ComboApp Talks App User Behaviour and Engagement with Appboy

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In this interview, Art Dogtiev, Head of Branded Content at ComboApp, is talking with Spencer Burke, Mobile Strategist at Appboy. They discuss such topics as app user behaviour, five different app user profiles that Appboy has come up with to characterize different user cases and individual’s interaction with mobile apps in general. Also they cover app engagement in different app categories, which brought up questions as – what app category is used the most? As well as how long these apps are being used on a daily basis? Finally, we touched upon iOS 8 and its impact on the mobile app ecosystem.

Spencer

Today we are going to talk about app user behavior, and just to make it clear, we arent going to talk about how to make sure that app users behave, we are going to talk about their behavior in apps. How do they use apps? Here comes my first question for pretty much every guest on the show, which is the company history. Are there any stories that you could share from its history and actually the name of the company. Why Appboy? Why not Appgirl? App couple?

Thanks Art. I know that you have been following Appboy for some time now, and it’s really great to reconnect with you and see the progress that you’ve made including this podcast. As you’re probably familiar with, but I will fill everyone else in, Appboy was founded in 2011. It was initially started by our CEO as a service to connect app developers with app users and that marketplace was a lot less mature in 2011. Even though that’s a few years, the speed of mobile is very fast and what we were after starting the company was that app developers had a lot of common problems and what they really needed was beyond just a service to connect with users over the internet was better technology to be able to try and influence users, nudge them in the right direction, help them use the application better and so that’s when Appboy really started to become a marketing automation service where we looked at some really great companies that have existed on the web doing email automation for a long time.

So if you look at Marketo, Hubspot, companies like that, we realized there’s a great opportunity to provide app developers that same level enterprise class tools. As far as Appboy vs Appgirl, I think when Mark started the company he was just looking for something that was fun, something that connected the name to the app business, and I think that kind of light spirit has really influenced our company culture. It’s kind of a fun name and we really like sharing our message with our customers and we have developed a great brand in the past three years.

Yeah it’s true that the robot app boy looks really cool. One particular aspect of your product line, you have these so called usual suspects, Five user profiles. My first question is how did you come up with those profiles? Did you do any research? Did you use any third party researching service? Did you do brainstorming internally in the company and come up with those profiles? How did it happen?

That’s a really good question. What we noticed was that after talking with thousands and thousands of app developers were a couple common problems and really it all kind of stemmed from the fact that people abandon apps at a really high rate. I think there are a lot of stats floating around about this, but something around like 20% of apps are only used one time and so if you look at these profiles, these are just some examples that we came up with looking at our data, talking to app developers and brainstorming internally. We noticed that there are a couple common threads throughout all of these. First one is that people leave apps behind at a surprisingly high rate. The second is people often don’t have the best experience the first time that they use the app, maybe they get a little bit lost, the user experience isn’t quite perfect yet and they need a helping hand to get through that. The third is that app developers just want people to purchase more or to convert on key behaviors if they don’t have in-app purchases.

Of course that is the goal that we all have is driving our bottom line and making sure that people are getting the message and where possible making purchases. So we took those three ideas and we created this set of profiles. I think it’s something that all developers can connect with and all app publishers can connect with. But really what we wanted to do was get people thinking about their app users as more than just a device. A lot of the early tracking tools were all device-based. If you remember back a couple of years ago, you would always be talking about UDID and people started to become UDIDs, and we really wanted developers to think about their users as people and that’s why we tried to put some faces to these ideas and these common experiences, so that it would be something that you could connect with but also something that app publishers were starting to think about themselves.

Right, it’s really great to get people back to the basics. We are talking about real human being as app users. When it comes to doing whatever you can to meet your bottom line, you are looking at the numbers and you see the thousands of downloads, quite often you are just losing your focus and you just forget that these are real human beings who are using your apps.

