I spoke recently to a leading digital and data agency and thoughts turned to ‘what happens next’ in the world of mobile apps. We were reflecting on the fact that ⅔ of Americans have a smart phone and that the iPhone launched only eight years ago.
In the last 100 years, only television has demonstrated the same sort of rapid penetration, and even then only in advanced economies. But think again on that comparison. What did televisions looks like eight years after they became commercially available? Not much like they do today, that’s for sure. So if you think the future for the smartphone is ‘more of the same but better,’ I would suggest you think again.
Nowhere more so is that the case than in the field of mobile apps themselves. Right now we tend to think of them as discrete entities that we ‘open’ by clicking on an icon, use for a while, and then leave. But that model is already changing. Interactive notifications, which enable the user to perform simple tasks or responses outside the app, are just the start of this trend. Before we know it, an app will be a background ‘service’ that comes to the surface only when needed (often without us explicitly calling it).
What might that look like? Consider the example of Uber. There’s no reason why an app like that can’t know that I have both booked a table at a restaurant for 15 minutes time, and am currently at home. At which point, it can politely ask if I wish to order a car. The entire Uber transaction can thus take place without Uber being open at all. I may not even need to be looking at my device as this transaction is taking place!
And there are, of course, many more examples. An omni-channel business can deliver prompts to my phone when I enter a brick and mortar store — inviting me to check out relevant offers or remind me of the option to call a store assistant, either virtual or in person. Or how about a transit company responding to rain (smartphones know when it is raining after all) by suggesting an alternative for getting home?
In each case apps are acting as ‘ubiquitous assistants’ without our prompting. An exciting future — but there are challenges!
Doing It Right
What’s the single best way to doom yourself to mobile purgatory? Unfocused, untargeted marketing. Or to give it its more pithy name: “spam”. What is true of email is true of push notifications and mobile alerts of all descriptions, with one new twist: the punishment for irritating notifications isn’t less effective marketing — it is deleted apps. You lose your opportunity to engage with a customer completely.
So in this new world of ‘always on’ apps as services, it will be vital to ensure that prompts to action are relevant. Not just ‘probably relevant’ but truly useful and helpful.
That in turn requires us to get ready for this new reality, and here are the five ways:
Start collecting data relating to mobile app use. Not just ‘some’ data, as much relevant information about the individual as possible — at Swrve we have customers sending us billions of events per day. That’s the extreme, but unless you have a truly granular view of your users, you can’t hope to deliver relevant content.
Integrate third-party data, or data from other channels. Your app will be responding to prompts from a variety of sources. Ensure your mobile marketing platform is ‘open’, and you’ll be able to make that happen.
Ensure you’re in position to deliver ‘real-time’ understanding. If rain is a prompt, there’s no point acting on it four hours later! Get ready to ensure your prompts are timely.
Ensure your push notification engine is fully integrated with the data you collect. Sounds obvious — but you’d be surprised how often the collection of data ends up isolated from the marketing function that needs to use it.
Get ready to A/B test. If app usage is determined by the effectiveness of prompts and notifications, you’ll need to validate your decisions with real user data rather than a best guess.
And here’s one bonus consideration:
Look to build out integrated campaigns. If a prompt does encourage a user to open the app, present them with a customized display on app open that keeps that specific conversation going. That way, users stay on track and view your app as a truly useful part of their life. Which is what it’s all about!
A long enough laundry list — but this trend will play out over the next 12 months so there’s time to tackle it all. The successful mobile apps of 2016 will be starting now. Be one of them!
About the Author
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