Back in October, I had the privilege of presenting at the MXM Branded App Show Off during Ad Week. http://www.mediacrossmedia.com/mxm_series/nyc/oct_1_2012_branded_app/. Matt Snyder has been doing a great job in establishing the Mobile Monday’s event – and seeding the mobile community here in NY. He worked with the different mobile associations of NYC and put together this event specifically for Advertising Week. According to his YouTube page, “the goal of this event is to create an opportunity for the community to learn about the best Apps for brand marketing build by developers, agencies and marketers in NYC”. The event featured 7 different Branded Apps presented to the audience while being moderated by a panel of 8 judges. The event took place at Union Square Ball Room on Oct 1st 2012.
Here’s a recap of the event: (you can also see some photos of the event on his Facebook page here. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.436505746386162.89136.151610504875689&type=1
There were roughly 600 people in attendance. The 7 app presenters were apparently selected from roughly 50 registrants. The parameters for consideration were that the apps being showcased had to be designed for the purposes of promoting a specific brand – and for building the business of said brand. The event kicked off with a standard opening networking reception and bar schmooze – followed by intros from the hosts. Next were the presentations/demos – in a “battle of the brand” type showcase – by the selected Branded App presenters – that were moderated by a panel of judges:
- David Berkowitz- 360i
- Scott Jensen – MTV
- Taynah Reis – GDI
- Andrew Reis – SamStella
- Jake Ward – App Developers Alliance
- Timothy Ware – WSJ
- Chad Mumm – The Verge
- Richard Ting – R/GA
The 7 Branded App presenters were:
- Northface – Northface was the winner of this App –Off event.
- Duracell Powermat- Powermaster app – Provides a means by which consumers can not only monitor their current battery power, but also allows users to find Powermat HotSpot locations nearby AND also “nominate” places that they want to be HoptSpot enabled. This is a Social Gaming feature that drives advocacy and recruits users as a part of a grid-building movement to spread the word of wireless power. It features full social integrations and a badge winning program with leaderboard.
- Disney Parks – This app won the “Audience Award”.
- Girl Scouts
Each presenter walked the panel through the app and its features and were asked to focus on these points in the presentation:
- What were the core business goals for the app?
- What you did to build the Brand, and achieve those goals
- What was the effect of your efforts- brand value
- Any audience or ROI figures you could share
- Did your brand marketing effort lead to actual purchases or sales of the product and why.
- How did awareness get converted into ( for example) intent, purchase, support, loyalty and advocacy for the Brand.
- Any lessons learnt
Overall, it was a pretty diverse grouping of brands and approaches. Overall, what was clear is that mobile apps are still a tactic that demands innovation. Just making an app is no longer enough. I see 7 key things that are MUSTs for successful apps:
Content – App must either solve a real problem for the user – or must be a highly addictive time waster.
Functionality- Simply put, the app must work. i.e., if there’s a bar code scanner- it should open smoothly and connect to the desired content with no hiccups or issues; if it’s got an mCommerce store, it needs to close the sale for the user seamlessly and smoothly.
Design- it has to look good. Apps are getting sexier and sexier – and consumers want innovation and sleek design.
Usability – Kind of like Functionality – but this is more about how intuitive the app is – button sizes, locations of elements, user flow from screen to screen – placement of content on screen, etc.
Information Architecture – The logic of the navigation needs to be well thought out so it syncs up in a natural flow.
User Input- It needs to be easy for users to enter information into the app where required. Some apps are now auto-filling content or have great image recognition technology that can read credit cards.
Mobile Context – Where and when is the user using the app? Does the app take into consideration the location/time/activity/history/preferences of the user? This makes the app experience more personal and relevant.
Trust – Security – Does the user feel comfortable entering data into the app? How will it be used?
This morning one question on Quora caught my attention and I had some thoughts.
A Localytics research study last year found that 26% of apps are used only once after being downloaded. As a result, we are starting to see a concerted effort to shift away from incentivized downloads and towards engagement with focus on overall customer lifetime value. App engagement and retention strategies depend on a wide spectrum of variables.
