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Stephen King

Stephen King

Stephen King is CEO of Mob4Hire.com, the world's largest mobile app market research and testing crowd-sourced community focused on making the mobile user experience better.

Read the full biography here

How to make a Big Brand App not suck

By Stephen King - 23rd July '10

Steve Jobs has said that if Apple were led by market research they would never have introduced the products they do - they design with a conviction that what they make is great. More generally, testing new tech is always risky, as people don't know what they're going to like. For apps, how do we get beyond what people “say they would like” and get to the things that will be big hits longer term? In other words, “sticky”.

“Sticky” is a term used to describe apps that get used frequently, persist on handsets over time, get recommended to other mobile users and therefore get downloaded a lot. This is a tough thing in the mobile app business. Pinch Media analyzed 30 million iPhone app downloads and found that only 5% of users will still use an app 30 days after they initially installed it on their smartphone.. This may vary by smartphone brand, but it does illustrate how fickle mobile users can be.

In my last article for MRWEB, Fear The One Star, I describe that market research and measuring customer loyalty during the development cycle is a much better indicator of future stickiness vs. trying to get people to “say what they would like.”

Understanding customer loyalty is key since winning the mobile battlefield relies almost solely on other user’s recommendations & reviews, favorite & top 10 lists, as well as people buying more and again from recognized brands. If the app sucks, then it doesn’t get downloaded.

Big Brands take note! It’s tough to stand out from the crowded marketplace; there are already 400,000 mobile apps available from over 75 app stores (source: http://www.wipconnector.com/appstores).

Three types of mobile app brands

Brands in mobile apps can be categorized into three categories:

  1. Web Brands extending usage to mobile experience. FaceBook and Google Maps are two great examples.

  2. Breakout Mobile Brands that never existed before the mobile platform: Tapulous, Shazam, Boku, Poynt, Foursquare, etc… that have gathered great customer loyalty.

  3. Traditional Big Brands that are increasingly looking at mobile apps and mobile websites as both a way to get mindshare, as well as extend existing brand and marketing campaigns in online and traditional media.

Of course, one way for Big Brands to enter the Mobile market is just to buy your way in. Disney’s recent purchase of app maker Tapulous is a prime example. This is a win for Disney not only because they get one of the top games on the iPhone platform, but they also get a deep and experienced mobile development team to help them make other apps that are sticky.

What defines a successful app?

It’s not whether users “like the app” that defines its success. It’s whether they’ll actually recommend it. Simplified, it’s the number of user review stars an app receives in an app store.

In Mob4Hire’s global research in early 2010, 5,000 smartphone users from 111 countries were surveyed about their mobile usage and how it impacts customer loyalty. Respondents look to see if an app has an average of 4 stars or more in user reviews in an app store before they'll select the app for download / purchase. This greatly affects the app’s ability to generate revenue. The Android marketplace has over 100,000 apps according to http://www.androlib.com/appstats.aspx. 40% are rated less than 4 stars, and, correspondingly, 48% of apps have been downloaded less than 50 times.

Creating a buzz, getting discovered and creating viral growth is more important than ever.

But, you’ll need at least a 4 stars review before you’re even in the game.

How do you make a successful Big Brand app?

Don’t you dare think of your Big Brand App as another channel media placement! The mobile phone offers unprecedented interactivity and engagement, so take advantage of it. The term “appvertising” has been coined to allow people to interact with brands on mobile.

There’s many ways to engage the mobile user. This article from Adage.com, states that 14% of users “caught hearts” while playing a Valentine’s Day Burger King app for an average of 16 seconds each. That’s not a bad amount of time for someone to be exposed to your brand. But, it’s not exactly a sticky app.

I challenge Big Brands to think bigger and more creatively with their mobile apps.