Yes exactly. They are people like you and I who lead busy lives. Maybe it’s their first smartphone or they just upgraded to iOS 8 and they are just trying to figure out how to use the new features and if you lose that perspective, and you are just thinking about numbers, it’s really easy to start heading in a direction that’s not the best thing for your customers and not the best thing for your business.

Right. Can we walk through all of them pretty quickly in terms of how can you actually help these five guys and girls from a perspective of how to help app developers to communicate and how to interact with these profiles?

Absolutely. We have these five usual suspects the first is the new girl, then we have the skeptical users, the one hit wonder, the ready to convert user and finally the big spender. Each of these have some unique strategies that an app developer could use to target them, to kind of move them away from the more troubling behaviors that they have and something that’s a better way for you to connect with them and a better way for them to use the app. We look at the new girl and if you think about you’re going to the app store and a friend recommends you a brand new app, that first time you download it, what’s that experience like for you? Is it easy to navigate through the app? Are you finding the features that are most important?

There’s are a number of great strategies that you could use here. One of them is just in the product itself, having an onboarding experience where there is maybe a brief tour, you avoid any kind of gates that prevent the user from making progress, a really strict login gate that maybe only has a Facebook login might deter a lot of users initially. You can also do things like send a welcome email to the user a day after they use the app for the first time, remind them about the application and share some tips or some things that your power users really like to take advantage of. If you think about a sports app for example, that first time you use the application, lets say you sign up, you create an account, and you didn’t favor any teams. An email comes a couple of days later letting you know that when you favor a team you’re going to get a notification when your team scores, you’ll get reminders an hour before a game starts and you’ll really get to the level where you are explaining the benefit to the user of engaging further throughout the application.

The skeptical user can be a challenging one for a lot of people and I think this is where we get a lot of problems with app abandonments, with retention, you have someone who started to use the app, used a couple of features, and then just kind of stopped using the app eventually. One of the tricky things about this user is you’re going to have some data that says he’s used some features, he was engaged for a while, but then he kind of fell off. With this kind of user, at AppBoy we really recommend focusing on in-app messaging tools. So when the user is in the app, as a marketer, what kind of tools do you have available to you, to connect with this user to kind of drive their behavior to share interest and content with them.

If you look at a great example is one of our customers is Textplus which is a messaging and communication app, and so they have a lot of users who come in and check out the app, maybe they were invited by their friends who want to use it to send free messages to each other. What they have done is they have used Appboy’s newsfeed to put in interesting content from their blog which is like funny stories and memes. They target people specifically based on data like whether or not they have invited friends, whether or not they have made a purchase before whether or not they have made a call before. So initially skeptical users have a lot of information, but they can also experience the fun personality of the brands.

Going through the list here, we also have the one hit wonder. This is the person who tested it out a little bit in its first few days, he never came back, and maybe he got stuck somewhere in the user experience. With the one hit wonder, it’s really important that you instrumented your app well so that you’re collecting data at different key points in the user journey. We recently had a conference here at Appboy called Hashtag Engaged, which invited a number of leaders in the mobile space from around New York City, but all over the east coast and we had a great presentation from one of our customers, Halo, which is an app to help you flag taxis easier and faster.

What they talked about was mapping the user journey was one of the most important things that they did because it gave more context to how people actually use the app. It’s that same thing that we talked about with creating a name for these users, giving them a face, it made it real for them and they weren’t just thinking about getting people to spend more money in the app, they were thinking about “what is it like as a user to go through this whole experience?” and they found a couple of sticking points and they did a number of things including using push notifications to help track people through those sticking points and also just improving the product experience to make it easier. So the last two are all about revenue or conversion kind of goals. When I say conversion, what I really mean is not all apps have in-app purchases, they aren’t all revenue driven, if you’re starting a brand new social network chances are you’re not changing people for it.

