In an online world oversaturated with apps, how can one develop an app that doesn’t get used once and end up in the app graveyard. An app that helps the users and the creators. An app that provide real ROI to any business. An app that is sticky.

Below is a Q & A conducted with Supriya Chabria about developing an app that is sticky and the 5 golden rules to get there.


Q: Why spend on researching an app when it is inexpensive to create and launch with A/B testing?

Growth in the digital landscape is a top strategic priority for most companies today, but most do not have a big budget for research and development of a “killer app”. That’s understandable. With app development kits getting better and better, it has become relatively inexpensive and easy to develop basic apps and launch them with some A/B testing. However, this is only adding to the well over 2 million apps available today. As compared to just about a million apps in 2014.


With this explosion in availability, coming up with an app that stands out isn’t as easy as it used to be. You have to do something differently. It’s time to invest a bit more effort in the upfront stages so you can improve your odds of being downloaded. This can not only lead to ROI but future innovation as well.


Q: Who will win? Who will lose?

Even if your app is downloaded, establishing a long-lasting relationship with users is a tough nut to crack. On an average, people in the US have about 88 apps on their smartphone – at first I found that a bit hard to believe so I looked at how many I have – it’s over 100 (including utilities like mail). On average, only 8 of these 88 get used daily and 25 get used every month. Over 70% of installed apps are not being used monthly. So, if you are striving for an app that stands among the elite, it will take more than just A/B testing.

If you want to make it among the elites, you must understand consumer motivations and take control of your development process. A strong foundation in consumer behavior will help focus the development process. This not only saves time and money, but can evolve your app into something more.

When you think of successful apps, you think of Candy Crush, Snapchat, or Angry Birds. These apps have become pop-culture icons. Sadly, even the creators of these apps do not have a formula for guaranteed elite app development. However, do not be discouraged, there are ways to make your app sticky and a path to innovation. This entails focusing on “your” success. Defining it.

The top grossing apps (Pokémon GO, Candy Crush, Mobile Strike) are vastly different than the most used apps (Facebook, YouTube, Gmail). Further segmentation shows surprisingly, different results. The most used messaging apps worldwide are not Skype or Snapchat, but WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat. This focus on defining your success goes further than simply top grossing, or most used. Focus your success on what matters to you. Are you looking to gather raw user data, or create top of mind brand awareness, or bolster sales through a new channel? There is success to be found even amongst the titans of the app industry, but it requires a focus on defining your own success and purpose.


Q: Don’t all apps serve the same end purpose – get maximum users?

The common goal for apps is to gain as many users as possible. The question is, what do you want from these users? Do you want them to buy your products and services using the app? Do you simply want to create top of mind awareness for your brand? Or is it a requirement in your category – as it is for banking?

Successful apps have laser sharp focus on their goals and don’t try to do it all. In our experience, most big companies are being pushed towards digital with a tidal pressure and don’t yet have a lucid vision of how digital fits in their business. Or how digital connects with the commerce they are trying to create. Gaining clarity on these elements before you start development is vital, so you can make the most of your budget and time.


Golden Rule No. 1 – Define Your Success

Define success and focus your development efforts with the goal front and center.

The elements covered previously can impact everything from pricing, ROI, design, and marketing plan. Be realistic about your goals – having too many can result in a sub-par app or digital service. Fitbit could easily line extend and offer workout apparel or other gear. They all seem like logical extensions to the proposition. However, they’ve been focused on device sales and user data tracking with simplicity, so far.


Q: How do you know if your app will meet your goal?

At Ipsos we are passionate about innovation and we test the apps that stand out on our own dime. We spend a lot of time studying them. Learning what did they do right, and what made them stick. Each has various factors that contribute to their success, however we found 2 common elements in the most successful apps:

The first one is Cognitive Salience. The initial cognitive reaction stemming from the ability of an app to fulfill a need or desire; in other words, the utility of the app. In most cases, users can logically assess this before they experience the service or app. Most people knew that Open Table lets you book a table in a restaurant easily or Uber creates a convenient way to get a taxi before ever using the app. This can be done through WOMM, but also making sure that the first impressions your app makes are ones that clearly communicate the need you fulfill.

