The proliferation of smart phone and tablet apps has transformed the way consumers interact with brands and service providers. This presents a huge opportunity for companies to deepen their relationship with customers. Bradley Elliott, MD of Platinum Seed explains the essentials of an effective app strategy.
The number of apps that enjoy ‘viral’ popularity is narrowing, but the amount of time users spend engaging with them is growing. This was confirmed by a Gallup Panel survey across the US which found that nearly three quarters of users check their smart phones every hour.
What’s more, according to research by the Japanese IT giant Nomura, app downloads in the US dropped more than 20% between May 2015 and May 2016, and US market intelligence firm Sensor Tower says that, apart from the biggest apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Twitter and Gmail, most consumers aren’t looking for any more.
This all means that that brands setting out to engage with their customers via a mobile application need to make sure that their strategy is on the money, and its execution is top notch if they’re going to reap the returns on their app-dev investment that they hope to.
Apps require a meaningful investment, before, during and after the development process, especially in South Africa where the necessary skills are in short supply. A developer with the combined knowledge of the various programming languages in use today is also rare, adding complexity to the development process. The variety of devices on the market means different sets of programming code need to be developed (mainly iOS and Android) for different manufacturers, which means double or even triple the work.
What steps should brands take before they take the leap from web to mobile device, moving their relationship with their client from a more distant and larger format one, to an intimate, hand-held engagement that moves with the consumer wherever they go?
1. Brand strategy
The brand strategy is the most important step and should be thoroughly interrogated from the onset of any development project. Out of this phase, it will be quickly determined whether an app is even the right tool for the brand in the first place.
The brand strategy should, in turn, be closely tied to the overall business strategy – users must always feel a strong connection between past experiences of the brand and the app. The strategy is the blueprint for the development of the application, ensuring that every business objective is matched to the technical functionality – the essential is emphasised while the superfluous is discarded.
2. Who are the users?
Notching up millions of downloads can be impressive on a performance report, but the risk of managing millions of irrelevant people can easily detract from the ultimate business goals.
3. Add value to consumers
More than anything, apps need to add value to the end user. Just like having millions of downloads is meaningless unless the right people download an app, having millions of users who never engage with it is also pointless. Apps with the highest level of active engagement are often the ones that enable their audiences in a critical way.
This need not be in the form of money or giveaways – if it isn’t personal information, opt-ins and sales promotions, apps often will just simply eat up time and space – but immediate and useful features that users can make people’s lives easier in some way.
4. Be functional
Apps need to be functional and integrated directly into as many transactions as possible. It would be pointless to create a beautifully designed, entertaining user interface while the functionality fails to deliver real, lasting value to the user.
In the end, an app must be evaluated, not just on its beauty, but on its ability to meet business and consumer needs. Poorly designed and developed apps that don’t add value will simply never be downloaded, or, if they are, they’ll just damage the relationship between the consumer and the brand, scoring an expensive own-goal.