Building engaging apps is hard. It costs a lot of money to build a great app. It costs even more money to acquire users. In the current age of app dystopia - people install an app, and throw it away in moments. Yes, app developers try a lot to keep them engaged. They send them notifications (to the point of annoyance), frequent emails, and offers on just about anything. All this has created a frenzy of apps screaming for user attention. Unless an app is blessed by runaway virality, or is a pet of the relevant App Store - sustainable distribution remains a distant pipe dream. With expensive user acquisition costs - the need for better user engagement is paramount. Imagine paying a lot for water and having to carry it in a leaky bucket.
Classifying users based on engagement levels:
Product managers know that all users are not the same. The best classification I've seen looks at users as Free-loaders, Minnows, Dolphins and Whales. Borrowed from the game analytics world, this is an indicator of how valuable users are to the game itself. Free-loaders have all the fun, but do not buy anything. Whales on the other end are the most engaged and make the most money for the game - either through direct purchases, or through ads.
A lot of user acquisition and product thinking aims at getting more free-loaders and passer-bys who do not necessarily make the product more successful. Game enthusiasts have over time asked developers to focus on the whales - though small, these are very monetizable. You want to keep them even more engaged, and you want to sell more to them.
Can you give more to the whales?
Across app categories, you will find whales among users.
In ride sharing apps like Uber and Ola, you have people who almost use the service everyday. Can you give something more to them? [Yeah, something better than the boring discounts?]
In health improvement apps, like HealthifyMe, you'll find people quantifying everything they eat - almost every day. They also engage with personal trainers and get motivated on a daily basis. Can you give something more?
In shopping apps, like Amazon, you have people buying their needs regularly. Can you give them more?
In our own Sensy, a AI-powered TV Guide, we've had people be loyal everyday users for more than a year. What more can we offer?
Please remember, the intent here is to not just make them spend more money. The intent is to give them more delight - and there by make them even more engaged, and eventually be more valuable to the app's business.
The whales trust you, and listen to you.
Upselling something to a whale is probably the easiest sale. You have a direct connect. The whale is a loyal user, and probably addicted to the product - with regular usage. The whale clearly believes your product has brought about a positive change in her life. How about using this invitation, and selling something relevant to the whale - that makes her even more engaged?
Hardware as an engagement buddy.
With IoT around, especially with technology like Bluetooth LE, building simple hardware is easier than ever. Can a product thinker extend his app's engagement and app's user interface into the real world through IoT? Here are a few examples in action. An important aspect to consider here is that these devices are simply natural extensions of the core experience offered by the app.
Ola announced Ola Play.
An entertainment console embedded in cars. These tablets are actually WiFi zones that automatically connect your phone to the WiFi hotspot, and give you personalized entertainment for your taste. As a whale, is there any better way to engage with the car? The car recognizes you - offers the best personalized entertainment for you, in any car ride you take. An investment in hardware has just increased delight and engagement for the user.
HealthifyMe worked with YuFit
A fitness coach program, HealthifyMe found a perfect strategic fit with Micromax - and launched an app + health device approach. The most loyal users could ensure their core health statistics are constantly updated into the app, and also made available to health coaches.
Amazon introduced Dash
Amazon's most loyal users want the least friction to placing orders. Their One-Click Buy is a big hit. They see a product, and One-Click, the product is on its way home. But that One-Click still needs you to open the app, search for the product and then One-Click. How about a One-Click with a real hardware object? A switch, perhaps? That's Dash. Each Dash is pre-configured to order exactly one product. You keep them around your house, and when you need replenishments just Click.
Sensy's own Sensy Home - the Infrared Blaster for your home.
Sensy was originally built as a TV Search & Guide product. We had indexed everything on TV, and allowed easy searching to figure what was playing where. Many users loved it. Using Sensy to find what to watch was not enough, if you could not change channels on TV!
Imagine using Uber to search for cabs on the road, but having to hurriedly hail the taxi with hands when they passed by. Without the ability to book a cab from with in the app, searching for cabs is not delightful.
Our Sensy Home smart remote is a Bluetooth LE-based Infrared Blaster, a perfect companion device to our app. The app is much more powerful with the device. Uur loyal users loved it. Over the last year, we sold quite a lot, and recently when we launched our new design many loyal users upgraded (paying money again). Their app experience is not the same without the hardware.
Product Thinkers should explore IoT as extensions of their products interface.
Every product can benefit by having sensors or interfaces in the real world. What are they? Dash is an example of an IoT extension to Amazon that reduces friction to perform regular actions. Sensy Home is an example of an IoT product that gives more wings to the app experience. Now does all this payoff in actual metrics?
Impact of hardware extensions on product metrics
I can speak for ourselves.
Sensy's average session duration across loyal and long time users showed drastic changes across three categories of users:
Usage as a TV Guide: 4 minutes.
Usage as a TV Remote on an Infrared Phone: 7 minutes.
Usage as a TV Remote through a Sensy Home device. 22 minutes.
In (1), you can imagine a user is just browsing for what to watch, and exploring what's coming on TV. He then drops the phone and picks up the Set-top Box remote to change channels. 4 minutes is nothing great.
In (2), Sensy exploits the Infrared Emitter on some phones (like Xiaomi, Samsung) and the app turns into a TV Remote. While users can switch channels - they still need to point at the TV, and a few channel codes may get skipped. Nevertheless, there's a substantial improvement in average session duration.
In (3), the Sensy Home device is kept somewhere close to the TV and Set-top Box. Users can be anywhere in the living room, and tap on tiles to see channels change predictably. The transition from 7 minutes to 22 minutes is substantial, and is probably the best product metric success we've seen in a long time.
These stats are not skewed to any class of users. It's not like the TV Guide users are passer-bys, and Sensy Home users are the loyal ones. All classes have loyal users. Here's the graph:
The graphs of Session Duration distributions had more to reveal.
Notice a large number of "short sessions".
With Sensy Home:
Notice that there are hardly any short sessions, and we clock a lot more long sessions - some even an hour long.
On IR Phones:
Even on IR phones, short sessions weighed a lot.
In the presence of an IoT device, Sensy's product metrics look completely different. This can happen to your product too!