With over 6 million apps on App Store and Google Play, most of the app developers and publishers may have trouble breaking even, let alone making a profit! Planning to build an app around the idea you think will either add great value in respective markets, or will add great entertainment value, is never an easy task.
As mobile application development company and associated practices for last 8 years, we had an opportunity to collaborate with various kinds of enterprises and entrepreneurs, assisting them to implement their business ideas as apps. During this process of collaboration, we have observed some of those products(Apps) becoming very successful which some did not even break even.
This gave us valuable insights on the factors which define app’s success. This post provides details and insight on how product owners of those successful apps approached planning, implementation and marketing of their product.
Every new business, regardless of the area of enterprise, needs to serve one of the two objectives in order for it to become successful. It should either be:
1. An improved, more valuable version of an existing solution/process/product or
2. Be a completely new concept/idea, kind of game changer for that market
And most of the time, new apps being developed by app entrepreneurs are an improved version of an existing product in the market. We have seen many products of our customers becoming decently successful with this approach wherein they worked on adding more value to existing apps in the market – anything ranging from better UX to additional useful features or more reasonable cost, leading to better acceptance by app users and thus success.
Making an app successful demands meticulous planning, market research and analysis, hand-holding during development phase(For non-tech entrepreneurs) and well thought out diffusion strategy. Following are the key phases of finding a product market fit and life cycle of app development and launch that our successful customers followed:
- Problem/Solution statement and Business strategy
- Testing and Roll out
- Distribution and Marketing
1. Problem/Solution statement and Business strategy
As we already mentioned, every business needs to solve a problem to be successful. The main question you need to ask yourself is “What is the objective of the app”. Your app idea should either be able to solve a key issue users/businesses are facing, or should be bringing something your potential market has never seen before. This stage can be labeled as “Need Analysis”. If there is a need, there is a strong foundation for the app to be successful.
In order to identify the needs, you may have to perform a user research for target segment, market and existing solutions. You could use online information and surveys to collect the required information. You should also identify and create detailed stories explaining the scenario where users face the problems your app is trying to solve. It will help you to live the problem.
Once needs and an associated solution have been established, the next challenge is to identify the revenue models. Many businesses and entrepreneurs leave the business model finalization for later stages. Information, entertainment and utility based apps can build their business model around in-app purchases with a freemium model.
Many entrepreneurs go with ad-based model only. This strategy can worsen user experience and affect app downloads and user retention. Instead of relying on ads, developers should design the app in such way that users will appreciate the value it adds for them, and motivate users to pay for premium features. if it is a free (ad based revenue model) or a freemium model.
Information design is another aspect regarding ads that needs to be taken into consideration at the very beginning of app development is a problem that could occur at later stage. Ad-space should be incorporated into app design in such a way that these do not interfere with the information users want to access, thus providing a better user experience.
From what we have observed, design(UX) plays the most important part in an app’s success. What is presumed to be an app’s success can vary depending on user and business requirements.
For example, the success of a game or an app in entertainment category can be defined in terms of frequent usage, long session time and high retention, whereas a utility app’s success can be defined based on how quickly a user learns to use it and then how easily the tasks are accomplished.
Good design is essential for the success of an app because:
- It helps a user learn how to use the app more quickly
- It makes the app easy to use
- Design assures more engagement using right triggers
- The app is aesthetically pleasing
- User’s emotional needs are also being fulfilled, along with the functional requirements put in front of an app
To achieve the above goals, you need a good UX design team and the whole approach to the development should be user-centric, where business and development goals should align with user’s goals.
The important thing to understand about design is that it is not just how it looks. The design consists of graphic design, information architecture and information design, and interaction design. While designing an app for a particular platform (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile or web), it is important to analyze and incorporate various design guidelines specific to the platform so that user experience remains consistent.
There are many challenges and questions app owners generally face while developing applications. Here are some of them:
- Whether app should be developed using Hybrid or Native technologies?
- Whether should we launch with one platform only or with multiple?
- Which server-side technology stack should we choose?
- How can the communication between client side and server side teams be improved for better API design & development, more importantly, if the teams are working remotely?
- Which development methodology is appropriate; waterfall, agile or a mix of waterfall and agile?
- And lastly, whether one should use test-driven development (TDD) or rely on manual testing?
Answers to these challenges and questions depend on various factors. For example, the development methodology can depend on project agreement or the preference of the development team. Other examples can be whether to use TDD or not. The choice, in this case, depends on cost and deadlines. Another frequent question we face is whether to go with hybrid app or native apps.
A hybrid app built using Xamarin or HTML5 may save on cost and time, and in many cases where apps are not too complex or comprehensive, will deliver similar performance as that of native apps however when apps become more comprehensive they may not be able to deliver the same level of user experience and performance to users as the native versions do. Thus the trade-off needs to be evaluated and compared very thoughtfully.
We have consulted with over 200 clients who had an app development strategy in the past, and to our surprise hardly 5% of them had at least 10% of budget allocated for marketing activities and distribution of the app.
With every app category having thousands of apps, and over 2 million apps available on both stores cumulatively, it is becoming increasingly difficult for new apps to differentiate themselves and remain on user’s device with high usage. Therefore, it is of essence to invest both time and money to market your app.
With our experience, we have felt that a minimum of 30% of total budget should be allocated for some sort of marketing activities. Unless, of course, your aim is different and you want to target a specific focus group or develop the app just for validation. In very rare cases, when the idea is so unique, apps attain great virality without any marketing efforts.
Followed are some of the key To-Dos related to App marketing:
- App’s site – your app needs to have its own home i.e. a small microsite. Before the launch, you should have a launch page for early birds sign up. When we built our first app in 2011, we made sure that it had its own site and to our surprise, the site brought lots of traffic to our mobile apps.
- Explanatory Videos – It might be expensive to build a well-designed, full-fledged video but if the budget allows it, then this is one of the best things to do. Alternatively, you may simply create an “How app works” kind of videos using various screens of app and your own voice over.
- Blog and Social media – Starting a blog and having social media accounts on all social networking platforms is a very basic advice you may get. However, what we have noticed by interacting with various clients is that they post on these social networks for the sake of posting, and not to create awareness and engagement with the readers. Every post you write needs to create value for readers and should drive engagement. These engagements will help you to get insights into various types of users, which can be useful to improve your product and service.
- Press – One of the traditional and effective ways of promoting a mobile app is by creating a pre-release buzz through press announcements. Get press to work for you. This helps create curiosity among mobile apps users and increases the number of downloads.
Try and identify the journalists who work in specific domains either related to your target segment or in your app’s category, and contact them with your app’s brief. This is generally more effective than typical paid or free press releases (but then again, they undoubtedly help as well).
- App recommendation engines and platforms – Distribute and list your app to as many recommendation and review sites as possible. Some of these platforms really take their work seriously and review each app very meticulously.
There are numerous other (both free and paid) methods to distribute and to market an app. The key is to identify the platform or place your end-users are available at, and align your marketing strategy accordingly.
As you may have observed, app’s success is a combination of well thought out strategy and meticulous implementation. It is not driven by any one specific factor and needs great efforts on initial strategy and each phase of product development. In our future posts, we will share more insights on the specific points discussed above with examples, and also reveal the deep-rooted reasons for the success of thriving enterprises and consumer apps.
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