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Essays

The magic of apps

We need to look beyond the mobile versus desktop debate towards a holistic view, argues MEC’s Simon Sothcot

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Mobile sits at the centre of many questions marketers are attempting to ask. Where are my customers? Are they in-store? If so, who are they and what are they doing? If executed correctly, mobile has the ability to transform a business but only if you can engage and entertain your customers at the right moment.

However, before developing a mobile application it is important to understand how this will fit with the wider business strategy and what problems the mobile strategy can address. If mobile development continues to be a silo channel, disconnected from the core product, then this fails both the customer and the business.

With most companies on the first version of their apps and mobile sites, these can often be extensions of the existing functions achieved through the desktop site. Few are delivering on the differentiated experiences made possible with smart apps connected to customer relationship management, content management systems, and IT systems. The strength for marketers is for mobile – and specifically mobile applications – to bring a unified approach to marketing under the guise of a single customer view. By providing a universal login across all digital properties, applying this can establish a clear competitive advantage.

Most customers now expect a real-time, personalised experience with curated content across all devices. And this is the major challenge organisations now face. To succeed, companies need to make their data available at the exact moment they need it, to make marketing interactions as effective as possible.

However, to achieve this requires huge datasets – often confined in legacy systems – to be stitched together in real time, and to make this work takes the coordination of cross functional teams. As such, agencies face the challenge of not only helping marketers navigate the rapidly changing mobile landscape but also to provide the full-stack marketers, who hold the necessary skills set to deliver across disciplines.

As the competition to download mobile applications intensifies and acquisition costs increase, this integration is key to success. At present, only 25 per cent of users open an app once, then never return, and 30 per cent or more of mobile apps were used just once or twice during the first six months of ownership. As such, these insights call for greater attention towards understanding how to maximise user engagement and retention strategies, both paid and organic.

The biggest challenge we have is to shift marketers’ perception so that they realise user experience is the brand experience and the first touchpoint for many customers. By understanding how service design integrates with the business from end to end and to not create a mobile app which sits on the peripheral, is key to success. For example, simply introducing a first-time tour of the app at login can increase customer activations from 25 per cent to 50 per cent.

Utilising smartphone technology can also help and card.io is one exemplary tool used by Uber to enhance the experience of collecting your payment details. With image recognition, Uber will take a picture of your card and automatically input the required fields. Little details like this can significantly boost customer activations and overall satisfaction.

To acquire new users it is important to understand why users download an app and the primary reason is to execute a specific task. Yet many apps still fall into the trap of building feature heavy apps and end up burying essential functions deep inside the navigation, therefore reducing potential revenues.

With that in mind, some companies have taken the route of unbundling their core apps to focus on feature lite applications, often described as the constellation model. Facebook, for example has 17 different apps including Instagram, Messenger and Groups with each one supporting the core app. Twitter also acts as the support platform for its video products, Periscope and Vine, thereby enhancing the discovery through the two dominant app stores.

The approach here is to organically scale new app releases, and also to experiment with live apps – without effecting the functionality, usability and reputation of the core parent app. These new apps may fail but if they do prove successful, the features could be integrated into the parent app. The challenge is to adopt an agile approach to application development, constantly improving upon the experience through small iterations.

Testing app notifications is also key yet many marketers fail to utilise these as a marketing channel, placing importance over email or SMS. However, delivering personalised rewards or exclusive content to the most loyal customers are all vital for retention and to reactivate dormant users before they remove the app at the next operating system update or upgrade their device.

Ultimately, we need to look beyond the mobile versus desktop debate, towards a holistic view. Arguably, mobile is one step towards delivering a smooth customer experience across all platforms and already we can see the use of cross-device notifications with Google Now cards. The content delivery for mobile technology addresses the challenges we will face in five years with the proliferation of screen sizes from wearable devices, in-car operating systems and home automation. As such, this will continue to be a key battle ground for differentiating from competitors through personalised brand experiences. And if we continue to measure mobile as another silo channel, we will not address the challenges currently facing the industry.

(Simon Sothcott is digital director at MEC MENA)

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