July 21, 2020
July 21, 2020


Video Messaging app Marco Polo has had a rollercoaster of adoption since its 2012 launch, with an impressive increase in 2016 - but by far its highest and most rapid adoption period has been the pandemic- boasting  a 6 fold increase in downloads from February to March this year- just as the quarantine rules were being lain.   its highest ASSUMPTION coming during the pandemic.  This month, after claiming it needed to finally find a revenue model, the app launched an expanded paid version for $10/month.  The news did NOT go over well with its cult-like following, with many users fleeing to competing apps or writing up gripes online.  The gripes are pretty reasonable. If you want to know how  Marco Polo was basically a lesson in how NOT to launch your premium app version.  Let's dig into their top 5 no-nos.

As though they took a page from "Autoresponses & Gaslighting 101", Marco Polo's Premium App messaging totally missed the mark.
The main message- copy and pasted everywhere from their app homepage to their twitter responses read:

The problem is, it wasn't "finally".  No one wanted this.  The primary experience of most users was having their top-used features firewalled.  So, MarcoPolo is TELLING its users that it is unlocking premium features and giving them an elevated experience and saying "yay! finally this is here" but really, users regular experience has been significantly downgraded. By using language like "elevated experience" and ignoring the fact they are making users pay for things  they already had, it comes across as disingenuous- as though MarcoPolo is trying to dupe users- a feeling no one enjoys. We'll dig in more later on the issues of the actual features.  But the LANGUAGE and DELIVERY was also incredibly flawed.  In app, twitter and social media comments, Marco Polo began repeating again and again that they were giving a more premium experience.  Even when users expressed clear disappointment and frustration,  responses would take a nonchalant tone like:
"change is hard"
"we're sorry to hear your disappointment. We are excited about the new features."
or possibly worse of all -  AVOIDING the answer.  It plays out, time and time again, like this:

People: Ridiculous!
MP: we're giving you something good!
People: We hate this!
MP: You are going to like it soon!
People: Why? I hate it now.
MP: Here's an article about my new features!!

Positivity is good.  Being deafly positive can be nauseating and come off as inhumane, and certainly automated.  

The tone-deaf messaging was only made worse by the inherently flawed premium-release structure of Marco Polo.  
When an app is experienced-driven, it typically best practice to limit a free plan by quantity- not by features.  This allows users to have the full and awesome experience of the app, but require upgrade for higher volume usage.  By putting quantitative limitations on a free plan- rather than qualitative limitations, you reduce the stigma of a freemium member having "less than", or having a worse experience .  This is especially important in social driven applications (more on that later).  
Not only did Marco Polo fall directly into the qualitative-limiation of free-plan category, it added salt to the wound by having the restricted features be those that were previously available to all users.  It  took existing features that the entire userbase had gotten used to and they placed them behind a paywall.  This changed the entire user experience of the app, and increase the sting to those who wanted to stay with a freemium version.

Perhaps most telling is the automated response telling concerned users they could get rid of the paywall if they redownloaded the old version and still use those coveted features until August 1.

YIKES- Why say that unless you know its bad.

Another oft quoted messaging line from Marco Polo's response team highlights its third vita flaw.

For daily users the option to upgrade is 33 cents a day to stay un touch with people who matter most in their lives.  33 cents a day seems worth it to connect.

Sounds reasonable, maybe.  The issue is no one is looking at this from a daily connectivity basis.   Think of it like this.  I NEED my email.  It is worth a lot of money- let's say $100- for me today to be able to access my email.  But if Google tried to charge me $3,000/month, I'd be ticked.  No one is breaking down bills for things like this to a granular day-by-day price point.  And the comparison comes off misguided and guilt-inducing.  Like the emotional save-a-puppy commercials that plead "For the price of a cup of coffee a day.....".  

Very much related, but broader than the off-base price comparison-- the overall price sensitivity has to be considered. Seems Marco Polo might have forgotten it is an app!! The market is notoriously price sensitive for mobile apps.  Data from Sensortower shows increasing price by $1 (or 0.99 in app world) can decrease downloads but upward of 90%!  You can find reasons why charging for apps is so tough everywhere- from Harvard to Inc., but all boil down to people don't want to and can utilize a lot of apps for free.  
With all the free apps that there are: Houseparty, TikTok, Instagram- everything is free.  So Marco Polo starting off with a $60 price tag seems insane.

The fact that Marco Polo is a social networking app has everything to do with why its premium strategy was so problematic.  The social effects of upgrades were ignored, and even if people can communicate from different packages, some people aren't happy, nobody's happy. As we previously stated, you can currently re-download a previous version of the app that allows users access to all the features that will soon go behind a paywall. So, currently, users don't really know if everyone they communicate with on Marco Polo now will still be in the platform in a month.  Yes, some of the features are that important.
One of the mainly lamented soon-to-be-paywalled features is the fast forward button.  Basically, it lets friends listen to my all-too-chatt, rambling story at about 3x speed, which is surprisingly helpful and makes normal speed seem cumbersome and slow-mo.  
So all the sudden my friends have to listen at normal speed.  They are horrified, it takes SO LONG for me to make a point sometimes, and I am horrified that I need to speed it up!  Experience runied for all- premium member or not.  
We don't know who will stay on Marco Polo or jump ship for a free option elsewhere, and if half my friends are going to use a different platform, I want to use a different platform.  I only want to be on marco polo if lots of people are on marco polo. You get it.
Add that to many circles of friends (maybe one group of friends WILL use it, but another switches apps) and you have more reason to be bifurcated in app usage and less reason for daily Marco Polo updates.  Marco Polo should be doing all it can to ENCOURAGE daily usage, not give users reasons to jump ship.

There you have it.  Time will tell how this version goes.  I, for one, won't be a premium member.  My friends will just have to suffer through one more very long story.

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