The other common element is Emotional Resonance. Every interaction we have with any product or service evokes some emotions. The idea of emotions for a digital service isn’t immediately intuitive. This is because the emotions associated with these services are not big ones like love, hate or anger. They are much subtler and users may not even recognize them in many cases.

For example, if you ask someone why they like Uber, they will likely point to convenience. Convenience might ladder to emotions like confidence “(I can get from point A to B with no worries”) and possibly even independence (“I don’t need to rely on my family or friends any more”). Most people will not verbalize these subtle emotions.

The ability to evoke emotions that people want to feel repeatedly or Emotional Resonance is an indicator of stickiness or likelihood to keep using the service.


Q: How does one measure cognitive salience?

The metrics used for measuring potential are generally designed to follow the consumer decision journey. For regular services, we used to assume people become aware either through ads or at POS. They may take some time to research it a bit more – go visit a website or ask friends/family before signing up. By this point there are some expectations in their mind. Expectations that have been clearly set by the service provider through messaging.

The decision process for apps is completely different – think about the marketplace for apps. Most apps are free. There are no barriers to entry and rarely any research needed prior to download… and therefore few established expectations. So, without any understanding of consumer expectations, you have nothing to deliver against. To understand consumer expectations, you must first ask the right questions or look for the right indicators.

You need rigor to tap the true potential of apps and ask questions that represent the increasing friction in the decision process. People drop off at each point in this decision process so you must identify the holes and plug them. Let’s start with the first step, asking the likelihood to download may not be enough. But when you ask people “when would you download the app” you start to get a better sense of their intent – if it’s not right now or today, you are not truly committed.

Next, they may have to sign up or create an account. How would one create the account? Does your user login through social media, Google, or Apple ID? Or do they decide to drop off at this point.

If the service has a paid component such as a premium version, micro-transactions, or a subscription, asking likelihood to signup might give you a false positive. But if you ask “when would you be willing to make the commitment – right away or after a free trial?” that would be a better indicator of interest. “What payment method would you use – are you willing to share your credit card information?”  This gives you a sense of how much they trust you.

What permissions are you willing to give the app? location, contacts, camera, search data may gather a lot data, however some people may choose to disable these function or steer clear of your app altogether.


Golden Rule No. 2 Understand the Journey

Understand the decision journey and the levers you might have along the way. If people are not willing to share their credit card information with you, could you consider a different payment method? If people don’t want to give you access to their location services, do you really want to build out features that rely on locations? This process gives you consumer expectations and direction rather than shooting in the dark – which is what most big companies are doing today. There is an expense to development and there is a way to assess potential before incurring it. There is a way to take control of the direction you want to head in – in a systematic way.


Q: Is there a way to measure emotional resonance… it feels like an ambiguous area?

Measuring emotional resonance isn’t that simple – there are 2 big issues:

First – consumers may or may not be able to point to the exact underlying emotions. In fact, they may not even recognize their own emotions – who wants to admit I have a “fear of missing out” and that’s why I use social media? The best we can do in this space is look for signs.

Second – The range of emotions is vast, so you must be able to apply some sort of framework to study emotions in a quantitative way to get to a useful result.

We’ve developed a methodology that provides an intuitive way for us to measure emotional resonance. It is in partnership with a company called Bigsofa (based in UK). We use video feedback in reaction to a concept. Since most people use smartphones, videos can be collected in a quantitative manner very easily. You can get authentic reactions with visual cues. The trick is to ask questions that elicit the right language.

Once we have the videos, the process is simple – we transcribe them and tag keywords that ladder to feelings or more subtle emotions. The framework we use to analyze the emotions is called Censydiam. It’s essentially a compass of human motivations. It seems simple at first with just 8 motivations, but almost any positive emotion or motivation you can think of can ladder up to one of these 8. For example, feeling pampered is a softer version of recognition.

