"There's an app for that" used to be a tongue-in-cheek slogan in the iPhone's early days. Now, it's a fact of life: By 2020, it's estimated that 6.1 billion people will rely on smartphones. Users will install 210 billion apps between now and then, a trend that will earn developers a collective $57 billion in revenue in 2020 alone.
Apps are quickly becoming a brand imperative. But going after downloads or in-app purchases isn't enough anymore; those are just the beginning stages of a product's life cycle. To make apps a part of long-term growth strategies, companies must evolve these products based on users' behaviors.
Every business needs an app
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The app industry is big -- and getting bigger -- but the major proportion of the industry's usage and revenue are still concentrated among the top 200 apps. Localytics found that 20 percent of apps are used only once. Consumers are far more likely to use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube than spend time exploring more novel smartphone products.
A word-of-mouth campaign might draw users to a new app, but what happens when their initial curiosity wears off? If there's nothing that repeatedly engages their attention, they'll reopen Instagram or Snapchat, as fresh content from a reliable source will always beat the flashy new thing.
Brands can't rest on their laurels, then. They must constantly iterate on their apps to retain users. But launching occasional updates or announcing minor tweaks once a quarter isn't enough. "Twenty-five new features" that no one wants won't have as powerful an impact as the one key upgrade that aligns with users' expectations and in-app behaviors.
People have finite time and energy. They want to know that an app is worth their attention, so companies must make their value propositions clear. Perhaps your company can offer users a coupon for $10 off a new feature as a thank-you for creating their in-app profiles. Such incentives will keep the app top of mind so users return to it often. At that point, brands can track users' behavioral patterns in order to deliver better customer experiences.
Building effective apps
Companies that don’t monitor in-app behavior are taking shots in the dark with their marketing strategies. In contrast, businesses that know how and when customers use their apps can formulate campaigns based on their audiences' needs. Users will be thrilled by the personalized experiences and become increasingly reliant on the app, as a result.
Behavioral data also plays an important role in feature road maps. Your development team might brainstorm 15 cool-sounding functions, but none of those will land effectively if customers aren't interested in them.
Brands can't know what the best feature set is until they monitor their customers' patterns. How long do they stay within the homepage feed? How often do they hit "refresh"? Do they go down rabbit holes to discover new features? Or, do they favor the same one or two options over and over again?
Here's how companies can answer those questions and build effective long-term strategies:
1. Integrate with an analytics service.
Dozens of platforms offer must-have analytics services for any company that's serious about app monetization. The price points vary from free access to several hundred dollars a month, so there are affordable options for businesses at every level. Choose a solution based on which data types it collects and how deep it can go when gathering insights.
Google Analytics, the tried-and-true website standard, works wonderfully with both iOS and Android. It tracks how often users open an app, how long their sessions last and where they are when they're using it. Google Analytics also records usage flows and button taps. Optimize the customer experience around these insights by creating a more intuitive, customized mobile experience.
2. Transition to feature-rich platforms as the app grows.
As the app gains traction, upgrade to more complex services, such as Mixpanel or Flurry. These platforms track in-depth metrics, including the average number of social media friends, frequency of social posts and engagement drop-off points. Deeper analytics go beyond anonymous user data and provide information about behaviors within the app ecosystem.
Branch.io enables companies to record the entire customer journey, from the moment users tap an ad in Safari to the time it takes to click download in the App Store. Those data points indicate which marketing campaigns and promotions work.
3. Refine the app experience based on user behavior.
Behavioral patterns offer raw, real-time customer feedback. Analyze this data to learn which areas draw the most attention and which inspire people to use the app day after day. Invest in the areas that generate the most significant engagement and ROI. People will appreciate the fact that the app both meets their needs in increasingly specific ways and feels customized to their interests.
Successful apps depend on great customer experiences. In order to stay competitive in an increasingly saturated world, companies must be ruthless about eliminating unpopular features and responding to user needs. After all, every garden must be weeded so the flowers can blossom.