Being first to market in the iPhone App Store may have helped a lot of brands sell their products, but with over 1 billion downloads already under its belt, that option is no longer available.

So how do companies get people to buy their app when the space they cover is already well represented in the store? In the case of Men’s Health, they released a drinking app. And sat back as over 50,000 people downloaded “Jimmy the Bartender” in its first month.

Men’s Health launched their apps in late August. And while the magazine would have prefered to have been first to market with a great health program that could have cornered the market they cover on the iPhone, they had missed their window for that.

Men’s Health could have just added another branded app to that space, but

The magazine’s brand editor, Matt Bean, discussed their thoughts Wednesday at AdAge’s Apps for Brands conference in New York.

“Planting their flag first helped a lot of companies immeasurably,” he said. But Men’s Health knew it needed to come up with some good ideas if it wanted to recoup the investment of creating an iPhone app.

Said Bean: “People don’t give you a free pass just because you’re the largest men’s magazine. They want to pay for something that gives them value.”

That’s a hard lesson for brands to learn, but one that can reap benefits. A powerful brand in one medium does not guarantee success in another, but it can be leveraged if the secondary space is well understood. Bean tells AdAge:

“We have 11 million readers, but if you narrow that down to the number
of people who have an iPhone and narrow that down again to the number
of users that want to pay $2.99 for a Jimmy the Bartender app, it’s not
a viable business position. So you have to find a way for those key
franchises to appeal to different users.”

So the company decided to leverage its popular Jimmy the Bartender column into the app space. And rather than just shift the backlog of content onto the iPhone, Men’s Health positioned Jimmy to give advice to users on the go, where they are. The “Instant Wingman” tool gives tailored advice on talking to women, “Jimmy’s Best Bars” is a database of local reviews from the magazine and users, and “Win Any Bar Game” offers tips for common barroom challenges.

The app does not currently have advertising. Bean tells AdAge that they’re not planning to add ads any time soon:

“I have the [$5] ESPN fantasy app, and it has a Bud Light ad in it. I
don’t particularly mind, but some people are absolutely vitriolic in
the forums about it. I’m not comfortable with doing that at this point.
I believe there’s a light platform that can be established that does
present sponsor information in an entertaining fashion without making
anyone feel cheated.”

And so far, the strategy is working. Over 50,000 downloads may not be record number, but it is plenty respectable. According to AdMob, only 5% of apps have more than 100,000 active users. And Men’s Health apps have only been available for about a month.

Bean’s advice to app developers is to get to market with a good product. And always improve. As he says:

“The gold rush is over. Now hurry up.”