1) What is the app itself? is it a game? A utility? A content reader? A social engagement platform? An mCommerce shopping tool?
I’d categorize these as falling into one of two buckets: either “time-saving” or “time-killing” tools. Each one of these executions solves specific yet different user needs- and hence will require differing retention strategies. Time-killing apps are typically games or content (readers). The obvious answer for maximizing user retention here is to make sure that the game/content is of high quality. Games account for the vast majority of time spent on mobile phones. So, this is both good and bad news. Good because it is a high-impact activity, and bad because as such it’s becoming such a cluttered category – and thus makes it harder to stand out. Bottom line, make the game engaging, simple, and easy to “get into” – and make sure that the reward to challenge ratio is designed for maximum engagement. This gets into a whole discussion about game-dynamics that is a lot deeper and more complex. There is an outstanding article on mobile games from the NY Times that you should read. Utilities are a dime a dozen unfortunately (how many expense tracking apps are there now? Or battery notifiers?)
2) What is the business goal that the app is designed to fulfill? Is it for brand awareness or brand support? Is it designed to drive store traffic? Is it designed to drive direct revenue (through app purchase – or in-app purchases?) is it built in support of a product launch? Is it a customer service tool? This is a KPI-based question – and speaks to the means by which you will measure overall success of the app. Again, the answers to these questions will reveal varying methods for retention. It may important to note that in-app purchases now account for the majority of app revenues. However, this trend is generated by users being committed the initial app experience for a good amount of time before those purchases roll in. So, overall, if your goals are strictly financial (you want the app to make money), then trends indicate that getting the app out for free initially – and then waiting for the content/usage to seed – is the way that is working best now. Freemium as a rule has been a tried and true method for longer term customer engagement – and it holds true here as well. For brand awareness, this is a tougher one. Why would someone invest a great deal of commitment to a brand message? Typically they won’t, unless the value of the app content is so rich that they simply can’t get enough of it. That’s why a lot of brands are now turning to Utility Apps as a means of driving brand lift and loyalty. The investment is high however. Solid utility apps are an expensive proposition and need to be update frequently. But users are loyal – if the app solves a time-saving or efficiency problem effectively. I use a lot of utility apps personally – few of them are from brands – and would pay more for new features if they were introduced.
3) Who is your audience? Different types of users consume apps in different ways. While app types tend to follow audiences (for example, games are TYPICALLY developed for younger audiences, while finance apps are TYPICALLY built for professionals, etc) all sorts of apps are consumed by the entire audience spectrum. Know your audience. This is key. Invest in research. Look at app usage trends. Do focus groups – even with a core group of friends or co-workers. App developers make the mistake of assuming things about audiences (adults don’t like games, or kids don’t use utilities, etc) that do not prove out in reality. What are your target users habits and behaviors? Where do they live (urban or rural?), what is their income?
4) Test. Test. Test. So much of this is going to be trial by fire. Learn what you can, plan accordingly, commit to a strategy and set it free to the wild. Once the app is in market, the usage data will reveal a great deal about what tweaks are needed. I highly suggest (almost insist) on including a Flurry API for measurement and assigning someone to monitoring and analyzing results.
5) Market the crap out of it. People need to know that the app is there. How else are users going to get engaged? Social Media channels are good – but you will need to get a seed base first so the advocates are recruited. Reviews, posts, PR, organic discovery – these are the golden idols of a solid marketing strategy – but critical mass is needed to gain momentum. Again, so much of this is accidental unfortunately.
6) Quality!!! It’s a highly Darwinian market out there now – only the good survive the long haul, so make sure your app is good. Apple’s submission criteria while draconian is a good thing in that there are built-in quality assurance parameters that developers are forced to adhere to. Android’s lax oversight makes it easier (too easy in my view) for developers to dump garbage into the eco-system. Android’s marketplace may offer a good starting point for testing – but there is no better retention strategy than an excellent design and user experience. Hire talented people that understand app design. Adhere to best practices. Look at your favorite apps – and the most successful (look at Path – great design) and follow the lead.