As the application economy evolves, creating an app that provides value to its users and keeps their attention becomes increasingly challenging. From developing the initial application to encouraging users to come back, here are three keys that are fundamental to building engaging digital products.
Hold true to your roadmap
One of the most frequent issues we see when working with our clients is an incapacity to execute the roadmap that was originally laid out. In most cases the first major milestone on a roadmap will be the Minimum Viable Product (or MVP). But getting to that MVP can be a bumpy road.
First and foremost, an application roadmap needs to be realistic to the team’s capabilities (including all of the stakeholders’ availability), the overall project budget, as well as the timeline. If one of these three factors needs to shift, the project can usually still be successful as long as the the other two factors are flexible. For example, if the timeline needs to be shortened, this could be achieved by increasing the budget and putting more developers on the project. Keeping the roadmap in check against the resources, budget and timeline lays the foundation for a successful product launch.
Another issue we frequently encounter is project teams getting sidetracked by internal priorities instead of focusing on the end users’ core behavior. This is particularly precarious when internal stakeholders have unchecked authority over the product team. We see projects getting derailed because executives place their own ideas above those that represent the real users’ needs or suddenly think they are designers and want to leave their mark on a product. Ideally a single gatekeeper, the product owner, will carry the vision of the what is being built and has the authority to turn down internal feature requests if they don’t align with the product vision. That vision should be aligned with the user-centric roadmap for the product.
Track your power users to learn how they use the application and what keeps them coming back
Traditional user research will recommend watching a cross-section of your userbase for usability issues and improvement ideas. But to get your application off the ground, you will usually be better off if you can build a loyal group of application evangelists early on and focus on them. Therefore, instead of watching a random cross-section of users, identify and focus on your power users. They are the ones that will provide the most useful feedback early on and who will spread word about your application if you can address their needs.
How can you identify power users? The first place to look is in your support log. Power users often will go out of their way to request features they would like to see added to your application or report issues they’ve encountered. Alternatively, look at the usage logs and identify users that heavily access or have above average amounts of data in the application. Many of these users will enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to help.
Build brand loyalty first; ask for payment later
If your application offers a uniquely valuable service, some customers will gladly pay a reasonable fee to keep using it. But that doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy some freebies along the way. It’s a good idea to focus a spot in your product’s ecosystem to remain free. Once that’s in place, let your users know that you are keeping it free and that it always will remain free.
Music streaming services, for instance, do a great job of offering a huge amount of service to their users for absolutely nothing. Pandora and Spotify highlight their value for free, and show that the Premium model only makes things better. This Freemium approach has also been embraced by many other product businesses, such as LinkedIn, MailChimp, SurveyMonkey and Skype. The foundation of this model is to keep a low cost per active user, while maintaining a certain conversion rate from free to paid users (the average conversion rate is 2-4%). Ensure the math adds up for your product before you decide to go this route.
By staying true to your roadmap, embracing your power users, and maintaining a free usage tier, your app can gain an advantage over the competition. Apply these three principles and your product will get to market faster, and build stronger momentum among your user base.