9 Must-Haves for a Successful App


At Apsalar, we speak with dozens of brand leaders every week, including many that have questions about what sorts of best practices exist to ensure the success of an app. The good news is that successful apps do share a number of characteristics, and we’ll discuss the most important of these below. The bad news is that the competitive environment for an Android or iPhone app is intensely challenging. Recent data show that there are more than 1.5 million paid and free apps available on Google Play, and almost as many – 1.4 million – available on the Apple App Store.

We don’t point that out to discourage you from introducing an app – far from it. Rather, we bring it up because any company that wants to be successful in the app arena needs to recognize that it takes real, sustained commitment. That commitment needs to extend from initial concepting to ongoing support and feature development.

Before we continue, it’s important to remember that the challenges for games are rather different from those for utilities, productivity apps and retail applications. Because Apsalar works with many of the leaders in the mcommerce arena worldwide, we are going to focus this post on key success factors for the latter group. Future posts will speak more specifically to gaming apps.

  1. Define Your Definition of Success and Success Measures

Before you begin app development, before you get app developers involved, before you appoint a product manager, you need to determine what constitutes success for you. Don’t get caught up with what the app developer and app publisher Joneses are doing. For applications outside of the game genres, being number one in the app stores is not only unlikely, it’s also probably meaningless from the point of view of driving your business. Retail apps, for example, are about driving sales, not being at the top of the heap in app downloads. Companion or utility apps have experiential benefits that are not measurable in install counts. You need to define what success means for YOU, and then use that as your app development compass and barometer.

  1. Measure and Understand Consumer Behavior in Your App

Successful apps are much more likely than average to have mobile app measurement and attribution platforms in place before they launch. They recognize the need to understand consumer behavior, both to see what is working in their apps and well as to identify and improve what isn’t. Without the ability to see and understand in-app user behavior for your Android and iPhone app, you’ll have to rely on hunches to assess customer satisfaction and define your optimization plan. This information is absolutely critical business intelligence.

  1. Maximize Your Type of Unique Utility

The best apps do things that people can’t get done in other places. It is not enough to simply offer up another way to make purchases or find a store. While those tasks may be elements of your overall app experience, you need to look at your app as a way of creating unique value. That value can come in utility, entertainment, convenience, or a host of other areas. But it needs to be there.

Utility and uniqueness matter in large part because Nielsen tells us that the average smartphone bears about 100 apps but only 10-15 are regularly used. With that kind of dynamic, “good enough”…isn’t. A big part of delivering on this app “must” is ensuring you have outstanding app UI and UE. Apps that are difficult to use don’t get used. There is no substitute for great mobile app design. It’s that simple.

  1. Maximize Education and Entertainment Value

Phones play a big role in how consumers spend their personal time. The massive growth in mobile media time hasn’t come at the expense of PC but rather as an addition to PC connected time. People turn to their phones to relieve boredom, fill waiting time, etc. Because of this, many brand find their users open to longer and deeper engagements on smartphones. Look at those as big opportunities to drive app adoption and usage.

  1. Leverage the Unique Characteristics of the Smartphone in Your Value Proposition

You could argue that this is a corollary to the point above, but it warrants a separate discussion because it is so important. An app should leverage what’s unique about smartphone versus PC use, specifically any of the following characteristics:

  • A. Hyperportability: People have their phones with them all the time. That gives you an opportunity to create new touchpoints, like serving people while commuting, standing in line, etc. An often-cited example here is incorporating a bar code scanner people can use while shopping brick and mortar stores.
  • B. Location-Relevance: Because consumers have phones with them while away from desks or the sofa, they offer an opportunity to add value through location-based services and utility.
  • B. Text and Push Notifications: Smartphones offer unique ways to communicate to users. Leverage them to help ensure a successful app.
  1. Leverage Personalization and Personalized Experience: Consumers expect to be able to customize information and experiences on mobile. This raises the bar for you and your development team when it comes to creating a successful app, but it also affords you the opportunity to create uniquely personal iPhone and Android app experiences that drive brand engagement and conversion. This app marketing principle is important in both the experience you provide in your app and in the messages you use to drive people back to your app over time. Leverage insights about in-app user behavior to segment your users and develop targeted marketing programs personalized to these segments. For example, our Apsalar Audiences for Facebook offering enables you to define segments of users and export the device advertising IDs (i.e., IDFA or Android Advertising ID) of people in those segments to media partners as custom audiences.
  1. Keep Things Fresh With Frequent Content and Experiential Updates

Succeeding with an app is definitely NOT a set-it-and-forget it proposition. You need to constantly freshen your content to give people reasons to return. In addition, you need to ensure that you incorporate new features and capabilities to keep the utility fresh as well.

  1. Get Social

Social media and social media networks are important ways to spread the word about your app and drive re-engagements/relaunches. Because so much mobile time is spent in social media apps like those for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, integrating your app into social conversations can yield both immediate and prolonged benefits. Many app developers are incorporating social media and sharing as central app experiences. App publishers should insist on this.

  1. Keep Supporting Your App with Marketing

Establishing and sustaining an app costs money. You need marketing support to drive installs and re-engagements.

Take those last two sentences seriously. App businesses really cannot propel themselves. You need to create a real marketing plan that focuses on strategies and tactics to deliver on your KPIs for the long haul.

Remember, your app is competing with more than a million apps in each app store, and about a hundred on the Android or iOS phone they rely on. Staying top-of-mind and becoming a regular/ubiquitous part of their lives is essential. That doesn’t mean you should pursue those standard measures that game companies rely on to measure their success. Being on the App Store top 10 is highly unlikely for a non-game- app. Fortunately top 10 status is unnecessary and in all probability doesn’t help you deliver on your true goals.

So what does matter? Since many non-game- apps are designed to drive sales, let me provide some examples of how targeted marketing and precision messaging give you amazing tools with which to build your business. The key is effectively managing your data and creating rich and informative user profiles.

  • LAPSED CUSTOMERS: We all have customers that for whatever reason stop using an app. Often, it’s not driven by dissatisfaction but rather that the app has left their top of mind. By identifying your lapsed customers and being able to send ads, emails and push notifications to them, you can make your app top of mind again.
  • CART ABANDONS: Lots of people start the buying process but exit the app before they finish it. With a mobile DMP you can identify these specific individuals and get their IDs to your marketing automation platform so you can encourage them to return and buy.
  • BRAND BUYERS AND LOYALISTS: If you know through past purchases that someone buys a lot of merchandise for a particular brand or in a particular category, you can use push notifications and other marketing tactics to sell them additional brand items, or related items, or capture more share of their category wallet.

Those are just three examples of how you can unlock the power of your user behavior data to drive and ensure the success of your app.

Closing Point

A final thought. It may not be necessary to deliver on all these areas for your app; certainly there may be unique circumstances or characteristics that make one or more of these points irrelevant. But this list of app success factors offers a strong starting point on which to build your success.

The most important thing to remember is that like any other worthwhile thing, app marketing success requires strategy, insight and ongoing dedication to make happen.


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