How to Develop a Successful App (in Plain English)

Is an app right for your business? And how do you make sure it won’t get lost among the millions of apps already competing for attention? Here are some important points to consider before diving into the development process.

Apps vs. mobile sites

Consumers expect to engage with your brand on their phones and tablets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need or want an app. Strategically, you may be better off optimizing your existing website for mobile. For example, if you’re a retailer looking to provide a simple online shopping experience, a mobile website may be the most efficient solution.

The easiest way to deliver a mobile site is typically through mobile-enabled or responsive design. This allows you to build a single site that automatically adjusts to different sized screens. For instance, images that appear larger on a desktop may shrink and stack when viewed on a handheld device. Responsive design is helpful in that you only have to maintain one site, which can free up resources for other initiatives.

Apps offer a rich set of features

While responsive design has its benefits, apps can offer a lot of interactive features and provide access to capabilities that are part of handheld devices, like the GPS and camera. They also open up unique marketing opportunities that are built into the way consumers engage with apps, such as app updates and push notifications.

Push notifications can be especially useful for marketing. These alerts, which must be enabled by users, display on the home screen even when the app is closed. They can be used to prompt users to complete an action, promote a sale, or just remind them the app is there. Since this feature can be disabled, it’s important to follow best practices, like keeping messages brief and interesting to the user.

Where to start: What will the app do?

It can be tempting to dive right into decisions about technology and development, since this is where the majority of the costs lie. However, it’s essential to clearly understand the purpose of your app first.

To figure this out, you need to consider both your business and user needs. If your app has no business value, it’s not going to be worth the investment. If your app isn’t useful to consumers, it’s likely to be ignored and die on the vine.

Consider Your Business

Some companies lend themselves well to apps, and may find themselves behind the curve without one. For instance, restaurants can grow their business with an app that allows for online ordering and promotes deals or new menu options. Retailers can create or expand on a loyalty program with an app that tracks rewards.

Apps can also be used to establish new services or tools that generate additional revenue for companies. At Truth NYC, we partnered with an organization to create this kind of app, which is offered by subscription. The app taps into our client’s specific expertise to simplify a complex and cumbersome process. It’s unique to the category, which has also helped position the client as an innovator.

Think About User Needs

The key to a successful app is to make sure it’s useful to consumers. Without some real benefit, you’ll be faced with an uphill battle to get anyone to notice, download, and engage with your app. The best way to figure out what kind of app and features your audience would find valuable is through research.

Some companies hesitate over research because they’re itching to jump right into development. However, insights from research often prove invaluable. For instance, many clients are surprised to find out what they thought was the number one concern for their users was actually much further down the list.

These kinds of learnings can help you focus the purpose of your app and decide which features will meet the needs of your users. They can help determine whether an app is successful and is well worth the investment in time and money. Plus, with tools, like online surveys, that investment can often be keep to a minimum.
Shaping the Experience

Once you’ve defined the app and list of features, the next step is to make sure you’re providing a positive user experience. Users should be able to open and start interacting with your app easily. If it’s difficult to navigate, they may give up on it.

To create an intuitive user experience, it’s essential to think through the entire process. That includes mapping out all of the user pathways and following best practices in usability, such as:

Create an overall structure that is clear and well organized Use design elements, like colors and size, to guide users along Incorporate copy where appropriate to offer simple instruction

You should also ensure that the user experience, design, and copy all come together in a way that reflects and reinforces your brand.

Pick the Right Resources

The resources you select to design and develop an app can make or break the project. Whether you use internal or external resources, you’ll need a team that brings expertise in user experience, design, content, and technology to the table. You’ll also need to make sure everyone understands what needs to be done and how they’ll work together to ensure a smooth process and avoid delays.

Committing to Your App

Apps need care and attention beyond their development and initial launch. For your app to be successful, it has to get onto the phones and tablets of your audience. That requires a marketing strategy and plan along with the tactical elements that go with it, such as in-store promotion, emails, online advertising, etc.

In addition, you’ll need to figure out a strategy for app notifications, and decide who will write them up, send them out, and track the results. You’ll also need resources to update your app on an ongoing basis. Updates are necessary to fix bugs and add features, but they have an additional marketing benefit. They remind users about your app and can prompt them to engage with it.