When does an app’s journey begin?
Is it at the start of the development process? Is it when it becomes live on the Google Play Store?
The interpretations can vary. There is no clear definition out there prescribing a starting point for the journey of an app.
For most entrepreneurs, the starting point is the moment an idea comes to their mind.
It can take a long time for the idea to reach a point of action.
Taking a simple idea to a point where it’s live on an app store and growing at a decent rate is a humongous task. There are various verticals entrepreneurs have to take care of. Take a look at the following.
These are only a few common stages of an app’s journey. Each of these stages can be tranched into several substeps.
Yes, app development is tough. Even a serial app entrepreneur would not discount the scale of the task at hand.
There is an inherent need to bring together these moving parts into a common umbrella.
This is where an app strategy comes in.
What is a mobile app strategy?
Put simply, an app strategy defines the overall direction of every action made during an app journey.
Every stage of an app’s journey requires a strategic view. Take app development as an example. From the overall timeline of creating the app to making specific developmental decisions, every action must come from the same overarching strategic goal.
Let’s take an example. Assume the goal of a project is to bring out a simple ecommerce app within two months. What if the developers want to introduce an AR preview feature within the app build?
Even though the feature is great, it will most likely delay the delivery of the app within two months. It is thus wise to push the integration of this feature to an app update later. This decision is in keeping with the overall strategic goal.
Developers and entrepreneurs have to deal with more complicated questions and dilemmas. The same happens during app design, testing, launch, and marketing.
A mobile app strategy brings all these verticals into one tent and guides each action towards a common goal.
This piece will cover the process of formulating a strategy for every important stage of an app journey.
App building generally doesn’t start as soon as an idea is conceived.
An app idea should go through a lot of vetting before entrepreneurs and companies decide to develop an app based on it.
This is not merely a question of money. Building an app is not just about creating an APK or IPA file. A lot of effort in marketing and promotion is also on the line. Validating an app idea before jump off into development is important for efficient use of all available resources.
Thus, your pre-development strategy must solely be focused on validating an app idea.
Here are some factors you must consider while checking the viability of your idea.
You have an app idea?
Good. Now it’s time to find a market for your idea.
In the old days, finding a market for a product was not a difficult job. People didn’t have many options in various segments of the market. This made it easier for companies to find the right market.
Things have changed now. There is a lot of competition to reach the same set of audience. This makes it vital for new startups to identify their target audience. You can’t just launch an app and say the target audience is anyone who owns a smartphone.
Targeting a large audience is futile. Your new app won’t be able to survive in a big sea with all the sharks. Start small and expand later.
Discovering a good niche market is the first step. The next is finding a demand for your idea.
Let’s say your app idea is to sell trendy sneakers. Your target audience is a very specific age demographic living near your location.
Does finding this niche audience mean you will suddenly start selling a lot of sneakers with your app?
Probably no. There are already a lot of options your target market has when it comes to buying sneakers. Your app idea does not have a large demand.
Does this mean you should not pursue the app idea?
The answer to this question varies. A lot of entrepreneurs are able to create a direct demand in an overcrowded niche through sheer smarts and product quality.
Is it harder to make an app successful if it doesn’t have an obvious demand? Yes. If you’re willing to learn and make sure your expertise in the niche shines through, pursue it by all means.
Low demand doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is bad. Fifteen years back, nobody thought of revolutnining the cab business. Most people didn’t feel they needed a mobile app to book a cab. Then Uber came along and created its own demand.
The quality and service an app provides are enough to create demand.
Defensibility of your idea
How easily can someone copy your idea?
Let’s say you start a blogging app on gaming. You create the blog by using a free app maker to convert WordPress website to Android app. You gain a lot of followers as you write unique and quality content.
Is this idea defensible?
No, because any other major media company can hire ten writers tomorrow and beat you to a punch. You may have the quality to keep your audience, but not enough to scale and become something bigger.
A defensible idea is one your competitors can’t copy easily. No idea is 100% defensible. Companies can replicate ideas and innovation if they have enough time.
However, if your idea is innovative enough to leave your competitors hanging for more than six months, you can leave them in the dust and scale.
