Leveraging Custom In-App Icons for Brand Engagement

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In the competitive landscape of the App Store and Google Play Store, an app’s icon serves as a paramount visual representation of a brand. It’s not merely an aesthetic choice; it’s a strategic tool designed to enhance store listing conversion rates. An app icon plays a critical role in both the conversion rate (CVR) and click-through rate (CTR) within the App Store and Google Play Store. Many established brands, with their deep-rooted brand guidelines, often hesitate to experiment with their app icons as part of their A/B testing schedule.

This could limit your Conversion Optimisation efforts as the importance of the app icon extends even after the app has been installed on a user’s mobile device. Considering that the average smartphone user has 40 apps installed but only utilises 9 of them daily, the need for an app to stand out on the homepage is undeniable.

However, there is a way to introduce flexibility without compromising brand identity: Custom In-app Icons.

What are Custom In-app Icons?

Custom In-app Icons offer the ability to change an apps classic icon to a different variation of it directly through the app settings after download. This can include inverting the colours, having the brand logo instead of the brand name or having a new style for seasonal events like Christmas. This allows users to modify the app’s visual representation on their home screen, aligning it more closely with their preferences. Such a feature not only personalises the user experience but also strengthens the brand-user relationship.

Custom In-app Icons are a heavily underutilised feature by many app owners, even though this is a product capability that has been around since the release of iOS 10.3 (released in December 2019). It’s lack of usage presents a strategic advantage for those who choose to do so.

Why should app owners implement Custom In-app Icons?

Icons are a high converting element on the app store and is often the first chance for the brand to make an impression on a user. This makes icons an important creative element in establishing the brand and building brand awareness.

An apps icon can be viewed in multiple areas on the app store: The Apps and Todays Page, Search results and Store Listing (both your own and your competitors). This makes icons an important element in converting users.

Once the user downloads the app, the icon is the only feature to leave the app store and make its way onto the user’s phone. The icon then becomes an opportunity for the brand to re-engage users by capturing their attention and bringing them back into the app. Many people already customise their home screen background, organise their apps in categories and have widgets that help them choose what information they want on hand whether Spotify or the weather. Why wouldn’t users want their icons to be just as customisable too?

Source: Trainline’s Custom In-app Icons

Some leading products such as Deliveroo, Monzo and Trainline have incorporated this to bring a truly personalised user experience with their brand and the freedom of choice to personalise their interaction with some of their favourite products.  

So, here our 5 top tips and opportunities for leveraging Custom In-app Icons for your app brand.

1. Leverage seasonality opportunities

Source: Monzo’s Custom In-app Icons

The most obvious use case for Custom In-app Icons is offering a range of icons to tie into seasonal periods and/or social and cultural movements.

Many brands change their app icon as part of their seasonal efforts to create consistency in messaging and creative across store listing assets for events such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Black Friday and Christmas.

This is also a great way to stand out from competitors on the app store during seasonal months as well as capture users’ attentions who have already downloaded an app. This not only enhances the user experience by making it more dynamic and timely, but it also serves as a subtle reminder of the app’s presence and utility during these special times.

Some examples include:

  • A schedule planner app might introduce an icon featuring pencils and notebooks during the Back-to-School season, resonating with students gearing up for the academic year.
  • A clothing brand app could showcase a heart-themed icon around Valentine’s Day, enticing users to explore apparel to drive sales.
  • A fitness app might adopt a beach or summer themed icon as summer approaches, motivating users to engage with the app for their summer fitness goals.
ASOS went for a subtle Valentine’s Day theme in February 2023, changing their app icon to feature a heart and a consistent pick background across their screenshots.

In today’s interconnected world, apps have the potential to be more than just functional tools; they can be platforms that resonate with users on a deeper level. Incorporating icons inspired by cultural and social movements, such as Pride, Black Lives Matter, or Stand with Ukraine, allows apps to align with significant societal values and causes. By doing so, they not only showcase their awareness and sensitivity to global events and issues but also foster a deeper connection with users who identify with these movements. It’s a testament to an app’s commitment to being more than just a service but also a great way to drive home your brand values.

Deliveroo’s Custom In-app Icons feature an LGBT+ Pride Icon option.

2. Safeguard your re-branding efforts.

Rebranding is a strategic pivot that signifies evolution, growth, and a renewed vision for a brand. In the app ecosystem, where the icon is the face of the brand, any rebranding effort must consider the implications of changing this visual touchpoint. However, a sudden shift can be jarring for existing users, potentially leading to confusion or even alienation.

This is where Custom In-app Icons offer a unique solution. By providing users with a suite of icon variations during the rebranding phase, brands can allow users to transition at their own pace. Whether it’s a colour inversion or a focus on the logo instead of the iconography, these options can serve as a bridge between the old and the new. It’s a strategic move that respects user preferences while confidently steering the brand in its new direction.

