Shortly after Apple opened its App Store nearly three years ago, it became clear that marketing and distributing apps to users was going to be one of the chief challenges. The environment was mushrooming quickly, the clutter was enormous, and many media companies and brand marketers were throwing large hunks of their development budgets against schemes for advertising and promoting the apps so they popped above the noise.
As we enter the third year of app-iness, however, it is becoming even clearer that the path to smartphone users' pockets is not clearcut. Because people develop a fairly tight and intimate relationship with their favorite apps, it is not a simple matter of marketing your way into their hearts. ss
At today's OMMA Mobile show in New York, MTV Networks will underscore the challenge of app distribution as well as the considerable reward for those app makers that do make it into the inner circle of people's app usage. In a major study of how people find and embrace entertainment and TV apps, MTV has found that a lot of those concerted efforts at paid distribution may be for naught. "Discovery is all about the recommendation culture," says Colleen Fahey Rush, EVP and Chief Research Officer, MTV Networks. I spoke with Colleen last week about just some of the findings she will be reporting today at OMMA Mobile. They followed the app user through the process of discovery, adoption, trial, use and then abandonment or long-term use to better understand the factors that influence each stage in the app lifecycle.
And the most striking takeaway from this research is just how powerful word of mouth is for app discovery. "It is so driven by buzz," Rush says. The most common form of discovery (53%) is a recommendation from a friend, while 52% say they are using reviews and recommendations or just browsing the iTunes or Android stores (47%). The "look at this" effect is also in force on smartphones, with 42% saying they find apps by seeing a friend or acquaintance with it.
For free apps, high ratings by others is a key driver (50%) followed by recommendations (43%) and then the app either sounding good from the description or filling a specific need (42% each).
For paid apps, price was the primary driver (63%) or having a free trial available (49%)
The decision whether an app should or shouldn't become a regular part of a consumer's mobile use, however, is nuanced. "We learned that about half use a TV or gaming app two to three times before making a decision to keep or toss it," Rush says.
What is most important to users when they are on the decision path about an app? Far and away, the reason people come to love an app is because of ease of use (79%). In fact, even though having fresh content is still important in making an app among a user's favorites (55%), it is ease of use that dominates people's thinking.
Why is ease of use so important to mobile app lovers? Perhaps it is because of the sheer recidivism. A favorite TV or movie app gets used several times a day by 44% of respondents. For a TV provider like MTV, this is a huge opportunity, because in many ways the app becomes a more intimate companion to the user than the core entertainment property itself.
Developers be warned, however. App lovers can be fickle and led astray. "It is a pretty easy in and out thing," Rush has discovered. An app has to grab that user in that first two or three at bats, and it has only a few weeks to do so. The survey pressed people about the apps they deleted, and 38% said they did so in the first three weeks after downloading it. Apps have a relatively small window of opportunity in which to win favor. Simple loss of interest in an app moves half of respondents to delete the app.
But 55% say they found a better alternative. App users have a roaming eye. Without feature upgrades, fresh content and keeping a firm eye on the potential competition, app makers risk easily losing even the users they initially attracted.
We have always known that mobile media is intimate. But how much do publishers and brands (who are themselves publishers now) really appreciate that an app is not a consumer strategy, but a genuine "relationship"?
For more details on the MTV research and presentation, look for the slides at the OMMA Mobile site in coming days. If you are seeing this story early enough in the day, we are streaming the conference today from New York. Catch the afternoon panels on mobile web strategy, local mobile solutions clutter and the lessons learned from the first generations of branded apps.