A lot of entrepreneurs think a lot about defensibility. This leaves them down a path where they look for the best possible idea.
There are no perfect ideas. You just need to come up with something other companies can’t understand and replicate for a significant period of time. You can use this time to capture a large enough market share to become a permanent player.
There are many more factors you must consider while validating your app idea. Here is a more in-depth piece discussing the same.
App building strategy – Development, design, and testing
App development is a long and drawn out process. Even app developers with years of experience in the field don’t discount the complexity of creating an app.
An app building strategy basically covers all the tenets within the process of developing the first version of the app. It covers stages like development, testing, design, prototyping, and so on.
It’s probably wise to first discuss the two main developmental options entrepreneurs and companies have these days.
Development strategy – app builders or traditional app development?
There are many reasons traditional app development is preferable. Yet, many entrepreneurs and small companies with a website don’t take on the concept of app development.
The main reasons are: cost, time, and complexity.
Traditional app development
Creating an app from scratch using code is a very tedious process. Entrepreneurs without technical knowhow have to either hire a development agency or a team of developers. Both these options are very expensive for a small business.
This is not to mention the role of time as a factor.
Let’s assume you are part of a new startup in the world of ecommerce. You don’t have a background in programming and want to launch a mobile app. Furthermore, you don’t have the resources needed to build a talented team of developers or hire an outside agency.
How do you go about creating an app?
App builders are tools that allow users to build apps without writing a single line of code. A free app maker essentially takes away all the complications of traditional app development.
Take AppMySite as an example. It is a very reliable online app creator known for helping users leverage their website and use it to make an app.
Also read: How to make an app without coding?
Users don’t need to have any technical background to build an app using such platforms.
How much time does it take to build an app on a given online app creator like AppMySite? It depends on how much users want to customize their app. It generally takes less than a week to create a genuinely decent app. However, users can have a ready to submit app within 15 minutes. Thus, time is not an issue.
What about cost? App builders generally work on a subscription basis. The costs of these plans are generally just a small fraction of the overall cost of app development.
As you can notice, app builders are a convenient option.It is crucial to eventually choose the right app builder. Here’s a piece that covers how you should identify the right app builder.
Also read: How to choose the right app builder?
Let’s continue with the assumption that you will use an app builder for development. This brings into question the role of app design.
Do app builders really offer customized options to design an app?
Not all do. You need to find a free app maker that really goes all the way when it comes to offering in-depth app design.
Take AppMySite as an example. It provides a lot of customization features that enable users to design an app.
Also read: How to design a mobile app?
So, app builders can technically provide a high degree of design independence.
The next step is coming up with a design strategy. Here are a few points to remember.
- User experience should be your foremost objective. No app in the world can survive long without offering a good enough user experience.
Every little design choice you make, from adding a banner image to choosing the button color must help towards improving UX.
The mandate to make user experience the objective of a design strategy comes with challenges of its own. Improving content discovery, optimizing user journey, and various other key tenets of UX come into play.
- Much of the discussion around user experience is based on improving app performance and tactical design aspects. Let’s assume you’re able to ensure all tactical tenets of user experience are met.
Is this enough? No. The right design strategy is impossible if you don’t understand the audience first.
General audience preferences play a crucial role in coming up with the best possible app design. Some audiences can manage a slightly populated home screen. Others need a decluttered experience.
There are a myriad of such divergences in user choices that eventually reflect in app design. Thus, any given design strategy must be compatible with the target audience.
- Do not hesitate to take inspiration from good app designs of other competing apps. It is difficult to design something from scratch without any real reference point. It’s best in situations like these to use other successful app designs as a reference point.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should copy app designs outright. Learn from good designs and see what makes them work. Apply the same principles to your own design strategy and bear the fruits of a truly optimal app.
You can preview and test your app on both a live emulator and real mobile devices if you happen to use AppMySite.
Not all app builders offer their users the option to preview their apps. This makes it difficult for users to test their apps effectively for bugs, design incoherence, or any other performance-related issue.
What should an app testing strategy generally cover? The answer to this lies in the goals set up during the development and design phases.
