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Customer-facing Mobile App - What's Required for a Successful App Strategy?

Himanshu Parikh, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, The Michaels Companies [NASDAQ: MIK]
Himanshu Parikh, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, The Michaels Companies [NASDAQ: MIK]

Himanshu Parikh, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, The Michaels Companies [NASDAQ: MIK]

In total, the number of people that own a mobile phone is more than 3 Billion, making up more than 50% of the world’s population. As mobile phone and wireless technology get more advanced, cheaper and faster, the growth of mobile phone is going to continue in consumers daily life. The use of mobile phone is continuing to expand in daily life. In a typical day, the mobile phone is used for a variety of different functions such as wake up alarm, news, music, weather, navigation, pictures, videos, social media, emails, texts, audio/video chats, contacts, games, shopping, reading books and many more…this extensive penetration of mobile phone presents a significant opportunity to use it as a platform for engaging customers for variety of business to customer (B2C) intents. Most businesses leverage mobile phone platform by creating mobile friendly B2C web sites and offer mobile app. Some customers prefer immersive experience and are willing to download and install mobile app while other customers don’t want to go through mobile app download and install. They simply use mobile friendly B2C web sites. In this article, I provide a practical guide for creating a B2C mobile app strategy using my years of experience as a head of technology for various retail companies.

There is a lot going on in mobile app market. Key Mobile App Statistics (credit –www.birdfire.com)

• Mobile apps are expected to generate $189 billion in revenue by 2020.We’re seeing growth in app downloads each year. As you can see from the graph, experts predict that there will be a 25% increase in global app downloads between 2018 and 2022 compared to a steady 15% growth rate year over year from 2017 to 2018.

• The Apple App Store has 2.2 million apps available for download.

• There are 2.8 million apps available for download on the Google Play Store.

• 21% of Millennials open an app 50+ times per day.

• 49% of people open an app 11+ times each day.

• 57% of all digital media usage comes from mobile apps.

• The average smartphone owner uses 30 apps each month. What are the key aspects for creating a successful mobile app strategy?

To drive a successul mobile app, following are the key aspects of mobile app strategy.

1. Identify your market/customer–To check the business potential of your mobile app, you need to identifythe market need, target audience, competitors and their success areas.Here is how you go about doing this research.

a. Search for stats and insights, check the trends, ask questions on the forums, conduct a poll, collect demographic data (e.g. sex, age, gender, location)

b. Gather information about your users’ behaviors and motivations (pains and gains).

c. Narrow down the target audience –start with a smaller group as it’s easier to target an innovation towards a niche. However, keep the end goal in mind being a larger group.

d. Create an advisory group and discuss your idea. Be as objective as possible. Suggest using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats,) analysis model

e. Create a marketing strategy around app launch and post lauch expansion.

f. Identify key performance indicators (KPI) that you will use to measure success on behalf of customers and your business.

g. Create a formal business case.

2. Identify and test features that address the customer needs. Customer-centric orientaion is key to establish a close match for cusomer needs. a. Mobile app has a significant churn - app usage is not guaranteed after a download. Most apps struggle to make money because people just aren’t using the app. This is primarily driven by app’s inability to address customer needs. To make sure that app hits the bulls eye of customer needs, take following steps.

i. Create a mission statement around what does the app do for the customer. Create a customer persona-based journeys detailing customer mission and journey maps.

ii. Create a “hook”- what specific utility the app provides for the customer. For example, Google maps app provide navigation for customer’s travel needs. Linkedin app provides me access to customer’s professional network. Michaels Stores mobile app provides customer an easy way to locate specific product, check product detail description, reviews, associated projects in a busy store and complete shopping in a breeze.

iii. Content, utility, inspiration- what is your hook?

iv. Don’t fail at table stakes –your app is swipe away from being abandoned. We live in the world of instant gratification. If app does not provide gratification of mission being completed in an delightful and convenient way, cusomer will not come back. So, pay specific attention to experience design being simple, easy, delightful and frictionless.

3. Customers demand speed at which you provide features. Take an agile, test & learn based approach. Specifically, create a feature list for a minimally valuable product (MVP) and post MVP releases.

4. Choose the right technology - How a mobile app is built is as impactful on its success as the way it works. If you want to build a successful application, you need to choose the right technology. There are four main options you can choose from. There is not a wrong or right answer. You need to make the choice based on what fits your scenario.

A. Platform-Specific Native App - Native apps are coded for a specific mobile platform — iOS or Android with a specific programming language.

Pro - A native app can leverage your device’s hardware and functionality to a large extent, which elevates the user experience.

Con - You will need to have tech stack and skills for both and maintain separate code base. This means higher cost of operations.

B. Cross-Platform Native App - In this option, use shared SDKs (Software Development Kit) to develop once and deploy/ run natively. React Native, Xamarin or Flutter are common technologies used for this.

Pro - Cost-effective approach if you are on a limited budget, but still want an app designed, optimized, and styled for more than one type of device.

Con – You lose access to some native features

C. Hybrid App - A hybrid app is compatible with all devices and operating systems. You create a codebase using standard web technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Then, you wrap it inside a native container – the WebView. The content within WebView is rendered as a plain old website. It is responsible for UX and access to the hardware functionality (camera, GPS, etc.)

Pro - Cost-effectiveness, portability and quick deployability are three major drivers of the popularity of the hybrid mobile app development approach.

Con – sometime slow in rendering for the web components if not done optimally.

D. Progressive Web App (PWA) - This is a relatively new name in the market. To some extent, progressive web apps or PWAs resemble hybrid ones. They’re based on web technologies and run in a browser.

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