Five ways to make your next app a hit with customers

By Kevin Guenther on November, 22 2017

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Kevin Guenther

What does it mean to have a hit product? Think about the last time you downloaded an rodion-kutsaev-184298.jpgapp that you felt excited about using. Then actually used it, regularly. An app that you found useful, yes, but also pleasurable. You’re probably going to be hard-pressed to come up with an example outside of Angry Birds, right? Well that’s the goal that we set for ourselves here at Online. We don’t just want to make apps that are useful, we want to build apps for our clients’ that are a hit with their users.

The first tip to achieving a hit product is to meet your users’ baseline expectations. That seems obvious and almost unmentionable—but it’s worth mentioning because as countless other blog posts on the subject prove, it’s a lot harder than you might think. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’ve done the prerequisite reading to help you get to baseline and dive into how to take your App from going above and beyond meeting basic expectations—into a hit.

1) Insist on Quality Craftsmanship

This is more of an imperative than it is a tip, but the case still needs to be made to some product owners.

Compare the quality of a windbreaker from a discount outfitter vs. one from Patagonia or North Face. From a distance, you may not see much of a difference, but when you try each of them on, the differences couldn’t be more obvious. The overall fit and quality of the material, the hidden seams, fleece lined pockets, a hood that doesn’t make you look like a complete dork. Even that little pocket at the top of the zipper that keeps you from pinching your chin. Those small details and noticeable differences in craftsmanship are what convert people with Patagonia jackets from buyers into brand champions.

Indications of care and craftsmanship in software are attributed to pleasantly-designed screens that are highly legible and capture the spirit of your brand. Navigation that is obvious, efficient, and follows predictable patterns. Micro interactions (motion/animation) that is informative and allows for intelligently nested secondary and tertiary features. Most importantly, your apps performance and responsiveness–especially after adding those animations and graphics. In short, the app should feel snappy and look good while doing it.

2) The Best On-boarding? No On-boarding.

Another common UX term is friction reduction - the practice of helping your users reach their desired outcome as quickly as possible. One of the most effective ways to do that is by skipping the instructional on-boarding screens and putting off login activity until it’s absolutely required.

This can sometimes be achieved using obvious visual clues to the operations of things. Sometimes referred to as affordances. For example: buttons are for pushing, switches are for flipping, and dials are for turning. Sensible iconography can also help in this regard and as a bonus will ease language challenges that come with regionalization.

In Don Norman’s ‘Design of Everyday Things’ he writes, “When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking: no picture, label, or instruction needed.”

Of course, in software design—depending on your audience’s technical proficiency and the complexity of your App—instruction may sometimes be unavoidable. But rather than presenting your users with the typical instruction screens, show them how to accomplish a task by walking them through it. In other words, help users accomplish their desired outcome while they learn. We often refer to this as scaffolding. A technique in education that has been proven to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and a greater sense of accomplishment in the learning process.

Depending on your needs a third-party tool like AppCues or WalkMe can help reduce the development time and the maintenance of your guided walk-throughs.

3) Introduce Variable Rewards

This concept is best described in ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal,

“The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix — say a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it — and voila, intrigue is created.”

When faced with boredom many users immediately think about what the most accessible option for occupying their mind is right now! Good or bad, Apps have become the go-to quick-cure. A sure sign that you have a hit product on your hands is that people choose your App as an option in those situations.

The Hook Model goes a little deeper by categorizing rewards into the following: the Tribe, the Hunt, and the Self. But for the sake of expedience I’ll make the case for variable rewards with one example: Facebook.

Sharing aside, a significant reason users return to Facebook as often as they do is because of the constantly changing nature of the content, and the prospect of discovering more likes on their last post. The variable nature or unpredictability in those two things provide anticipation and a small dopamine reward every time users open the App.

Your app’s business case may not have the same magical combination of characteristics that make Facebook a part of many people’s daily rituals. However, if your expectations are properly aligned to how often you would like them to return, there is likely some other creative variable reward you can offer. One that gets your users into your app a lot more frequently than they would have otherwise.

4) Give Them Something to Share.       

The success of social media platforms like Facebook is based on the universal truth that humans are social creatures who want to connect with each other in meaningful ways. But you don’t necessarily have to create a fully functioning social network to give them an opportunity to do that with your App. The key word here is meaningful. Randomly slapping that ‘share’ icon on your App does not make it social.

Take the movie ticket App, Atom as an example. Atom understands that going out to see a movie is usually a social experience. Once you find the movie you’d like to see and tap to order a ticket, the App first asks, “Who do you want to invite?” presenting you with a list of your contacts to choose from. Of course, the practical aspect of this function allows you to split the cost of the movie tickets, but it’s also a brilliant way to drive conversion by allowing people to connect to their app through sharing.

This also creates a sense of accountability. If your friend receives an invite from you through Atom, they feel more inclined to go to the movies. Another great example of this is Runkeeper’s running-buddy feature. Runkeeper gives their users the ability to compare longest and fastest runs—a social aspect that drives users through a sense of accountability and competition to go back and check their app to see where they stand in the leaderboard.

5) Make Them Feel Proud.

Another fundamental human truth is that we love to see ourselves moving forward. Acknowledging milestone achievements is a fundamental human characteristic that drives us. It gives us purpose. Progress, skill development, and overall life experiences are common things we look to for a sense of accomplishment. We celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, years at work, etc.

But we don’t just take pleasure in the big milestones. We empathize and swell with pride and excitement while witnessing the achievements of athletes, or fictional characters in a movie. Increasing our skill-level, progress, and the powers of our video game characters are also small milestones we take great pleasure in.

Fitbit acknowledges milestones in a very clever way. They hand out random badges to their users like the Italy Badge for walking 735 lifetime miles (the entire length of Italy). Or the 747 badge for climbing enough lifetime stairs to equal the altitude airplanes fly.

Receiving these types acknowledgments gives user something to strive for and keeps them engaged and connected to your App (and your brand) in a more meaningful way. Acknowledging their milestones certainly makes them feel proud, but it also tells them that you care about them because you’re celebrating alongside them.

Successfully applying any one of the concepts above to help create surprise and delight in your App really depends on what your App is offering. These suggestions should by no means be considered prescriptive and every one of them need not be applied at the same time. If, however you can take one or two of these tips into your next App design—you’re guaranteed to increase the chances of making something your users will connect with and look forward to using regularly.

Keep this information handy by downloading our Five ways to make your next app a hit with customers checklist below.


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Do you have any more tips for making Apps that customers will love? Let us know by leaving a comment below! To learn more about Online’s Digital Studio please click here.

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