What’s important is you have some kind of key goals. You want people to invite their friends, complete their profile and make their first post. If you think about social network sites as an example, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, they’re all really good at taking these users who seem like they’re ready to become engaged and encourage them to invite their friends. Linkedin, everytime you login you’re going to see that complete your profile, you’re 80% done, here’s the next app, Twitter’s going to recommend new people for you to follow, maybe share some new headlines or news from really interesting people on the network. To convert a user could really take a lot of different shapes, but first of all you want to be able to identify where they are, and then you want to nudge them and this is kind of a sensitive spot because you have someone who seems ready to convert and I think this is a big audience for a lot of apps. They have a lot of people who are using their app, but have maybe never made a purchase, so you don’t want to alienate this audience by being too heavy handed with asking them to make a purchase and so we recommend that customers start to think about  tools inside the app, inside the product experience, and not rely too heavily on push notifications, which can be a little bit more intrusive than things like in app messaging.

Lastly, we have the big spender. This is the user that every application developer and every application publisher wants to have as many as possible of. These are your biggest assets, your power users, hopefully your evangelists, but the people who are really engaging with you. Again this is a user that, depending on your app, can take a lot of different shapes. In a game there’s going to be a lot of different in-app purchases, if you’re a retailer they are going to be making clothing purchases and buying electronics. You want to be able to understand who is this user? What are they purchasing? and really create a connection with them where you show that you value their business. If you look at hospitality as an example, they do a great job welcoming their platinum members into the hotel when you come back for another stay and I think you need to think about your power users as the same way. Make it easy for them to share the application, make them see the value so if you had special content or you’re launching new features, make them the first ones that you notify and you can do that through segmenting these users out, targeting them with an email, or if you are using Appboy, using our news feed, you can publish something directly to their feed that only they’ll see which maybe features a promotion or a new piece of content that’s special and just for them –  so really making them your VIPs.

These are really great suggestions and great hints. Thanks Spencer. I have two points I can add to this topic. We have been hearing a lot of questions about developers who are in the beginning of the path for creating apps and certainly the monetization question comes first and they always ask, “before talking about apps which are basically free to use or cost just a couple bucks, what will be my revenue in two months in three months, in a year, if i’m going to start developing this project? They do understand the name of the game today is not getting as many downloads, as many users they can, it’s about retention and actually working with each of those users and making sure that your report isn’t just one of those hundreds of apps are their smartphones and tablets, which they never use and never give back. So I think even though these are five profiles that present different audience and different user case, I think for each developer it is really great to think through the strategy to win the heart of each of them and see what he can do in terms of the product development, in terms of the marketing strategy, to make sure that his app will succeed for each of them.

I would like to talk about the app engagement in different categories on both the App Store and Google Play. I’ve read recently, on statistic.com, the report about how much time apps from different categories are being used during the third day period and how much time people spend in these apps. The chart was like top three in terms of how much they were used. Apps from  social networking, music, sports, I believe people were spending like two or three minutes for social networking apps and music was the number one for the most time people spend with these kinds of apps. Do you see a similar pattern? Do you collect this kind of information in kind of a micro level from Appboy?

Yeah, we have seen similar patterns and I saw a very similar report recently which I think the ranking was at the top you had social networking applications, followed by entertainment and the third place was communication which means like messaging, text messaging, video messaging kind of apps. Entertainment and social were about three times the amount of time spent versus the communication apps. Those top two are taking a big piece of the total user time spent in applications. One thing that I think is really interesting when thinking about time spent in-app, which has really been one of the staple metrics in mobile for a long time is that depending on your application, it may not be the best way to measure user engagement and this is actually a great example that came up during Appboy’s Engage Conference a couple of weeks ago, where on the panel we had a great example where if you think about the Chase banking app and this could apply to Bank of America or any banking app, if I wanted to do something like come into the app and pay a bill or just check my balance, it’s actually better if I do that as fast as possible.

