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Why your app needs to be customer-centric

Why your app needs to be customer-centric Don Broekelmann
People want to use their phones to do everything. In 2013, there was a 115 percent increase in mobile app use -- that's not even including mobile web use. With this type of increase, the allure to create a mobile app is strong because you can gain a significant audience -- and even new customers -- by generating popular apps.

However, creating the perfect app can be daunting. You want to include great features, but you don’t want to overwhelm the user or your team with excess baggage. You need to be conscious of time and cost, and the app needs to provide a return on your investment. Where do you begin?

Success depends on practicality. If users stumble upon an app that they find to be genuinely useful, they’ll use it regularly and also share it with their friends.

Big Results From Thinking Small

To achieve success in a more meaningful way, the approach toward app development needs to shift from primarily company-centric to customer-centric.

This can be challenging. It requires thinking beyond selling products and services to considering your customers’ needs. The app doesn’t have to do everything — it just needs to do one thing well.

This approach can help reinforce your brand with existing customers, and it can also become an effective lead generation tool. Consider these strategies when brainstorming your next app:

1. Get outside. Businesses tend to view new projects exclusively through the lens of their core service offerings. Look beyond the walls of your organization for other ideas and opportunities to fill a need.

2. Get practical. Look for problems that are easily solved with technology. Problems that revolve around storing, organizing, and retrieving information can inspire apps.

3. Get real. Create a short list of possible ideas for the app. Then, ask your employees whether they would honestly share the app with their friends and family. This will be a good indicator of the app’s usefulness.

4. Keep it simple. Focus on solving one problem for the user. Resist internal pressures to try to integrate the app across existing systems and platforms. This will only slow down development and increase costs.

Brand Building With a Different Approach

Advertisers constantly work to find new ways of exposing customers to their brands. Repetition builds familiarity, familiarity builds trust, trust reduces risk, and reducing risk increases the chances of a customer making a purchase.

Unfortunately, web apps that are created primarily as sales tools often fail because they attempt to move the customer directly from the repetition stage to the purchasing stage. Anyone who has walked away from an overly aggressive salesperson will tell you that repetition alone rarely accomplishes anything positive.

When companies approach app development from a marketing perspective, they may experience some initial success by convincing users to download and try the app. However, if a user doesn’t immediately see the value of the app, it can easily be discarded with the swipe of a finger. Instead of pushing a sale, try a different approach.

  • Lead with the need. Rather than using an app solely as a vehicle to directly market to customers, companies are finding success by identifying ways to help make their customers’ lives easier in a definitive way. Eventually, the app can become a revenue generator when customers integrate it fully into their lives and seek more apps from you.

  • Don’t add stuff — add value. DreamVault from American Family is a great example of a business app that’s added real value. This app offers a clear value proposition for users: It provides a simple, accessible way to collect and store information about your household belongings so, in the event of a fire or other catastrophic event, you have access to a complete inventory of items in your home.

Anyone can download the app, and everyone should have a household inventory. This opens up a whole new potential audience of users and prospects through a practical, value-driven app. While this approach may not always lead to a quick sale, forward-thinking companies like American Family are realizing that there’s still value provided because the app helped establish contact with a potential customer.

4 Golden Rules for an Effective App

Having an app that sounds impressive and looks pretty may work at first, but ensuring it provides value to the user is the real test. Follow these four rules for success in the long term:

1. Identifiable value: Value is key to a successful user experience. Zite is a great app that collects information about articles users have read and generates topics they might enjoy. Zite saves users time by delivering the content that is most relevant to them.

2. Benefits: Your app should benefit existing and potential customers. Amazon Wish List is a great example. The app enables customers to store their selections, and it also benefits Amazon by alerting it of a customer’s interest in a specific item.

3. Transparency: Apps need to be transparent in how they gather data from users, as well as the potential costs of the app. Hidden agendas stop your growth in its tracks.

4. Rewards: Users appreciate incentives. Offer rewards for the continued use of your app and any referrals that users make. Growing your audience depends on positive word-of-mouth, so pass the benefits along to your users.

Web apps can be a great way to engage with your customers and extend the reach of your brand. Developed with the right intent and practicality, they also serve as effective lead capture tools.

Users who are introduced to your brand begin to associate it with making their lives easier. So, ask not what your customers need from you — ask what you can do for your customers.

Don Broekelmann is Executive Vice President at Influence & Co., a professional branding firm based in Columbia, Mo. Don works with Influence & Co.’s brand partners to develop content marketing plans to create authentic engagement with...

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