Negative emotions can reduce the positive motivations. So, a lack of trust can reduce security. Thinking of Uber, people may say “I like Uber because I don’t need to drive any more, it’s so easy” which ladders to liberation from a current friction, which ultimately allows people to feel enjoyment. They may also say “I like being able to keep track of the driver while I’m waiting.” That ladders to reassurance which leads to a feeling of being in control.

What we’ve done is look for these indicative phrases or words that ladder to feelings and ultimately to the deeper motivations. That means phrases like “Keep track”, “All in one place”, “avoid mistakes”, and “easy setup” all lead to reassurance, confidence and convenience, which ladders to control.

The negative feelings are equally important since they work against the emotions that motivate people into action. So, we’re also looking for words that reduce a certain positive emotion. With apps that have too many steps or a learning curve, people might use the terms – “overwhelming”, “limiting”, “complicated” or a “hassle”; all of which take away from the enjoyment and stickiness. In the case of financial service, people say things like “It’s hard to migrate all my accounts” which takes away from their sense of being in control. This also applies to social media accounts. One cannot simply export all their pictures, posts, and memories from Facebook to Twitter.

This framework allows us to measure the multiple emotions any idea might evoke. The frequency with which words in a certain emotional area are used gives us the prevailing emotion for the app. Another important dimension is the depth or valence of the emotion. It’s not enough that people feel a certain way, it’s also important to understand the strength of the emotion. This can be measured by the amount of time people take to express a certain feeling.


Golden Rule No. 3 Understand Emotional Resonance

There is utility to knowing which emotional chord your app touches. This allows you to build out your features or communication in a way that helps you strengthen that emotional connection. Or you could choose to re-define your offering to reach a specific emotional area.

We did a pilot study to understand emotional resonance for services across categories including financial services, travel, entertainment, wellness and more. There are three key themes that emerged, demonstrating what consumers want emotionally. First they want services that enhance their lives. There are too many ‘nice to have’ apps and most of them don’t really have an impact on the things you care about in your life. So people are not motivated to use them. Also, they want you to be warm, be human and be authentic. Secondly, they really want you to do it for them. Don’t just give them stats about themselves, take it a step further and solve the problem that stats show. Lastly, make sure the user has control and reassurance. Let them see the process. Uber is a perfect example of an evolving app that aims to deliver on these three themes consistently.

For more information, watch our Webinar that goes into detail about Ipsos’ pilot study with case studies including Spotify, Square, Uber and more.


Q: User Experience is a hot area right now, what role do you think that plays in the success for an app?

A fluid user experience is an entry requirement. Even if you have a great idea, delivery needs to be flawless. Any barriers in the process will tilt the balance against the benefit and undo all your work. More ideas underperform due to user experience or interface issues than you would imagine, even if they had strong benefits. We came across several such ideas in our pilot study.

With all the focus on user experience in our industry, I must say that the focus on the main benefit is also necessary. Having exceptional User Experience alone will not result in success. Strong cognitive salience is a must. Uber started with mediocre cognitive salience, had there been no need or want, they couldn’t have survived on the experience alone.

Golden Rule No. 4 A Fluid User Experience is an Entry Requirement

Also, I have to say,  you might check off all the golden rules of success but…


Golden Rule No. 5 You are Never Done

 The testing framework can give you control before you develop, but that’s just the starting point. The life cycle of an app is very different from most other services. A much shorter attention span and new apps coming out very rapidly makes it very hard to sustain an app. Apps are by far the most challenging market place for sustaining a service even if you get strong results. It requires constant engagement through sustained innovation efforts.

Uber introduced 13 new features in 5 months… this doesn’t include enhancements or updates. They’re introducing 2 to 3 new features every month. Simply getting it right the first time is not enough. All the big companies have digital on their priority list and are exploring paths to enter the market. Before you go down that path, you need to assess if your company is truly ready for the agility, flexibility and speed required in the digital world. Will you have the right resources, structure and latitude to make quick decisions and compete in the market of 3 million apps – will you be in control? Will your app be Sticky?


For further information and insight watch the full presentation here. More details on case studies and specific methodologies will be found.