Essential Tips For Creating Apps People Will Actually Use

Check-ins, timing, emotions–there’s more to getting your app in the hands of consumers than creating something worthwhile. Here’s how to climb the app marketing mountain.

Essential Tips For Creating Apps People Will Actually Use
[Image: Flickr user Kyle Taylor]

Marketers may compare launching a successful mobile app to summiting Mount Everest. In actuality, you have better odds with the mountain.


The average smartphone user downloaded 26 apps in 2013, yet recent research shows he or she continued using only about six of them. The remaining 20 were left to collect virtual dust or were deleted, according to recent research by LoyaltyOne.

With a 22% chance of maintaining engagement–compared with a 29% success rate of summiting Mount Everest–what can marketers do to ensure their apps maintain peak interest?

Consumers want both convenience and utility from their apps. This should be a no brainer, but the research detailed in the Mobile App Transaction Study also spells out less obvious ways for marketers to consult on apps that improve the brand experience and increase loyalty.

I’ll detail these ways soon, but in the meantime here’s a hint: among the apps most frequently identified in the study are those that pretty much bring the mountain to the consumer–Starbucks, Amazon, eBay, and Nike.

Leading the charge: The young and the rich

Step one, let’s look at the market. The LoyaltyOne research shows that while the average smartphone user has downloaded 26 apps, tablet users are more active, downloading an average of 29. So how does that shake out?


Overall, smartphones are still in the lead, even if they do carry fewer apps. About 57% of the U.S. general population uses a smartphone, and 27% uses a tablet, according to a 2013 report from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Two key groups lead in that adoption: adults aged 18 to 25, of whom 68% use smartphones and 37% use tablets; and the affluent, with 65% using smartphones and 47% using tablets.

Globally, mobile subscriptions have risen 7% in 2013 from 2012, with an estimated 4.5 billion unique mobile subscribers tapping into one or more devices, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report, which measures data traffic. (The figure takes into consideration that one person may have more than one mobile device subscription.)

Combine all of these figures and it’s easy to understand why pretty much every major brand is seeking some sort of app presence, from one that features a sizzling piece of meat (Longhorn) to one that alerts the user when the baby has wet his diaper (Huggies).

Less understood among marketers, evidently, is what these billions of users want in their little screen devices.

Aim to Either Entertain or Be Useful

Two key traits prevail when it comes to app success, according to the survey. The app needs to be entertaining and deliver games, music, and other fun diversions; or it should be utility-based and offer services such as news, education, weather, and maps.


Drill down deeper, and survey respondents ranked finances and convenience as the top elements that engage them with an app. Forty-two percent said they prefer apps that help them gain access to discounts and lower prices, and an equal percentage want apps that help them simplify or organize their lives.

What consumers do not want: They expressly do not want self-serving ads. Do not test them on this. Social media is a very effective platform for consumers seeking to register a public complaint.

Don’t get lost in the crowd

There’s a lot of competition out there. Navigate your way to the top with these strategies:

1. Tweak the check-in
Lots of marketers encourage consumers to use app check-ins because they allow for tracking, but the check-in promotions often used for this don’t actually increase transactions over the long term. Instead, marketers should consider rewarding those who check-in and then perform a desired behavior–think of it as “Check-In Plus.” For example, an app could award bonus points or offers to members who check-in and make a purchase, or check-in and redeem a coupon. This kind of immediate reward will more likely keep the customer interested, and encourage repeat brand interactions.

2. Rethink time of day
Timing is particularly important to the mobile user. When the app operator understands what a customer is doing at any given time of the day, it can tailor its communications to individual preferences and send them at a time when the customer is most likely to be receptive. For example, most people use their mobile devices to check the weather and read news in the early morning, so that would be an opportune time for a coffee shop to deliver a coupon along with information about local traffic or weather. Consumers tend to use smartphones or tablets during the workday to do online banking or shopping. Entertainment, such as gaming and watching movies, is often saved until evening or right before bedtime.


3. Make the most of the overlap
The best apps inform more than sell, and provide reliably helpful tools rather than just promotional information. The study reveals a sweet spot of app overlap, where customers identify two desired features they want to see in both general and branded apps: convenience and utility. A great example is a shopping list app that makes suggestions about what and when to purchase based on history and coupons available. If an app solves these lifestyle needs and also throws in a bit of entertainment, it’s less likely to end up in the app graveyard.

4. Create emotional engagement
People who download and check in to an app are likely to already be engaged with the brand. This highlights an app’s potential for identifying and engaging the brand’s best customers. Marketers can use the app to get a company’s most engaged customers to raise their hands, and then build the app around their preferences and behaviors, enabling the organization to address key opportunities.

These tips will help marketers devise apps that stand apart from others, but the battle to maintain interest is still an uphill one. Consider that in the time it took to read this article, more than 250,000 apps have been downloaded globally. That, in and of itself, is a mountain worth climbing.

About the author

Bryan Pearson is president and CEO of LoyaltyOne and author of The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy and the forthcoming e-book The Loyalty Leap for B2B: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy. Follow Bryan at