Apps Are Like Friends (You Can Only Have So Many)

When it’s time to clean house, which apps go?

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What’s the first thing we do when we need to free up a bit of phone space? We delete apps. We scroll through screens, looking for the apps we once downloaded in a moment of need or curiosity and never used again. There’s the top layer of no-brainers. We banish those, without question or remorse.

Next, we might really clean house. We move into that second layer of fidelity, where there might be a doubt, a moment’s hesitation, but in the end, we’re able to send those apps to the wayside to free up valuable real estate.

And, of course, there are those apps that we’d never delete. The apps we want to have even more than we want space to take photos. They’re our favorite social apps, perhaps, and our maps, health and wellness tools, access to our music and podcasts, maybe a few favorite games. The apps that live in the coveted real estate of the homescreen.

Where does your brand land?

There are over two million apps available for download in the market right now. How’s a brand supposed to compete? Where does your brand rank on that vast scale of gotta-have-it to why-does-that-even-exist?

Are you first or second screen worthy? Do you need to be?

We’re all after the same thing—people who download, use, and continue to use apps. If we all want people’s willingness (to download), people’s time (to engage), and people’s loyalty (to our product, service, and brand) how likely is it that we’ll all get what we want? (Spoiler alert: not very!)

What can be done about the conundrum? Self awareness is a great place to start.

Time is a finite resource, and only so much time can be devoted to app use

In a recent piece on tech and content overload and conscious marketing, we got into the nuts and bolts of the social and psychoactive impacts of technology overuse. We dug into the likelihood that we will all at some point, as consumers, reach a saturation point for the task of managing all that’s asked of us, digitally, on a moment to moment basis.

Knowing this, as marketers, we’re empowered to get ahead of the inevitable curve. We’re armed with the knowledge that too much is being asked of users. That any one user’s time is finite,  that only so many precious hours in a day can be devoted to app use. This foresight enables us to prepare for a time when customers and users (and when we, too, as both customers and users) become overwhelmed, and pull way back.

It’s not as scary as it sounds. We can just meet users wherever they happen to be at the moment. In a best case scenario, we can be waiting for them when they get there. There being, in the willingness to ask for less, knowing it might ultimately get us more—more loyalty, more advocacy, even more dollars.

Know your value, whatever it may be

We can prepare for this eventuality—and it will come sooner for some than for others, depending on how valuable you are to your users—by building our businesses and our marketing strategies around our own unique value proposition, wherever it may land on the spectrum of indispensable to… something short of indispensable.

Apps are like friends

On being indispensable

The idea of being invaluable, irreplaceable, might not actually exist in the world of apps and digital marketing. What was once MySpace became Facebook, and in all likelihood, even that behemoth might have a descendent, or several, who take over the space. Today’s invaluable app often becomes tomorrow’s forgotten plaything.

Even an app that’s a runaway hit, one that’s eminently usable and attractive to users of all demographics, has no guarantee of staying power. Remember Draw Something, the pictionary-like social game from Zynga that hit the scene in 2012? It had a meteoric download rate: 50 million downloads in 50 days. But just a short while later, it lost 10 million monthly active users in 30 days, and that was just the beginning of its demise. Folks were just… over it.

What does indispensable mean for you?

We cannot be all things to all people. Not in life with family, friends, and colleagues; and not in business. But, as in life, almost all of us can have a close group of tight relationships that pack a meaningful punch.

If you have a retail product, for example, maybe your focus becomes your top 10%-20% of power shoppers. Those folks who are loyal to the brand, consistently. Can you become indispensable to that small portion of users in a way that benefits them and you?

Can you cast a smaller net, generally? What if you strove to reach an ever more refined and specific group of users who are also more powerful users?

Can you make your marketing efforts about retention over acquisition? Can you diversify your retention efforts across mobile apps, mobile web, desktop web, messaging apps, and the growing number of options available to you, each uniquely suited to different users, in different contexts? In the world of users, as with friends, it’s often easier to keep them than it is to get them in the first place, and our marketing is usually better when it keeps real-life values in mind.

Is app feature consolidation for you?

There could be a possibility out there for feature consolidation that breaks from the current app-building mold. Apps tend to be highly feature-specific. One app helps you find the restaurant, for example, and another helps you book the reservation. A third app helps you get the information to your date. Doesn’t make a ton of sense, really. Fandango figured out the movie thing when they made it possible to research films, watch trailers, read reviews, and purchase tickets all in one place.

But you don’t have to be a one-stop shop, like Fandango. If your service or product has limited use, maybe there’s a marketing opportunity to work with partners to co-build an app, or a portion of an app, that makes things simpler on the user side; thereby attracting a new group of users, and meeting their diverse needs in a partnership.

Food for thought

The answer to the too-many-apps question isn’t necessarily fewer users (or dollars). In a saturated marketplace, any business needs to ask itself: are there ways to become more innovative, more creative, more valuable? What change is possible and appropriate for right now? How can our marketing become more diverse, more deep, more valuable to the user? If the answers aren’t to be found in these questions, we can always think of Milton, who may have said it best: “fit audience find, though few.” If your users are highly engaged, that’s most likely more valuable to you than scores of “users” who only ever opened your app once, or who aren’t finding value in your offering.

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