7 questions to ask for a stellar mobile app

According to a recent study from Millward Brown, mobile is now the first screen in our lives -- and the screen that dominates all others. Sorry, TV, but you have finally been replaced.

As our attention continues to shift to the smaller screens in our lives, brands need to take a hard look at their current apps, especially as consumers are spending more of their time engaging with apps than on the mobile web. Unlike any other touch point, apps give brands the opportunity to address real-time customer context. Apps also become the heroes in consumers' lives by offering functionality that serves a precise message at a specific moment. Sensors on smartphones and other connected devices in our cars, household appliances, TVs, and more are maturing and multiplying. Predictive modeling is becoming more accurate. People are sharing innermost thoughts at every opportunity. It all goes into the recipe for the most organic, loyal, and profitable relationships ever between brands and consumers.

Apps, though, are failing for most brands. While the list of reasons why is long and varied, failure is driven by the lack of any contextual and personalized experience. But if leveraged effectively, apps offer brands a periscope into the lives of their consumers -- a way to see into what is happening around consumers. By learning what circumstances consumers act in, a brand can in turn become empowered to serve up a highly engaging experience. Messaging today is one-way, filled with quasi-random spurts of content -- spray and pray that something sticks -- when instead it should be sensitive to a person's unique situation. Is there a lot of traffic on the route they take to work? How will today's pollen count affect their day? What about their packed calendar of meetings?

Consumer expectations for highly personalized and relevant interactions with brands are only hardening. There is little room for error (e.g., annoying consumers with inappropriate content). With mobile now mature enough to become a multi-billion dollar marketing opportunity in the U.S. and a multi-trillion dollar opportunity worldwide, companies can't afford to offer anything less than a stellar mobile experience. As companies scrutinize their offerings, the below questions are good starting points for a discussion on how to offer a better consumer experience:

  • What moments are people having in your app? What organic, ancillary experiences can your brand provide to become a more active part of users lives?
  • Does your app provide different experiences (overlays) based on where your customer is (at home, in-store, in-car, etc.)? Before a person gets to a store, they may need to find the closest location. But when they arrive, they would need to request help instead.
  • What systems are you integrating with CRM, e-commerce, social, etc., to provide a cohesive experience?
  • What sensor data (accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, altimeter, humidity, etc.) are you tapping into?
  • Are you analyzing a user's context when they complete tasks to know what situational factors drive certain behavior? For instance, are some users engaging with your content only on the train during their morning commute or browsing swimsuits when the temperature reaches a certain temperature?
  • Are you looking beyond location to decipher context? What secondary location data can you infer -- weather, traffic conditions, events, or news?
  • Do you predict your users' implied intent (what they are trying to do) before providing an offer, message, or experience? For example, are they searching for a restaurant at lunchtime or trying to plan their weekend?

With access to real-time signals from smartphones and other connected devices and tools that anticipate customer behavior, the brands that don't retire their early generation apps will quickly lose relevance. The insanely personal small screens that we carry around everywhere we go demand a new approach to engagement. The companies that offer streamlined utility and experiences based on an individual's context -- not an experience for the masses -- will be invited to stay in customers' lives, while those that interrupt with irrelevant push messages and clunky app experiences will be deleted and forgotten.

Puneet Mehta is co-founder and CEO at MobileROI.

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