3. Tie Custom In-app Icons to your ASO efforts.

An App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy is essential for any app business aiming to enhance key metrics, such as organic install growth or improving conversion metrics such as ‘Impression to Install’ on iOS and ‘Product Page View to Install’ on Android.

Let’s start with a key ASO strategy: A/B testing. A/B testing stands out as the definitive data-driven approach to discern user preferences for your icons.

If your test is conclusive, you’ll have a great idea about what icon is driving higher conversion of your listing. However, your losing variant/s may still be a preference of some users. By offering these variants as options for Custom In-app Icons, you can give the best of both worlds to your users. Not only that, but your custom in-app icons also offer another, more long-term, invaluable data collection point. Just like your icon A/B tests, observing your range of Custom In-app Icons that users gravitate towards over time can provide insights that might justify a more significant alteration to your primary app store listing icon in the future.

Another way to tie Custom In-app Icons to your ASO efforts is via In-app Events, creating a synergy between the in-app experience (you can read more from our dedicated blog post on In-app Events here).

In-app events serve multiple strategic purposes:

  • They act as magnets drawing in new users.
  • They rekindle the interest of those who may have drifted away from your app.
  • Amplifying your app’s presence on the app stores by occupying more visible real estate.

Getting In-app Events accepted by Apple’s editorial team can sometimes be a pain point for app owners. However, a new feature update, such as customisable icons, is a great strategy to roll into your In-app Events strategy.  The prominence of In-app Events isn’t confined to just the app’s listing. They can surface on the ‘Apps’ and ‘Today’ pages, acting as powerful catalysts in driving organic traffic to your app. By highlighting the introduction of customisable icons as a notable In-app Event, you not only enhance user engagement but also position your app favourably in the competitive app store landscape.

4. Drive further product engagement.

Trainline’s in-app notification for the release of their Custom In-app Icons

That leads us to our next point – using Custom In-app Icons as a product engagement driver. As we have already noted, offering Custom In-app Icons is a great new update that you want your users to leverage and your In-app Events will hopefully work to drive users back into the app. However, another tool at your disposal are in-app notifications. You can alert users to the option of personalising their app icon, adding a fresh dimension to their experience.

Such notifications can serve multiple purposes:

  1. Re-engagement: Drawing users back into the app, especially those who might have reduced their interaction with your product over time.
  2. Feedback Loop: Gathering insights on user preferences based on the icon variants they choose, which can inform future design and feature decisions.
  3. Promotion: Highlighting other app features or updates alongside the new icon options, ensuring users are aware of all the app’s capabilities.

Key metrics to monitor include:

  • User Engagement Rate: The frequency and depth of user interaction post-notification.
  • Adoption Rate: The percentage of users who opt to change their app icon after receiving the notification.
  • Retention Rate: Monitoring if the introduction of this feature affects the number of users who continue to use the app over time.

By strategically leveraging in-app notifications for custom icons, you can not only enhance user experience but also gain valuable insights to drive your app’s growth.

5. Mitigate bad reviews from the app stores.

We’ve already stressed how closely tied the app icon is to your app’s brand identity. While updating it might enhance conversion rates on the app store, it’s crucial to recognise that not all existing users may welcome such a change.

For many, the original icon has become a familiar touchpoint, and alterations, even subtle ones like a colour shift, can heavily impact user sentiment. Such disruptions can lead to users voicing their dissatisfaction through negative reviews on the app store. An influx of negative reviews and ratings not only tarnishes the app’s reputation but can also impact your app’s discoverability due to app store algorithms penalising lower-rated apps.

Offering the flexibility of custom in-app icons is a strategic solution to this challenge. By granting users the autonomy to choose or revert to the original icon, you cater to their preferences and maintain a sense of familiarity. In this way, offering Custom In-app Icons is a brand protection strategy, acting as a buffer against potential negative reviews, ensuring that your app continues to thrive and resonate with your user base.

To sum it all up

In the intricate ecosystem of the App Store and Google Play Store, every element of an app’s presentation holds strategic weight. The icon, a big brand emblem, plays a role in influencing sentiment and brand engagement.

While many brands adhere strictly to traditional brand guidelines for the apps, the evolving digital landscape demands adaptability and user-centric approaches. Custom In-app Icons offer a deeper solution and opportunities, allowing brands to maintain their core identity while providing users with a tailored experience. This isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a strategic move to enhance user engagement, foster brand loyalty, and ensure relevance in a rapidly changing environment.

For app marketers, the challenge is clear: to strike a balance between brand consistency and user personalisation. Custom In-app Icons present a unique opportunity in this regard. If you’re contemplating how to effectively integrate this feature into your app strategy, consider seeking insights and expertise (or get in touch with us!)

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Smokehouse Yard, 44-46, St John Street, London, EC1M 4DF 🇬🇧