Don’t soft-launch your app in Canada

GUEST:

I always feel sorry for Canadian smartphone users. Every time they open the app store they find dozens of new apps, sometimes buggy, sometimes lacking important features. That’s because almost every mobile marketer targeting an international release has the same idea: “Let’s do a soft launch in Canada!”

It made sense in the past: Canada is an English-speaking, developed market with similar consumer behavior and GDP as the U.S., but with a smaller population. That makes Canada an attractive staging ground to test a big market without risking damage to the even bigger market you want to go after down the line.

But when everyone tests their new flavor in the same place, the results aren’t pretty.

Because of all the test launches in Canada, Canadian advertising inventory prices soared and competition increased while engagement decreased. Five years ago, an article in this very publication described Canada as “America’s mobile app guinea pig.” Author Doug Renet explained how a growing number of companies were taking advantage of this “risk-free test market.” He even wrote that he was jealous of Canadians for getting to be the first to try all these new apps.

Well, the risk-free test market is no more. We ruined it. Today, soft launching in Canada is a bad idea. Because new apps enter this marketplace so frequently, rankings are unstable and unpredictable. It is not uncommon for a new app to soar to the top of the app stores one day, only to fall 200 – 300 spots the next. This frequent movement affects user behavior, the very thing developers are trying to test. People who encounter 10 new apps weekly are going to behave differently than those who do not. This competition skews the data. You may be able to drive a lot of initial installs, but your retention rate will probably be dismal because you are competing with this constant stream of new apps that are also soft launching.

Sometimes we soft launch when an app is lacking features or functionality. For example, an engineer might request a soft launch to help debug something or to see when users fall off. This also affects the market. Canadian users’ patience is dwindling. And why spend the time using a buggy app when you have plenty of other new options? Developers have to open their minds and look elsewhere, to other, less-saturated markets.

To determine where to test, consider what it is you are testing. Obviously, if you are soft launching an e-commerce app, you can’t test somewhere you don’t ship to; but if you are testing game play, retention or app usage, other English-speaking or English-savvy markets like Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Singapore, or New Zealand can be good choices.

If you are testing monetization, do your research so you understand how the test region differs from other areas you plan to target down the line. For example, if a country’s average GDP is higher than your other target countries, you will have inflated LTVs. Understand these microeconomic differences so you can put your findings in context and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Some developers have begun to try out other English-speaking countries, specifically Scandinavian markets, but eight out of 10 app developers I encounter still choose to soft launch in Canada. These developers realize they can do it elsewhere – South Africa, the Netherlands, even the Philippines – but they stick with what they know, America’s “guinea pig” to the north.

What was once an inspired idea is now a bad one. Canada’s user behavior is no longer indicative of the American market. You will compete with too many apps and generate unreliable data. Choose a different country for your soft launch, based on what you are testing and your long-term goals, and leave Canada alone.

Maor Sadra is Managing Director and CRO at AppLift.

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