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November 9, 2015
How Customers' Needs Guide Mobile App Strategy
Mobile app use has grown 90 percent in the last two years, creating a stratification and hierarchy of apps, which can be sorted into four tiers. By understanding how the three million available apps are used, marketers can make more realistic assessments of future app functionality and uptake.

To succeed, an app has to immediately benefit consumers’ lives. Eager to get information that is timely, personal, and relevant, consumers expect apps to know them, learn their patterns, catalog their interests, and adapt to their needs.

Americans spend 62 percent of digital media time using smartphone apps, almost 70 hours per month — 50 percent of which is focused on a single, most-used app. With 126 million unique U.S. visitors, the top app for many is Facebook. Only 60 apps out of the three million existing apps attracted more than 10 million unique users in June 2015. Developing an app that reaches world-class scale is a considerable challenge.

Marketers developing and selling-in branded apps have to assess where, in the usage hierarchy, they are likely to fit and then plan content and functionality accordingly. Marketers have to understand that the great majority of apps never achieve scale and die of loneliness.

Social networking, radio/music, games, multimedia, and instant messaging are the top five app categories measured by time spent. The newest apps, featuring simple, easy-to-use interfaces to accomplish complex tasks, are resetting standards every day. App interoperability (e.g., Outlook opens and accesses LinkedIn) and apps that leverage the native functions of smartphones, like GPS, are driving app uptake. An app has to have an intuitive interface, easy-to-use buttons, and must process disparate data sets in real time.

Beyond functionality, app use seems to be segmenting based on frequency of use, affinity or familiarity, and brand appreciation. Comscore’s latest mobile report evidences significant growth in the use of apps, which fall into four tiers.

Favorites. Eight of the Top 10 apps are owned either by Facebook or Google (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, FB Messenger, Google Search). Use of these apps varies significantly by age. Generally, users spend 78 percent of their time in their Top 3 favorite apps and 96 percent of their time in their Top 10. Three in four users keep favorite apps prominent on their home screens.

On-Demand Utilities. These apps are used as needed or they are part of daily habits. Popular on-demand apps include The Weather Channel, Uber, Waze, Starbucks, Kayak, Amazon, Zipcar, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, What’sApp, Walgreens, Pandora, Spotify, Fandango, and Fitbit. Airline, hotel, bank, and rental car apps fall into this category, as do medical, diary, delivery, loyalty, and a handful of retail apps including Wal*Mart, Target, and Kohl’s. On-demand apps factor heavily in the average 25 apps-per-month most Americans use. This number should increase as mobile payments shake out and reach scale.

Gates. These are apps that are downloaded to join a group, participate in a contest, claim a coupon or a deal, or gain access to desired information. One in three smartphone users, in a Google survey, said they would download an app under these circumstances. Yet in the next breath, more than half said they would uninstall the app once the desired action is completed.

Also-Rans. This is where 2.5 million+ apps end up. Use of these apps is very personal and reflects the interests of the individual user. And while there probably are psycho-demographic patterns in uptake and use, no one has measured or identified these patterns at scale yet. The average user has 20+ of these apps but may only use five or fewer in any six-month period.

Creating a branded app that meets consumers’ relevance, speed, utility, value, and convenience expectations isn’t easy. The key is fitting your app to customer needs. But if you can plan an app and a usage stimulation plan based on one of these tiers, you will significantly improve your chances for success.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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