Students find unique ways to market apps

Oct. 22, 2015, 11:19 p.m.
Students find unique ways to market apps
Representatives from Knock Knock promoted their app by hosting a Netflix and Chill event earlier this month. (Courtesy of Quinn Gravier & JJ Harris)

Social apps are not uncommon on a campus like as Stanford. Amidst this saturated market, app developers realize they need to use inventive marketing techniques to differentiate their product from its battalion of competitors. These strategies can range from signing a NBA player to adopting a viral catchphrase.

One startup, Knock Knock, joined Stanford Sigma Nu’s “Netflix and Chill” event earlier this month to increase publicity. The app allows users to simply tap on their phones to keep track of new acquaintances’ names and exchange contact information. According to Knock Knock marketing and operations intern Dominica Wambold ’15, the company wanted to present the app in its ideal use environment, which required gathering a group of people together.

Although the event at Stanford helped to generate a potential user group, Wambold explained that their market research showed that Stanford was not the most effectual campus to launch a social app.

“The most successful [apps] like the Tinders, the Lulus – they did not succeed as well at the Stanfords of the world,” Wambold said. “They succeeded at the bigger schools – more party-oriented schools – a lot of the time.”

Even Snapchat did not start out as an instant success at Stanford, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. Instead, it only gained popularity as the app made its ranks among high school users.

Other apps have adopted less common promotion methods altogether. One such company is Shortnotice, whose co-founder Kush Nijhawan ‘16 signed Memphis Grizzlies player Russ Smith as brand ambassador for his startup.

Shortnotice aims to streamline the process of setting up group hangouts. Nijhawan explained that users create a post on the app and wait for friends and contacts to “nudge” them when they are available.

The company built its marketing strategy around having a firm philosophy. Rather than emphasizing the values of a certain feature of Shortnotice, Nijhawan said that he promoted the app to people by telling stories and relating the app’s founding principle. It was their principle of “count memories, not likes” that caught Smith’s attention.

“We’re trying to make a tool to help enrich your day and make your day a little better,” Nijhawan said.

After a company establishes its core message, Stanford’s convenient access to well-known figures presents opportune scenarios for startup founders to leverage connections, Nijhawan explained.

“There’s always going to be little moments where there’s a celebrity walking by,” he said. “And in those moments, instead of sitting there and letting that moment get by, you’ve got to get up, and you’ve got to make an impression.”

While Nijhawan also pointed to Al Gore’s recent visit as an example of the opportunities available on campus, sometimes, it is not the fame of the individual that matters, but their area of expertise. When Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were at Stanford, they sought out David Cheriton, professor of computer science, for advice despite never having taken his class. That proactive meeting led to one of Google’s first checks.

On the other hand, apps such as Sesh focus less on marketing and more on improving the app itself. A peer-tutoring app that connects students in a certain course to tutors who previously took the class, Sesh was co-founded by Neil Hamamoto ‘15 along with five students from other universities.

“We’re a really product-focused group,” Hamamoto said. “We think that if we deliver a really great product, the marketing will sort of take care of itself.”

Since they spent the previous summer making important Android and iOS updates to Sesh, Hamamoto said the founders had less time to focus on the marketing themselves. But their contract with The Campus Agency – a company that pitches itself as the “masters of college marketing” – has produced favorable results. The agency helped Sesh recruit campus ambassadors who became the faces of the company.

“[Ambassadors are] in charge of making sure that our fulfillment rate is high at schools,” Hamamoto said.

Indeed, a simple search on Handshake showed that The Campus Agency was seeking a Marketing Manager based at Stanford for Sesh. Since the app is available at 12 universities across the country, the marketing representatives help the company stay up-to-date with happenings at various campuses. The ambassadors’ presence on each campus also allow them to provide more expedient customer service.

“The students know that [the reps] can be reached anytime,” Hamamoto said. “If there’re any problems, the reps are there to help, face-to-face.”

The art of marketing is an ongoing process that the founders of the different apps are still trying to figure out. While making the product is a large part of the work, promoting and delivering it to a receptive audience requires creativity and hard work, Nijhawan said.

“A lot of entrepreneurs, they make an app, and they think that’s all you got to do,” Nijhawan said. “That’s great, but then they stop. With Shortnotice, making the app was the first 10 percent, and now, we’ve got to go the rest of the 90 percent.”

Contact Ariel Han Liu at aliu15 ‘at’

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