5 Keys to Building Awesome Apps

An awesome app is on everyone’s list. But how exactly do you get there?

Ever wondered what it takes to build an app that tons of people download AND use? Welcome to a not-so-exclusive club. Statista predicts that app downloads will hit ~270 billion in 2017.

So, let’s take a look at the numbers behind consumers’ use of apps to figure out exactly what’s working, what’s not, and what to do if you want to build an app your customers will love.

We’ll pull our numbers from a recent study published by Google called “Mobile App Marketing Insights.” The report analyzes consumption, discovery, downloads, behaviors, and abandonment – but who has time to read through all of that?

Here are the five most important stats governing that which makes an app successful (i.e. downloaded AND used).

Awesome Apps Characteristic #1: They Maximize Usage

Taking a look at the top 4:

  • Makes my life easier: here’s what everyone forgets about technology: technology isn’t cool because it’s technology – it’s cool because it simplifies something that was previously hard to do. The most successful apps are not ones that chew up a ton of time (successful apps that do chew up time are fads – remember Draw Something?). Truly long-run successful apps will integrate themselves into a consumer’s daily lifestyle, and produce a feeling of gratitude every time that app comes up.
  • Clear instructions: sure, maybe a no-brainer, but so often people forget – all apps need the “mom test.” When you live/eat/breathe your own company or brand, everything makes sense to you. BUT – does it make sense to everyone? To find out, test it on someone who has never heard of your app (Hi, Mom!) and see what they think. Do not discount any of their feedback, instead, infer the root cause of the feedback and improve (as a person coming in new won’t be able to articulate issues like your team can).
  • Appealing design: another often overlooked trait: apps need to be easy to digest. Shout out to Apple, but never discount one of the biggest reasons why the company’s products do so well: users think they’re cool – cool-looking, cool-feeling, cool-working. That’s all thanks to the appealing design.

Awesome Apps Characteristic #2: They Make An Incredible First Impression

Shout out to Cat Stevens, but the first cut is the deepest, so to speak. No impression about an app is more important than a consumer’s first. Considering how hard it is to get a consumer to download an app, you might think that it’s hard for them to uninstall.

It’s not.

So, focus on creating an incredible first impression. Take another look at the findings under Characteristic #1: make it clear that the app will make consumers’ lives better. Use simple language. Implement elegant design.

Think of it like this: when my best friend purchases clothing at the store, the first thing she does when she goes home is “review her purchases.” She tries everything on in the comfort of her own home, where she can scrutinize every angle.

And the purchases that stay purchased? They’re the ones that deliver an impression of “This was an awesome decision.” Consumers who download an app should feel the same way: satisfied the minute they engage with the app for the first time. A/B test where possible and continue iterating. That’s where you’ll find success.

Awesome Apps Characteristic #3: They Maintain Your Interest

Where a lot of brands run into trouble: they focus on maximizing the amount of time that their customers use their app on a daily basis. Instead, apps should focus on minimizing abandonment rate. That’s the path to long-term success.

Think about your app the way a musician thinks about releasing a song. Any catchy tune can become a hit…for a few months. Songs that have staying power have a purpose: they cheer people up, people play them at parties, they become a part of our lives. Sure, people listened less to Don’t Stop Believing after its initial run, but all it took was a mention on the Sopranos or during baseball games to get it back on a new generation’s radar.

That’s your best-case app strategy – your app has to be useful in people’s lives. To create ongoing usage, you have to maintain interest, which means establishing communication between you and your audience. And, in case you missed it, app communication = effective push notifications.

Awesome Apps Characteristic #4: They Spend Money On Retention Marketing

One of the best lessons we all can learn: marketing to existing customers is the best way to cost-effectively increase revenue. It’s the exact same with apps.

Sure, getting downloads is extremely important at the beginning. But from there, focus on creating an amazing experience for the people who have taken the time to engage with your app. Use incentives, provide exclusive content, notify about new features – invest in these users. Anything you can do to make their experience better, you should. They will ultimately drive the growth AND long-term value of your app.

Awesome Apps Characteristic #5: They Personalize Retention Marketing

Just remember to pick the best incentives and retention marketing for your brand. Any brand that immediately rejects “incentives” because they’re “off-brand” just isn’t thinking hard enough. Incentives work across industries, as the data show – you just have the find the right type of existing customer benefit for your particular customer base.

If you’re a “high-end” brand give your customers an exclusive experience. If you’re a retail brand, try discounts and coupons. Item-based rewards will work for any brand, as they extend a brand’s value into a customer’s home.

The Big Takeaway

Above all, never forget the importance of making your app useful (not trendy). People worried about “tech bubbles” are worried that this is all a trend.

But brands who use technology to make their customers lives easier will create the longest-term competitive advantage they can. Whereas technology trends will always change, customers ultimately won’t. They want experiences that make their lives easier, better, cooler, more interesting, etc.

Find your customer angle and go from there. That’s the strategy for apps – and for anything else. The more you can learn from your customers from apps, the better. This knowledge will help you create excellent customer experiences on another channel.

To learn more, get our free Ultimate Guide to Customer Engagement.