The app gold rush has happened. Now, companies are finding themselves caught in the parity cycle – a scramble to stay up to date with the latest platforms and devices. For too many enterprises, the effort to deploy app after app is the only mobile strategy they can manage. Yet, large consumer brands are wondering why apps have not delivered on the value they promised.
We often are tasked with designing iPhone and Android apps that stand apart in crowded app marketplaces, but what brands more often need is a holistic mobile strategy beyond a one-off killer app. A service is a continuous thread, intersected at touchpoints where tools align with the various contexts people find themselves in. Apps are just one of those touchpoints. Focusing on a single, one-off experience misses the opportunity to really integrate with people's lives and open the door for other businesses to establish more lasting relationships with users.
We are proponents of distributed experiences. We employ a service design approach to find a way to offer users an ecosystem of what they want, where they want it, uninterrupted by context or device. In the hopes of guiding mobile strategies toward this long-term, holistic vision, we offer a few considerations as a starting point.
1. Find value by following the customer journey.
Great mobile experiences existed before apps, and will exist long after they’re gone. A great mobile experience relies only upon what makes a business successful in the first place: strong customer understanding and a rewarding customer experience. To design a next-generation digital user experience, these same businesses must find a way to translate their core DNA to fit new and changing contexts in people's everyday lives, on- and offline. This doesn't mean duplicating previous successes onto each new device. Companies, rather, should strive to offer continued value, first by truly understanding consumer behavior across the life cycle of the user experience, and then designing a service accordingly so that each touchpoint supports a user's goals individually and as a part of a collective ecosystem.
Tracking the customer journey leads to more integrated and compelling experiences throughout a user’s life, which in turn leads to higher perceived customer value and long-term bonds of mutual benefit. These latter two elements create a value surplus. While the consumers continue receiving benefit from the service, the service continues to provide additional value until it builds equity and becomes indispensable. This value surplus makes consumers more willing to give back something in return — be it through regular subscriptions, higher willingness for in-app purchases or word-of-mouth marketing. And, perhaps more importantly, it also builds a trust that allows users to overcome skepticism and consider extensions in the future that may not have otherwise seemed valuable or attractive to an uninvested user.
2. Desegregate business and design.
The point of creating a multi-dimensional service offering is to be there where and when people need your service. But in the Sisyphean race to keep up with the leading platforms and devices of the day, many companies have found themselves everywhere and nowhere at once, with a collection of disparate, unrelated or amputated apps. This serves neither the user nor the brand in managing the complexity of today’s mobile lifestyle. So how can services break this constant parity cycle? Take a step back and develop a strategy that targets the motivations for a mobile lifestyle, not the technologies that enable it. End the segregation of business and design thinking. Find ways of involving design early on so that a service might surface user needs before it gets mired in the details of extending from platform to platform.
At their best, design teams can be visionaries that anticipate how user experiences will evolve and how services will need to position themselves to meet that evolution. As fresh eyes, designers can infuse business thinking with a new perspective. Furthermore, tools like design principles, roadmaps and prototypes can help evangelize ideas and prioritize which directions offer the most value. A marriage between business and design allows a company to more readily think beyond the spiraling pressures of constantly playing “catch-up.” Companies can lay out a path that aligns their service with the entirety of a customer journey and be freed to find those ‘hero moments’ within their service that surpass customer expectations.
3. Recognize the only constant is motion.
For human beings in a constant state of motion, there is no standing target. They are constantly evolving what mobile means to them, and business strategies need to assume a constant state of adaptation if they are going to keep up. Not long ago, it was commonly believed that in a mobile context people just wanted a simpler, snack-sized view of their larger digital footprint. Turns out people’s expectations for mobile content are much greater and more complex than that. Most recent trends suggest mobile is increasingly where people live their digital lives.
Apps, to some extent, support that shift, but companies looking to truly engage with their consumers must embrace mobile as a living, evolving experience — beyond apps. As behaviors continue to shift, consumer brands have to make an effort at every touchpoint to reflect that they are doing their best to understand the diversity and complexity of people’s lives.
4. Streamline multi-dimensional experiences with frameworks.
User experience frameworks describe how a digital service can be distributed across various touchpoints while retaining a sense of coherence and efficiency. They allow organizations to learn from patterns they’ve already studied, lean on something as a trusted backbone, and spend more time diversifying their thinking in the right places. Frameworks apply at both a strategic, technical and experience level. Technically, they allow companies to scale their efforts across platforms, so that it’s not a decision between HTML 5 and native applications: it’s both. This makes their service more agile in adapting to changes in mobile, easier to manage collectively, and, overall, more cost efficient.
From an experience level, companies can focus less on single products and more on the behaviors they want their users to adopt. When users gain the freedom of taking the service into new contexts without thinking or planning (or turning to a competitor), their engagement grows from within. Brand associations are continuously reinforced through the establishment of an overarching brand strategy, familiar user interface, thoughtful service model and a series of guiding design principles. Grounded in these foundations, a service is empowered to think beyond single-touchpoint experiences and deepen its reach into new aspects of the a user’s digital life.
Mobile does not end at the app. Apps always connect back to something. That’s why Punchcut doesn’t design apps – we design digital services that map to the mobile lifestyle. When partnering with consumer brands, we fuse disparate channels and complex service offerings into a cohesive mobile strategy. Each touchpoint, apps included, reflects a clear reason for being. Each touchpoint can deliver the realities of monetization and brand engagement while carefully considering users' motivations.