Let’s keep aside the obvious testing mechanisms to find bugs and solve performance issues. There are other factors that must shape an app testing strategy.
For instance –
- How does an app perform at low internet speeds?
- How many users can it cater to at the same time without drop in performance?
- How well does the app perform its most primary function? For a blogging app, the primary function can be the reading section. For an ecommerce app, the primary function is the overall buying process.
- How does the app perform on different mobile devices?
- Does the app meet the expectations set out before and during the development stage?
These questions and more must shape the testing strategy. A simple sweep for bugs is not enough. The testing stage must reveal where the app stands with respect to its competitors.
The development, design, and testing phases all eventually culminate in the birth of a minimum viable product (MVP).
An MVP-version of an app is like the first draft of a writer’s manuscript. It’s not the perfect version of the app a company wants to build. However, it is a complete version of the app ready to go to market.
The creation of an MVP brings the prospect of an app launch into the picture.
Generally, companies don’t think much about a launch strategy. Their general approach to a launch strategy is to bring an app to market and find ways to promote it later.
This is a classic example of an area where smart planning can solve problems users face later.
A lot is at stake when a company launches an app. We will cover two primary app launch strategies that define the fate of an app in the weeks and months after its launch.
A stealth launch basically implies that companies launch an app without a marketing blitz.
Such a launch is generally low key. The company doesn’t roll out a big press release or use paid media to garner attention. Instead, it slowly grows its user base through organic app marketing techniques.
How does a stealth launch help? Here are a few advantages of a stealth rollout.
- A stealth rollout enables a new app to fly under the radar and not receive public flack for bugs and other UX-related issues. Even big companies today cannot handle bad PR when it comes to their products. For a small company, bad press regarding its app can be a death knell.
Such a situation can be avoided with a stealth launch. Companies can quitely improve their user experience and learn from the mistakes of their competitors
- There are many examples of new companies with an innovative app being crushed by bigger competitors. This generally happens because competitors with more resources are able to copy the idea and integrate it with their platform.
How defensible is your app? Can competitors copy it easily? In such a case, a stealth launch is the best option. It essentially allows an app to grow in isolation and remain away from the prying eyes of competitors. By the time competitors discover the USP of your app, your app would already have hit a critical mass of users.
- You can focus on optimizing user retention instead of growing app downloads. In a public launch, getting a high number of downloads is the only metric most people care about. This can make it difficult for companies to work on enhancing the user retention rate.
This problem goes away with a stealth launch. Users can work on making their small user base engaged and satisfied. A small user base is easier to keep happy and loyal compared to a large band of users. Such a situation can also help companies create user retention strategies which later enable them to manage a larger user base.
A public launch is the exact opposite of a stealth rollout. It basically implies that companies use all their media resources to make a splash and raise awareness about their new app.
Big companies generally choose a public launch strategy. This is because they have the resources to generate enough excitement about their app.
For a small company, even a public launch strategy can appear as a stealth rollout because of a lack of marketing thrust. Here are a few guidelines on how to actually make a public launch strategy work –
- Make sure app performance meets certain industry standards. This is something you will have to incorporate in your app testing plan as well. A public launch is very unforgiving. Even a small bug has the potential to create bad PR for your app.
- Develop your app marketing resources. The main reason to go with a public launch strategy is to quickly get a lot of app downloads. From ASO to CPI campaigns, many different techniques come into the picture.
- Create user feedback mechanisms that immediately bring performance issues and bugs to light. This will help ensure you address all bugs users discover. A public launch means a lot of possible app downloads. You can’t have any obvious performance issues or bugs take root in the app.
A public launch brings an obvious element of risk, but there are rewards too. You can significantly expedite your app’s growth rate and reach a critical mass of users.
You should pursue a public launch if you’re confident about your app and the ability of your team to handle the same.
App marketing strategy
All roads eventually lead to marketing. All innovative ideas and apps eventually have to be sold eventually. This job generally falls upon the marketing team.
It is common to not strategize about app marketing during the rigours of app development. Most companies end up being convinced that their target audience will download the app because of its inherent quality.
Generally, this does not happen. Companies have to create some form of marketing mechanisms to get more people to download their apps.
