According to AAA, some 43.6 million Americans will travel this 2012 Thanksgiving season with an average roundtrip distance of some 588 miles. Of those travelers, only 3.14 million are expected to take to the air—a slight decline over 2011. Any way you cut it, it’s a lot of time in transit—and a lot of time to kill with the ones you love.
As I ready my own brood for our trip to the airport, I’m struck by how app-dependent we’ve become as a family. We map. We check in. We show boarding passes. We devour news. We check flight status. We email. We text. We socialize. We rock out. We game. We watch. And, as it turns out, we’re not alone.
According to Nielsen, some 92% of smartphone users now regularly download apps—up from 80% just a year ago. Of all the industry app categories, travel is the fastest-growing with an 116% increase in downloads year over year. While this stat alone probably lights up the eyes of most travel marketers, there’s something else that Nielsen uncovered—time with apps is also growing and diversifying. Specifically, from 2011 to 2012, the time spent with the Top 50 apps shrunk from 72% to 58% while apps actually grew their share of smartphone usage to 81% versus the mobile web’s 19%.
Translation? Smartphone users are expanding beyond the top of the app charts into more niche apps that serve their needs. This not only means that Thanksgiving 2012 will be a very “appy” one for travel marketers but also that 2013 has the potential to drive even more engagement with mobile consumers.
1. Focus on YOUtility.
Author and good friend Jay Baer recently penned a great blog post about “YOUtility”—the notion that customer service over and above the products you offer is increasingly the key to generating customer loyalty. This is exactly the mentality that travel marketers should have when building and evolving their apps. What customer need does it serve? Does it go beyond expectations? Does it make the consumer’s life easier? The apps that accomplish these goals aren’t marketing shills—they’re YOUtitlies that will see repeat usage.
2. Be Data Plan Conscious.
With the shrinking availability of all-you-can-eat mobile web data plans, consumers can’t afford to use apps that are bandwidth hogs. One travel brand that gets this is TripAdvisor. On a recent trip to the UK, I was pleasantly surprised when their standard app gave me the option to download TripAdvisor City Guides straight to my smartphone. As soon as I got on the hotel wi-fi, I was able to download the guides without bandwidth costs, and I quickly had landmark, restaurant, maps, and other resources that resided on my phone like books. It’s a simple download strategy that I wish more travel apps would employ—especially for those traveling overseas.
3. Be Communicative.
I’m constantly amazed at how many apps never ask me for my email address or explain clearly why they want to push notifications to me. To ensure repeat usage, it is critical that apps have a secondary means of communication with their users—email is the most logical channel for this, but few ask for an affirmative opt-in. Similarly, I see a lot of apps ask for permission to push messages straight to my smartphone screen, but few explain the value to users—and the last thing most folks want is a bunch of unwanted push notifications on their home screen. Take a look at your app’s communication strategy and make sure it seeks permission and spells out the benefits to the user clearly—that should boost your ability to promote reengagement.
4. Connect People.
There’s a photo I found once on Flickr that perfectly captures how technology can divide rather than unite us. It’s a mother, teen son, and two teen daughters on a single couch—all chatting or texting on their cell phones. The title of the photo? Thanksgiving 2008. While the irony may have been lost on the people in the photo, they were millimeters away from each other but miles apart emotionally because of their devices. And this is the opportunity with the new generation of travel apps—popping the digital bubble to allow people who share interests and are in close proximity to one another to connect in person. After all, Foursquare doesn’t have a monopoly on location-based services.
5. Never Downgrade Functionality.
For all Apple’s iPhone brilliance, has there ever been an app-tastrophe the size of Apple Maps? In their haste to replace Google Maps, they unleashed a substandard product—scratch that, a fundamentally inaccurate product—on every iPhone user who updated to iOS6. The move spawned a tumblr documenting the Apple Map #fails, and it kept many folks (like me) from updating to iOS6. The lesson? Never, ever, take a step backwards with the functionality you provide in your app. Updates should make your app better, not worse. It seems self-evident, but when the mighty Apple can make this mistake, it bears repeating.
With that said, may your batteries be charged, your directions to Grandma’s house be accurate, and your turkey cooked to perfection (thanks to help from the Butterball app). Appy Thankgiving to you and yours!