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As the author of nine books, a VentureBeat mobile analyst, founder of MobileGroove, and Top 30 Mobile Marketing Influencer, Peggy Anne Salz is basically our hero. She is currently based in Cologne, Germany but managed to hop on a transatlantic call with us (big shout out to Uber Conferences) to chat about the mobile world through her eyes.

HS: Where do you think apps need to focus their efforts in order to stand out of the crowded ecosystem?

PS: Apps need to focus on assisting and removing friction. People look at an app like it’s information, it’s assistance, it’s advice, it’s entertainment; it’s whatever it is, on demand. Keep it simple, keep it interesting. I’ve seen recent research that suggests we only have room on our phones — and in our lives — for between 16-24 apps. In order to stand out, you have to be something I will make use of. And I will habitually use apps that make my life easier.

So it’s about being focused, frictionless, and, (forgive me), but it’s also being fun. People forget that at the end of the day you will spend time with what you enjoy, and everything else is drudgery. And part of that fun is being personal. I really think if I have to bring my app up to speed on my life all the time and reorient it in order to make it do what it’s supposed to do to help me, I’m not going to deal with it. I wouldn’t do that with people, I won’t do that with technology.

MyFitnessPal is a great example of a focused, frictionless, and fun app. It helps you keep fit, lose weight and will even message you with a ‘high five’ when you meet your goals. And the fun is personal, relevant to my life stage and my life-style so that it’s almost like we — myself and my app — share a humor and a rapport only we two know. I mean, we already have a relationship with our mobile phones, where we see them as a kind of appendage, so you can imagine that we have endowed apps with much of the same characteristics. I count on my app to help me and I also expect it to be in the ‘same page’ with me.

HS: In what direction do you think mobile, and particularly mobile customer care, is moving?

PS: Mobile video is the zeitgeist now.

The rise of YouTube, Vine and other video platforms, the advance of video chat apps, and the shift in our own behavior to wanting to experience content, not just consume it, have come together to make video the content outlet of choice.

I watch when my nephews want to solve a tech problem or find out how something works. Their go-to process is to search for a video on YouTube, watch it, and then emulate it. Apps have caught on to this, which is why video presentation, and more importantly, video tutorials are a key part of showing and selling your app. Add to this the consumer expectation that the mobile device — the device we always have with us — will give us the answer we need the moment we need it, and it’s clear that mobile video is going to be the way to deliver superior customer service.

HS: What are some best practices you’ve seen with acquisition and retention?

PS: I am inspired by mobile game developers. These game developers have produced entertainment and pioneered the free-to-play monetization model. We need to look at the mobile gaming industry as an example of best practice because they’ve cracked a code: they have understood from day one how to first get us interested, and then eventually get us to start paying. That’s a fine art.

Gaming studios understand that their longevity, their livelihood, depends on us being interested, or even addicted to the content they’re developing. They’ve understood there needs to be a value exchange and they have also learned to make themselves an indispensable part of our lives; in this case, the play-anywhere entertainment that rocks our world. Apply this to other app categories and it means being able to offer enough for free to get me interested, but enough value on top to keep me coming back for more. It’s all about being more than ‘just another app’; you want to be part of the daily routine of the customer.

Mobile games become addictive because they’re indispensable entertainment. Really smart games have social so well built into the gameplay that entire networks of helpful communities grow at an exponential rate. The NET SET is a good example of a non-gaming app that’s using this formula to achieve amazing results — just like gaming apps do. It’s a luxury fashion app that has cultivated a community of fans. They all share a love of luxury and fashion; they all want to interact for the good of the community, giving tips, offering shopping and style advice. The app experience created a place where users could feel at ease connecting with other members with a similar enthusiasm for luxury and fashion. Community members actively contributed content and exchanged insider knowledge. The most important thing is to understand that when you are no longer relevant, no longer essential, then you are on your way to being deleted.

HS: How is personalization on mobile unique from other platforms?

PS: It is our most personal device. It has 50 plus sensors, picking up the temperature, altitude, location – you name it. There is so much context and so many signals coming through via mobile apps. It’s one thing to just know the demographics of your customer, but mobile apps also offer insights into activity and context. Which tells me a lot more about the person, but also creates a much higher expectation that the marketing truly be on the mark. This is not a place for “oh well she’s female and over 40”. That’s not going to cut it. Its critical apps leverage the wealth of user data available in mobile and cross-reference with demographic analytics. If you do this properly, you will understand how different customer cohorts prefer engaging with your app and empowers you to deliver a highly personalized experience.

Data for me are signals. It’s how I am speaking, and since I expect service from my device, data is what is going to make the app predictive. I don’t want it to be creepy or overbearing, but I do want it to be genuinely appropriate and helpful. Don’t make me spell it out. We’re a time crunched society. If I’m giving you that much data then you need to provide the level of service that indicates you understood that data.

Take relationships: I don’t need to tell my husband that I like or dislike a certain food. I don’t need to bring him up to speed every night for dinner. Similarly, I have a relationship with my device, and I don’t want to bring it up to speed all the time. I am a time crunched person in a time poor society. I want what I want for ME when and how I want it. I expect mobile to be my personal interface to everything around me — from digital content like games to real-world stuff like special offers in my favorite coffee shop.

HS: Right, so the device itself is an integral part of your life.

PS: I joke that I have outsourced my brain to my phone. I have actually sent my husband back home after he dropped me off at the airport once because I forgot my phone and knew it would be useless to go on my business trip without it. I was so desperate that I said, “Ok, I don’t care if you get a ticket, put the pedal to the metal, I forgot my phone. I cannot fly without my phone. Be James Bond, do whatever it takes, get my phone.”

But an app doesn’t have to help me master or manage my life for me to use it often. The value exchange can also be built on the app being a good listener. This is where a lot of companies are leaving money on the table. It’s similar to how these businesses approach social media: talking without listening — simply put — they just broadcast. And I just think they’re short-changing themselves in addition to their customers. They’re not getting the most mileage out of their mobile product.

A lot of apps are getting it, though. I’m really impressed with the tourism industry. They know I’m in a mode where I don’t want the whole website, I just want to complete a task. There are certain things I’m going to want to do on a phone and there are other things I’m not going to want to do. Great apps don’t complicate my life by giving me everything. They tailor my in-app experience based on everything they’ve pieced together about me: context, preference, profile. And they connect these dots to give me an app experience that is focused, frictionless, and — of course— fun.

Didn’t catch the last From the Experts? Check out From the Experts: Dan Kaplan Offers His Secret to User Retention, where we chatted with marketing veteran and TechCrunch author, Dan Kaplan, about his secret to aligning customers’ needs with product stickiness.

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Published March 1, 2016
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