The New York Times Crosswords app got it right. Their journey towards stickiness was full of customer feedback and user experience testing. It’s paid off; there are 81 crossword games in the iPhone App Store … the NYT’s version is recommended in the top 6. Their business model finalized on a free download that includes a weeks worth of puzzles; users are offered different paid models for ongoing puzzle updates.

Here are the generally accepted Big Rules a Big Brand mobile app should follow to achieve the Holy Grail of Stickiness.

  1. Provide utility. Fun is OK. Providing fun utility is the best.
  2. Provide personalized experience.
  3. Update frequently with new information or data to stay fresh.
  4. Include GPS / location based functionality.
  5. Make it easy to refer to a friend.
  6. If you can do 1 through 5, AND the app reflects the Big Brand’s marketing personality, then you’ve got a recipe for stickiness.

The NYT’s have done an excellent job of rule 1, rule 3 and rule 6. People pay to complete their daily crossword faithfully on their smartphone, just as they did with the old-school newspaper version. And, it provides much better brand engagement with the mobile user than 16 seconds in a disposable Burger King appvertisement, don’t you agree?

Don't Crash. Don't Suck. Get Sticky.

At Mob4Hire, there is a saying regarding mobile: “Don’t Crash. Don’t Suck. Get Sticky.”

  Don't Crash (a.k.a. “functional testing”). Mobile apps that crash on handsets, that are too slow, that make it hard to answer a phone call, that struggle to acquire a GPS location or loses it frequently … they all fall into the “Don’t Crash” category. Users don’t tolerate crashing AT ALL. It’s the quickest way to get a one star rating. The problem for Big Brand developers is that the mobile industry has a “fragmented mobile ecosystem,” which makes it hard to do basic QA. Thus, 89% of mobile users have experienced an app crash.

  Don’t Suck This is the ability for your app to get 4 or 5 star ratings in an app store. It helps provides discoverability, and the best and most popular apps get a further boost by being included on top 10, top 50 and recommended lists.

  Get Sticky Although users may discover your software, it’s very rare to find an app that persists with usage on a smartphone and gets actively recommended to others. On my Blackberry Bold, sticky apps include: Poynt, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Dictionary.com, Google Maps, Magmic Poker, and Twitter. Interestingly, not a single traditional Big Brand app. What are the sticky apps on your phone?

Many companies try in-house functional testing or hire other companies that can do this in controlled labs. However, just as you cannot avoid functional testing, usability and market testing is paramount. This is one area where you cannot have too many permutations of handset and carriers and a large number of real mobile users are essential; for example Mob4Hire has 45,000 testers in 150 countries on over 350 different carriers. By testing on this scale and global scope we can save anywhere between 65% and 90% over traditional testing costs.

Porting gets tricky before it gets Sticky.

Here’s a typical mobile strategy: “We’ve got a great iPhone app, let’s make a Blackberry and Android version.” In this example, the iPhone app is called the “reference build,” and the subsequent versions are done as “port builds.”

In a lot of cases, porting companies get hired to take the original “reference build” and create original versions on other platforms. Due to constrained budgets, insane time frames, handset differences and the sheer number of binary versions required, ports are sometimes rushed and released as software that doesn’t resonate with the users as much as the original version.

Being sticky also relates to whether users experience the same level of quality and engagement across platforms.

There's a crAPP for that.

In essence, then, the question a Big Brand faces is: if I make an app, it has to be better-than-good, or no one will ever find it, use it or recommend it.

In mobile, it’s all about the engaged consumption of your brand.

You can’t make good software without users. Engage in market research BEFORE you release your software; take the time to get it as right as you can. Then, engage in customer feedback cycles continuously AFTER you release, but ensure that the iterations of your software don’t destroy the reason your users love your app to begin with! Understanding the link between stickiness and user experience is the single most important thing a Big Brand must think about when trying to reach out to people living a mobile lifestyle.

Smartphone users are savvy, brutally honest and have the attention span of a two year old. If it looks like crAPP, and it smells like crAPP, it’s crAPP.

Stephen King

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