That’s because as the app developer or as the app publisher, you want to be able to deliver information quickly and seamlessly to the user and if you think about the kind of things that Uber has done for user experience, that’s all about speed and efficiency. If you spend a long time in Uber, something probably went wrong. You can’t get a GPS log, you can’t find a car for 15 minutes (Laughs) really it should take a couple of minutes at most to hail a black car to come pick you up and they really pushed the bar for what people expect for ease of use. So I think that is kind of a good concept to think about when looking at time spent in-app is how does this actually apply to your category, to the way that users are using your application? So I think those are great stats and it completely makes sense. If you’re a social network with a lot content you going to want people to be coming in and checking it out as often as possible. If you’re an entertainment app whether it’s music, video, or even a reading application, you are going to want users to be spending a lot of time in the app consuming that content. But if you’re a weather app, you want people to come in, check the weather, be able to make a decision on what to wear that day and get out.

So that is how we’re thinking about this kind of problem at Appboy. You made a great point on the intro to this, people aren’t thinking about the download as much anymore and you know the way we think about that is developers in this industry, we are moving past the download to start to think about these engagement strategies because people have an average of 27 apps on their phone and this varies a little bit depending on the demographic you’re in. But there are about 27 that they are actually using and that’s not a big number, so that means that as an app developer or as an app publisher, you have to rise above the noise. The more you think about the specific value that you are providing to the user, and the less you are thinking about the total time, probably the better off you are going to be. You are going to be one of those apps that someone is using once a month and that’s going to be the challenge. Maybe for your app that’s enough. I use Time Warner Cable here in New York City, I am only paying my bill once a month and so if I am able to do that once a month fast and effectively that’s great.

So in a sense this is like the real competition that they do in app developers is not only taking place on the app store its actually taking place on somebody’s pocket on his smartphone, when he pulls out his smartphone certain amount of times during the day and interacts with the different apps and there is a finite number of minutes he is willing to spend, there’s just no way he can spend more time, that’s just his lifestyle.

That’s right, one of my friends, a co-worker here actually at AppBoy, recently got the 6 plus, so the new iphones.

Oh congratulations!

He was excited about it, I am a little bit jealous, but the first thing he notices is that his thumb can’t quite reach the top of the screen and you know Apple worked on the user experience for that a little bit, but he was worried about right now that top row, those are my key apps and with this new phone they are just a little bit further away. So there is so much nuance to how people are making these decisions every single day, and if you don’t have the tools to be able to reach those users and deliver your message in a really thoughtful way, where you are not just blasting them with a generic push notification, then something as simple as a slightly bigger screen where your icons are a little harder to reach could mean that your apps are forgotten and it’s not because it’s a bad application it’s just because your users are people like you and I who are busy and who have a lot going on. You need to rise above the noise and you can do that by really connecting with the user on a really meaningful level.

Right, you’re absolutely correct. Speaking of the iphone 6 and 6 plus, not only for this model but for pervious ones, I would suggest not placing orders online for any smartphone, go to the store and take the device in your hand and make sure this is your size. Maybe this is why people are returning some of the iPhone 6 and 6 plus because they bought them online and once they got them home and tried them in their hands, they realized it’s a bit too big for them. So, and the same goes for the apps, the accessibility feature is a really cool one, I think its the best shot Apple could have made for the smartphone just to make it. The current iPhone model is not a one-handed operated iPhone anymore. You should really use your two hands, and it does change your behaviors on how many apps you use daily and which ones come first and which ones you don’t use that frequently because they aren’t as reachable holding the phone in one hand. It’s a really good point to remember the screen size not only for the development of your app but in terms of how people interact with their smartphones.

Yeah and there’s also two sides to every story and there is also a great opportunity here because Apple does produce beautiful products and the 6 plus has a beautiful screen. So if you’re a video application or an eBook or a magazine app, this is a great opportunity, these are beautiful screens to consume content on. I imagine if you look at some of the stats going around about the Note or some of the other phablets going around that are already available on Android, those users consume more video, they spend more time in these types of apps. It’s really about balancing these different elements and just being aware of new products whether it’s Android or iOS and at the same time being aware of new features that are available in the operating system as these releases come out.

