The last twelve months have taught us an awful lot. For businesses many of the hardest lessons came about as the world suddenly went online only. They quickly realized that digital transformation was not a ‘nice to have’ or a consultant-driven tick box exercise. Rather, it is a commercial imperative. Businesses that hadn’t embarked on the journey to digitize their offering badly struggled - many didn’t survive. There were many organizations that had spent a lot of time and money on digital transformation but found that what they had paid for was inadequate or incomplete. Weak links in infrastructure, website management, procurement, customer service and marketing were all exposed and much has been written about lessons that can be learned. However, an area that has had less scrutiny is arguably one of the most important - the performance of apps. There was a great digital divide between organizations that had at their disposal a fully functional, user-friendly and well-marketed app, and those that had the bare minimum or nothing at all.
The reality is that an organization’s app is an invaluable asset. It provides a direct communication channel to their customers, a shop front, a source of deep data insights and much more. When the world went into lockdown it became the number one source of engagement and sales for many organizations. It is therefore surprising that businesses often treat their app as simply an extension of their website or as a basic marketing channel. A great app is the cherry on top of the digitalization sundae.
So what makes a great app? For me, the golden rule is that the UX must be the absolute best it can be. If there is a balance to be struck between intuitive, simplicity and cumbersome, complex multifunctionality, it should always be towards the simple. Consumers have little patience for slow or difficult-to-use apps. This balance becomes easier to achieve if the app is slotted into a wider digitalization play. An app that uses the infrastructure, data and insights of the wider businesses to provide seamless personalized interactions and tailored services will win users over. This is in sharp contrast to businesses that are incapable of integrating their app into their tech infrastructure in a meaningful way. Often in these cases you end up with an app that provides little value to users. It can be little more than a company bulletin board or a means to direct consumers to different channels to execute an action (usually the website).
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Part of the digitalization journey
This brings me to the next point. Your app must have a purpose for the user. This may sound simplistic but apps can often be created because a senior decision-maker says, ‘why don’t we have an app?’. This route of development can lead to the app simply replicating part of the existing customer experience such as the website, rather than complimenting or enhancing the digitalization of a company. People use their apps in a very different way to other online experiences. As a result, apps require unique customer experiences to be built. The information users demand, the functionality they need and the marketing communications that will engage them vary markedly from websites, social or in-store channels. The best apps are developed by identifying the needs of the user coupled with where there is the largest opportunity or gap in an organization’s digital experience. From there, with this principle firmly established and central to the aim of the app, additional functionality and experiences can be developed.
This is obviously a very quick overview of some of the main factors that need to be considered when designing the app. There are plenty of more in-depth analysis pieces online that go into best practices around app development, however, it brings me to my central point. As good as your app could be, it will count for nothing and do little to support digital transformation if your customers do not know that it exists.
App marketing is seldom thought of as part of the digitalization journey. Nevertheless, if absent or poorly executed, it can represent a single point of failure for a lot of businesses. Think about it this way, if you’re a business operating predominantly from online sales, how well do you think you would fare if users could not find your website? They would google words similar to your offering and your business wouldn’t appear on the first page. Maybe if it did appear, the short description put people off clicking. Perhaps the logo, name or branding that is displayed has little resemblance to what they expect from your company. All of this happens to even the biggest companies on app stores. Why? Because they do not engage in even the most basic app store optimization.
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Digital transformation is a chain
Start by using the most relevant and searchable keywords in the name and description of your app. A little research here can go a long way to identifying which words these should be. No less important is including high-quality creatives that represent your app. A low res or poorly chosen image can raise red flags for customers. So too can badly written supporting copy. The goal is to get the customer excited but also summarise the app in such a way that they know exactly what they are getting.
Next, how will you promote your app? In the same way traditional, paid-for, social and PR communications are all used to enhance the visibility of a brand and its website, an app requires its own tailored marketing campaign. How you market your app must be considered as a separate (yet consistent) part of the wider marketing strategy. There are of course specialist tech platforms that can do a lot of the heavy lifting. However, as the app market is so competitive, for the app to get the visibility it needs a reasonable marketing budget. This is why it’s critical to consider the costs associated with your app in the wider context of digital transformation. If you have already spent hundreds of thousands or millions of euros, pounds and dollars on building the infrastructure, websites and expertise needed to be digitally transformed, it would be a huge false economy to restrict the relatively modest marketing budget required to make your app a success. Clever and efficient use of ASO technology and other marketing platforms will ensure that you have good ROI on your spend.
Digital transformation is a chain; if you have a weak link it fails your organization and your customer. Your app is a little thought of part of this chain but if given the attention and resources it deserves, it can be the most valuable way to drive new business, retain customers and generally enhance your offering.
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Silvio Peruci, COO, App Radar