What's The Secret To A Successful App?

Read Time: 5 - 10 min

How many apps do you have on your phone right now? According to Nielsen, the average smartphone user has about 25-30 apps on their phone at a given time. There’s no way you use all of these apps on a daily or even monthly basis. In fact, studies show the number of apps used on a regular basis hovers around just three. And while app usage frequency will vary based on the nature of the app-- you may use a music streaming app almost daily, but a retail app (perhaps with the exception of Amazon) will be used more sparingly--there’s room to improve this number.


Mobile engagement is a major issue. App abandonment and retention has been the mobile industry’s eternal struggle. Consider these two striking statistics from our internal data team:


"24% of users abandon an app after one use."

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"80% of users abandon an app after 90 days."

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We know that mobile is the preferred first screen. So why are people fleeing from these apps?



Old Habits Die Hard

What continues to hold your app back from world domination is hyper focusing on engagement. People spend so much time and energy on user acquisition only to ignore the optimizations they should make within the app to breed success. But what makes an app successful? It centers around identifying the core action you want users to take within your app, and making it cyclical. You need to give your users a clearly defined purpose for frequenting your app. Something that’s both compelling and easily repeatable; think: snapping on SnapChat.


Identifying your core action will provide the organizational framework your team can center around and build out your optimizational roadmap. Most importantly? You can establish clear KPIs to measure whether or not you’re successfully driving towards the core action.


We’re big fans of Greylocks Hirearchy of engagement and believe the lessons about engagement via core actions and virtuous loops apply perfectly to the mobile app world. After all, apps are innately task-oriented in nature. They’re meant to declutter processes. Think of some of the world’s most successful apps; can you identify their core actions?



uber logo.png      → Order a ride


strava-1.png    → Record a run


spotify logo.png→ Stream music




Now think about your app - what is the core action you want users to take?


Spoiler alert: it’s not always so easy to figure out.


For some apps (like Uber), the core action is right on the surface. For most, you need to do a bit of analysis to figure it out. Look at your user data and identify which in-app actions promote the highest amount of engagement (repeated in-app actions). It could be making a purchase, or it could be consuming content. Whatever it is, you should focus your app marketing efforts on getting your users to complete this in-app action.


This is easier said than done. There can be multiple actions users take within your app as they move towards conversion. Identifying your core action takes discipline and forces your team to stay hyper focused on making sure it’s the center of your feature roadmap, and that all roads lead to that center.


Once you’ve identified the core action your next step is to make it easy--almost second nature--to duplicate. It’s in the duplication that your app becomes stickier and stickier over time.


pinning a recipe on pinterest


Core (in) Action

Let’s use Starbuck’s mobile app as an example. The core action they want you to take inside of the app is mobile ordering. Everything about their app centers around making it easier to place a mobile order from having mobile payment, order history, to locating the latest Starbucks, to even skipping the line in-store.


Whenever you think, “morning coffee” Starbucks wants to be top of mind. More importantly, they want there to be an opportunity cost to choosing coffee elsewhere. Sure, I could go to another great coffee shop on my way in, but think about all the benefits I’d be passing up by not ordering via Starbuck’s mobile app:

  • Order history for easy reordering
  • Directions to closest Starbucks
  • Estimated pick-up time
  • Mobile payment & receipt
  • Skipping the daunting line


Starbucks gets the power of mobile, and even better, the importance of having a central thesis to that app.  Despite having some operational challenges with mobile ordering in Q1 (basically, it was TOO successful for them to handle), once they work out the kinks the sky’s the limit. They’ve already seen an uptick in mobile ordering and overall revenue in Q2 amidst the challenges.


All Roads Lead to the Core Action

How do you drive engagement to the core action with your app? That’s where mobile messaging tools come into play. Use tools like push notifications, in-app messaging, app inbox, and others to drive users towards completing the action. Keeping with the Starbucks example, below are a few ways on how they can drive further engagement with mobile ordering:

 1. Send a geopush when a customer is 5 minutes out from their frequented Starbuck’s location:

sbux geopush.jpg


2. Send a rich push around the time the customer typically orders:

sbux rich push.jpg

 3. Send an in-app message when a user is engaging with your app:

sbux in app .jpg


 4. Use app inbox to highlight updates and cool features about your core action:

sbux app inbox.jpg


As you can see, using mobile messaging tools to drive people towards the core action helps to create one incredibly sticky app.


Final Thoughts

Too often marketers view mobile as just another outlet to engage with their audience. This is the wrong mentality to have. Mobile is the most powerful tool at your disposal due to its intrinsic nature. When was the last time you checked your phone? Even better - how about the last time you were without it? Mobile plays a huge role in our society. It’s the place where your users frequent most and will certainly go to interact with your brand.


The opportunity at hand is substantial - to build powerful relationships with your users via mobile that transcends device and equates to long term growth and revenue. And it starts with understanding what value you have to offer them, creating a core action, and making it compelling enough to complete and repeat.


Users crave efficiency. If they open your app and there’s no clear direction on what to do, don’t expect them to stick around long. Providing users with a path to follow and an action to repeat will help your app become one of the go-tos. After all, billion dollar companies don’t happen by mistake; they’re designed to stay top-of-mind, and mobile is the perfect medium to do so.

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