How to stay out of the app wasteland

There are, quite literally, a million mobile apps. Make that two million. Of course that doesn't mean most of these apps are universally relevant to everyone with a smart phone. For simplicity, let's say that these apps fall into one of three unofficial categories: useful, less useful, and veritable head scratchers, with the majority falling towards the latter end of the spectrum.      
                    
Regardless, app usage on the whole is up 115 percent year-over-year, meaning that apps must remain a crucial component of any mobile or digital strategy. The problem, however, is that with this glut of available apps -- and the fact that mobile gaming dominates almost a third of all mobile screen time leaving everyone else competing for the leftovers -- it's hard to tell anymore if it's even strategic to spend the time and money necessary to develop and maintain an app. Further, if it is determined to be strategic, how can brands encourage adoption in a world where everyone is fighting for mobile users' attention? Most importantly, how can businesses create ongoing engagement and usage of their apps after the initial download?

First thing's first. Is an app even right for your business?

In general, the most successful apps solve an immediate problem or fill a vacuum in the market. According to the App Annie Index from January 2014, the top five downloaded apps were YouTube, Facebook, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Why are these the most popular apps? Because they solve a problem everyone has by helping people communicate and exchange information easier with one another. The takeaway here is that people like apps that improve their lives in a tangible way, and this understanding should be at the heart of the decision making process for any business considering the development of an app.

So you've decided it makes sense to build an app. How do you keep it relevant?

We've all heard the quote before, "If an app falls in the app store and doesn't get downloaded, does it make a sound?" Or something like that. There are numerous articles that elucidate on the process of launching and promoting an app to garner initial adoption, but enticing your audience to make the download is only the first hurdle in making your app a worthwhile investment of resources. Driving continued engagement and usage is the key to getting a proper ROI and to make it a go-to touch point for your consumers.

Deep linking

Around a quarter of users who download any given app will never use it again, but there are now new ways to combat this. Deep linking, or the process of driving users who are outside of an app to a specific place within that app if they have it installed on their phones, is growing in popularity and adoption.

ESPN is one company who has fully embraced deep app linking by using mobile CTAs to drive people to dedicated places within their SportsCenter app based on the ad they are interacting with. While deep linking requires some upfront technical work so that the app can properly understand the protocols, it is a valuable functionality to incorporate when looking to entice continued app engagement.

Use your app to provide exclusive content

Another great way to get people to keep using your app is by making it a destination for exclusive content -- mobile video, offers, special discounts, etc. -- that people can't get anywhere else. MTV in particular has done a great job of this by using their app as a place to preview exclusive trailers and content for their TV shows like "The Jersey Shore." Similarly, the NFL uses its app to provide exclusive insider information and athlete interviews as incentives to get people to continually turn to the app for additional coverage of the latest news, stories, and trends.

Use your app to allow users to perform specific tasks

Voting, registering for sweepstakes, downloading mobile coupons or offers, or even allowing for easy mobile donations are all very concrete tactics for getting people to engage with your app over time. As noted above, the most successful apps are ones that allow users to take action and all of the tactics mentioned above are tangible measures that can get people interacting with your app quickly. Travelocity used this idea to get people to download and engage with the app by simultaneously entering users into a sweepstakes where they could potentially win free tickets to sporting events or trips in the future. By offering a dedicated action for people to complete and incentivizing the completion of that action, Travelocity drove app downloads and enticed people to keep using the app in the future.

Building and launching an app, while not the easiest thing in the world, is a cakewalk relative to driving widespread adoption and enticing ongoing engagement from consumers. To help in the fight against app abandonment, exclusive mobile-optimized content, deep linking, and incentivizing people to perform specific mobile actions are all arrows in a marketer's quiver to keep apps from withering on the vine.

Joe Gillespie is the CEO and president of Zoove.

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