.

Even if most developers never extend themselves into physical products, it might be worth using the concept as a sort of internal test of how well honed their product messaging and the purpose of their app has been refined. Is it good enough that you could imagine your app's logo on a tote bag, or something even more removed from the app itself? If so, your chances of success at some form of monetization are looking better than ever. -Shane