Secrets of Mobile App Success

With 1.6 million apps in two app stores alone, how can yours be discovered? Once discovered, how can yours get someone to use it? To download it? To keep coming back? What types of apps are out there? Where’s the future opportunity? How can you make money from an app when 80 percent are free?

The title of PluggedIn’s March 27th roundtable was App Engagement, but one question led to another and soon a virtual primer on the business of mobile apps took shape.

Discovery. A huge issue, but, truly, it’s fundamentally Marketing 101. People are not looking for apps. Apps have to go to users by understanding user DNA. (80% of apps are games.) Deliver real value for a specific user. Deliver sufficient value for users to want to talk about and share it – word of mouth is key. Facebook is good for this. Cross-promote your game through others with appeal to similar audiences. Most push notification is annoying, but intelligent push notification that respects boundaries can work.

Usage and Download. It’s all about delivering real value. What constitutes value depends on the purpose of the app. Is the purpose utility – to help someone achieve a task? Media – to help someone get information they want? Entertainment – a third of the time people spend on their phones is spent playing games? To get beyond one-time use to download requires meeting the No. 1 requirement: focus on doing one or two things superbly. Start by talking/messaging with your first users personally and get feedback. Turn them into passionate advocates. Without perceived value, you’re just adding to clutter. (40 apps is typical for most phones today.)

Repeat Usage. Here’s where engagement comes in with a vengeance. It’s about getting an app to become a habit. It happens when the app helps a customer accomplish a task – when the user finds what the app offers to be valuable enough to share. Gamification – i.e., rewards – is necessary on all apps to get people coming back. Marketing automation – such as that offered by Appboy – can make a big difference. In advertising, engagement is about loyalty to a brand. It’s a different use case for apps – satisfying a need. App engagement is also different from website engagement – and 98 percent of apps do not lead back to a website. The mobile app is in the context of the user’s life, and the user is multitasking, hard to engage, pops in and out of the app.

Types of Apps. Utility (Yelp). Media. Entertainment – video, Kindle, games (Candy Crush). Loss aversion (Whisper).

What’s the Future? Location – location – location. It’s unique to mobile app. It has huge potential and has yet to bloom

Revenue Models. In the beginning, 80 percent of apps were paid. Today, only 20 percent of Apple apps are paid, and all Android apps are free. The model is freemium – start free, then add paid features. Keepy, which helps families share memories, will generate revenue long-term through subscriptions. But the first step is user engagement, the second monetization through ads and partners. Then they can advertise payable features. Appboy sells “picks and shovels,” i.e., infrastructure, to app developers. Insticator, which lets viewers predict TV show events, will sell licenses to TV show producers.

Words from the Wise. Message your first users personally to get feedback and turn them into passionate advocates. Start small and gradually build the product to get more people on there. Go both small and international – two-thirds of the market is international. Focus on 1-2 things that work and do them well to get the data you need to learn. Keep functions atomic – no app is for everyone – take a focused approach to distribution and discovery. Measure things like time and frequency to assess and build engagement. Keep the app transparent so it allows user to do what they want but doesn’t get in the way.

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