Safety App Customization and Institutional Branding Crucial in Driving Downloads

A Comparison of Download Rates of Custom Mobile Safety Apps and Generic Mobile Safety Apps

This case study takes the user data from York University’s mobile safety app, SaferTogether, in order to determine the effectiveness of custom mobile apps versus generic mobile apps1. York University has been a partner institution with AppArmor since 2013 and is one of Canada’s largest universities. This case study examines the download rate for custom mobile safety apps and generic mobile safety apps, in order to determine which type of mobile app is better suited for university and college campuses. The measurement of success in this context will be based on the amount of downloads each type of app receives from varying schools, accounting for student population.

Understanding Mobile Safety Apps

All mobile apps can be separated into two categories; custom mobile apps and generic mobile apps. Custom mobile apps are designed to fall under the branding of the partner institution, instead of that of the mobile app company/ third party developer. Download and subscriber rates are vital to the success of a mobile safety app, since a mobile safety app cannot help to improve campus safety if students do not use it or at the very least have it on their device. To examine this idea further, York University’s "SaferTogether" will be used to assess the effectiveness of custom apps in achieving high download rates from students.

Customer Needs:

  • A safety app that students can be easily identified in the App Store, Google Play, and Blackberry world under the institutional brand.
  • High download and subscriber rate from students

Key findings of this case:

  • Custom mobile safety apps achieve 50x-100x more downloads on average than generic third party branded mobile safety applications
  • Students are able to more easily identify their school’s mobile app when searching for it in the App Store, Google Play, or Blackberry AppWorld.

Understanding Download and Subscriber Rates

This case study will use total download rates as a measurement of success for mobile safety apps. It is important to understand the difference between download rates and subscriber rates. Download rates are self-explanatory; it is the number of users who install the safety app on their mobile device. Subscriber rates differ in that they are the number of users who opt-in for receiving push/mass notifications from the installed app at the time of first-run. The case study uses York University’s available subscriber rates to determine the estimated total number of downloads. 2

Institutional Branding for Safety Apps

When looking at custom apps, the institution specific branding is more successful because of university and college institutions are already being seen as a “brand community”. The article “Building a University Brand Community” published in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, explains that a university is a branded institution and possesses meaning as its own brand to students and faculty members 3. In relation to mobile safety apps, this case seeks to determine if a custom app with university branding will have more of an impact with students, faculty and staff than a generic brand. The purpose of this is to determine if introducing a mobile safety app that is customized under the school’s branding will be better received by students and result in more downloads.

Custom mobile applications are designed to be an extension of the academic institution’s visual brand and identity (a marketing strategy known as “borrowed interest), whereas generic mobile applications are designed to appear as a distinct, external application which is unconnected to the institution. As an example, York University’s institutional branding is incorporated into their "SaferTogether" app, in that the app design, features and content follow the university’s visual identity.

User Barriers to Download

A crucial element of marketing a mobile safety app for university and college students is to allow students to download the app with minimal barriers. Download barriers are app requirements or steps that stand between the user downloading the app on their device and having access to the safety features of the app.

Direct downloading is when the user has access to the app’s safety capabilities without submitting registration information. Direct downloading automatically increases download rates because it doesn’t require different download steps that would deter a student from completing the app installation.

In many generic apps, once a user reaches the app’s landing page, they have to create a profile and submit their information to complete the download and installation, which constitutes an obvious download barrier. A student might abandon the download process at this stage because they will see it as either too time consuming or are not comfortable submitting their personal information. The vast majority of generic apps require this process because they have only one platform that hosts all the different schools.

The contrast between these two solutions is stark. Since custom apps are built for each school specifically, the user does not need to input any information to use the app in order to access the safety features. This removes the download barriers for downloading and creates a direct path between the user searching for the app and completing the download process on their phone. In comparison to generic apps, custom apps make downloading the safety app easier and faster for students.

Methodology and Results

To understand how custom and generic apps impact download rates, the download rate and user data from York University’s "SaferTogether" will be compared to the download rates of a generic mobile safety app.

SaferTogether Stats

The data is taken from York’s subscription rates which accounts for 95% of user downloads, based on AppArmor’s internal data analysis. The distribution between iOS users and Android users is approximately 65% to 35%, which was used as an estimate in the comparison for competing schools. The downloads of the generic app are based on their total downloads for all existing schools.

Estimation of Downloads for Generic App Competitor

Android iOS Total
Percent of total downloads 35% 65% 100%
Number of downloads 10,000 28,751 38,5714

The estimate of downloads of the generic mobile safety app is the total amount for approximately 60 of their schools, based on their client list, whereas the downloads of York University’s custom mobile app is for their school only.

Average User Downloads
Custom Mobile Safety App: SaferTogether Generic Mobile Safety App: Competitor
Number of schools 1 60
Number of student downloads 15,084 38,5715

Average User Downloads Per School
Custom Mobile Safety App: SaferTogether Generic Mobile Safety App: Competitor
Number of schools 1 60
Number of student downloads 15,084 6436

Custom Mobile Safety Apps for Campus Safety

Custom mobile safety apps show a greater response from students based on the comparison between generic mobile app downloads and custom mobile app downloads. York University’s "SaferTogether" has a total of 15,084 downloads, meaning that 30% of the student population has downloaded the app. A “medium sized” school in North America is considered to be between 12,000 - 22,000 students7. The middle of the range would be 17,000 students, which will serve as the estimate of students per school for the generic mobile app.

Percentage of Downloads of App Per School Population
SaferTogether Generic Mobile Safety App
31% 3.8%

The chart above shows the disparity in download rates between "SaferTogether", a custom mobile app, and the generic competitor mobile app. The data supports the finding that non-branded generic alternatives with barriers to download adversely affect download rates versus a custom mobile safety app solution.


The comparison made above of one custom branded safety app versus an entire platform of generic safety apps (claiming to represent approximately 60 institutions)reinforces the claim that custom apps receive far more downloads than their generic competition. Using the above data, the generic mobile safety app has an approximate average of 643 downloads per school, which pales in comparison to the download rate York University has for its single custom app.

This is obviously a significant finding as the higher the downloads, the more students have safety tools and resources available to them, therefore increasing campus safety. Moreover, this result is also consistent with the basic assumptions around the importance of brand-specific marketing and is therefore not entirely unexpected.

As mentioned, the success of the custom app’s download rate can be attributed to factors such as the university’s institutional branding and avoid barriers to download. Institutional branding possesses more of a human factor because of the connection students have towards their school and their school’s brands (trust queues). This makes the safety app significantly more appealing for students to download because there is a sense of familiarity and trust.


  1. Please note that York University does not necessarily endorse any of the findings in this case study.
  2. Please note that these rates may have changed since the time of this study
  3. Koenig F. Harold, James H. McAlexander and John W. Schouten. “Building a University Brand Community”, Journal of Marketing for Higher Education (2004). 61-65. Web. Sept. 2015
  4. The case study took the range of Google Play downloads of a competitor generic app as an estimate of their total downloads and used the distribution of 65% for iOS users and 35% for Android users. It is a relative, weighted approximation of downloads
  5. Data for generic mobile safety app are based on estimates available from Google Play
  6. The average number of user downloads for the generic competitor mobile safety app is an estimate based on the range of downloads from Google Play and client list