I see. Moving along to iOS 8. What are your thoughts on it’s impact of the ecosystem. It has been two months, roughly two months since it has become available and we all remember this 8.0.1 update which lasted 75 minutes and it was gone, good reaction on Apple’s part. What kind of impact do you see the new features, which were introduced in this update, what kind of impact will it have on the app development ecosystem?

Yeah, this is a really good question and I think this has been at the top of my mind for app developers you know for the past couple of months. My personal view is that so far iOS 8 hasnt made a huge impact on the ecosystem. I think there’s a number of some really interesting features and some good opportunities here, I would say the first place that i’ve seen the biggest results is essentially there is a new category with keyboards which is really great for some of the app developers who have been on Android for a long time now have the opportunity to reach a whole new market. I think widgets are really interesting and I think we’ll see more of them in the next couple of months. To me they are really interesting because as people are able consume more content though a widget, what does that mean for the usage of your app? And it kind of goes back to that same discussion we were having where if someone is consuming your content and seeing your brand in a widget, it’s probably ok that they are staying less time in your app.

But for businesses that are ad driven, that could have an impact on their bottom line. So there are definitely some interesting things here you know as far as engagement, I think it will be subtle, not all apps are going to have a widget its not going to always makes sense. But what I think overall in the ecosystem is that people are responding overall a little bit slower than I expected, but what I have kind of seen after talking with alot of app developers is that iOS 7 was a big change and a big shift in focus on Apple from really focusing on creating a great user experience and really engaging users to you know, people who adopted those app guidelines and people who really went with it got, I think, great results people really shifted the paradigm from iOS app development. There are some app developers who are still kind of adapting to iOS 7 in some ways but focusing back to their product and user experience.

So adding something that is essentially a new product in a widget is something that is challenging to a lot of app developers who are constant on time but what I hopping is with the technology that iOS 8 has we are going to see a lot of creative ways that app try and connect with users, moving past time spent in app and really focusing on delivering content to users and connecting with them at the right time with the right message. And that could be in a widget, it could be in an extension available for your app so that you can save a piece of content from another application. It could servicing a great notification on the upcoming iWatch. So there is really a great number of things but for us it kind of goes back to these same principles, as this ecosystem matures, we are getting further and further away from thinking about users as devices, thinking less and less purely about downloads and really focusing on engagement and what it means to build a community around an app and they’re definitely some opportunities in iOS 8 but I think the core principles that have developed over the past year around great design, great user experience, and engagement are still things that app developers are focusing on as their first principal.

Yeah, my last quick point for this interview will be from the news, which just came in yesterday evening saying that the Apple event, which will be dedicated to the iPad, will take place on October 16. I do hope that the live streaming of this event will be better than the previous one because I don’t know Chinese as a first language – so fingers crossed.

Yeah I am looking forward to that announcement there has been a lot of rumors recently about the upcoming Android L release as well as the Nexus X or Nexus 6, whatever it ends up being but from the rumors it seems like its going to be another large screen device and I think google has done a lot of good things with the L release with material design with again, making the user experience intuitive, making it as engaged as possible and really focusing in on the content so similar directions and seeing these platforms converge in interesting ways but I think ultimately it’s continually benefiting the user of the application and when the user benefits the publisher and the developer of the app should as well.

Absolutely true. Well I think that does it for this week but before we wrap it up, Spencer, please tell our listeners where they can read more about what Appboy is up to and how people can find you on Twitter.

If you want to find out more about Appboy you can go to Appboy.com. We just launched a new website with great resources. Also you can find links to our blog as well as the Appboy Academy, which is a great resource for anyone interested in app marketing, my team produces it, it’s really great content. You can find me on Twitter it’s linked on the Appboy blog.

This is an interview from the Marketing TidBits with ComboApp podcast produced by ComboApp Group, a full-cycle communications and app marketing solutions provider for a global mobile marketplace. Listen to this podcast episode or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.