The best way a startup or small business should think about app marketing strategy is to divide it into two sections.
Inbound marketing refers to promotional efforts that do not involve any paid media. This cuts out advertising completely.
It is important for companies to have an inbound marketing infrastructure. A lot of companies today complain about the rising costs of acquiring new customers. An inbound marketing infrastructure can drastically reduce the same acquisition costs.
There are various tactics you can employ to get more app downloads organically. Some of these are listed here –
- App store optimization – ASO essentially refines the meta fields of an app store listing to increase visibility and get more downloads
- Funnel traffic to install app landing page – Rank a landing page that funnels traffic to your app store landing page and drives downloads. You will have to deploy SEO to rank the landing page on relevant keywords with sizable volumes
- Leverage niche forums – Identify forums with a high engagement rate and promote your app on such forums
- Social media – Social media is not the most reliable platform to drive downloads. However, if you generally get decent engagement for your content, you should promote your app as well
These methods do not involve any direct expenditure. Inbound marketing takes time to develop and grow. It is not feasible for a small company or startup to optimize downloads through all the aforementioned tactics.
Ideally, companies should look at their target audience and choose a platform accordingly. There is no point in trying to optimize every channel of inbound marketing. Focus on the ones that promise the best way to reach your target audience.
Outbound marketing should ideally be used to boost your inbound marketing efforts. This adds overall synergy to your app marketing strategy as both inbound and outbound tactics work together.
For example, let’s assume you’re growing your app downloads with social media. A timely boost to increase your followers with a paid campaign can be of great value. Running social media app install campaigns can also grow an app’s social profile as well as downloads.
The same is true for optimizing other inbound channels like SEO. Investing money in getting powerful backlinks through guest posting can significantly improve your rankings on important keywords.
The role of outbound marketing should generally be to supplement inbound efforts, not the other way around. This essentially ensures your startup doesn’t become overly dependent on paid media for app downloads in the long run. As a strategic decision, this is the best way you can use your marketing resources in the long run.
App monetization and analytics strategy
Getting downloads and improving app KPIs is eventually done for one purpose alone – monetary gains.
No company brings out an app to lose money. The goal is to optimize the app and grow the user base to a point where it becomes profitable.
This brings to light the need for mobile app monetization.
We all are aware of the different models of mobile app monetization. Where does the need for a strategy come in with regards to app monetization?
An app monetization strategy can guide companies on the direction they must choose to enhance revenue while maintaining user experience.
There is no common strategy for app monetization that works for every app. Here are a few points you should keep in mind regardless.
- Are you willing to sacrifice user experience? Making money with an app can often come at the cost of disrupting user experience. Think about all the pesky interstitial ads you come across while playing popular games. Even big companies have to buckle down and use ads for sustenance.
Are you willing to do the same? The answer will provide you guidance on a monetization model for your mobile app.
- Use mobile app analytics tools to study your user behaviour and choose a monetization model accordingly.
Some apps successfully monetize their apps with in-app purchases. Others struggle to do the same.
Some succeed to implement a subscription model and some don’t. These divergences arise due to differences in audiences as well as other factors like execution.
App analytics tools will help you see whether your target audience would be open to a given monetization model.
- Don’t depend on ad monetization forever. New apps in the market generally start with ads to monetize their platform. This is partly because ad monetization is very easy. In the long run though, it makes sense to go after a more sustainable model like in-app purchases or subscription.
Phenomena like banner blindness and ad ignorance are dropping engagement significantly. Mobile ad networks are being forced to invest in new ad formats, but the future is still uncertain.
Companies build apps keeping in mind certain goals. They believe their goals will drive them to their destination.
A magnetic compass can guide a ship north. However, it cannot predict the obstacles the ship is going to face while sailing north.
Goals are like magnetic ompasses. They point companies in a direction but never tell them anything about the challenges in the way.
This is where a strategy can help. It can help companies prepare for the obstacles that arise during an app journey.
This article provides an in-depth analysis on the primary parts of an app’s journey. No strategy is perfect. However, the points made in this article will prepare readers to approach the app building process with more guile and purpose.