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How to find, keep and maximize your iPhone or Android app's 'power users'

Should developers listen to their most engaged customers?
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Every successful product has them, and they can go by various names. To some, they are the superfans. To others, they might better be called the die-hards. According to experts in the mobile marketing space, however, app developers should figure out how to get closer to what they refer to as "power users."

The notion of a power user has existed since the introduction of PCs to the workplace; organizations soon discovered that some individuals were far more likely to take advantage of advanced features and functionality that the majority did not understand or know about. In the mobile space, power users may be particularly relevant to developers because they represent that core percentage who drive the majority of installs, in-app purchases, shares and more.

Recognizing your power users
Chuck Martin, CEO of the Mobile Future Institute, a think-tank based in Boston, suggested that few developers properly understand the nature of power users in the apps space today, even though these users could offer the keys to profitability and success from a developer perspective.

"They don't really distinguish that there are these groups out there," said Martin, whose third book, Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer, comes out later this year. "It's a subset of the market, but it's a really good subset."

Scott Weller

    Scott Weller

Scott Weller would agree. As the CTO and co-founder of Session M, Weller offers a platform called mPoints designed to boost retention and loyalty among app users via an ad network for developers. Session M researched power users, which it defined as the top 33 percent of those who had completed in-app activities over a 10-day period on its network. According to Session M, the power users accounted for two-thirds of all activity. This shouldn't come as a surprise, said Weller.

"Where early adoption in mobile has been driven by utility or game usage, you're seeing a lot of that activity generated by a very small percentage of the audience. Just from what we've experienced, that gap will narrow," Weller said. "If you look historically at adoption of the Internet and other technical mediums in terms of accessing content and data and information, there was always a certain small percentage of users at the beginning that has accounted for most of the action."

Martin suggested offering one-to-one marketing and VIP treatment to early power users to maximize the potential value of later projects. For example, the concept of power users may be a good way for some developers to decide whether or not to offer a freemium model where the basic app is offered for nothing, but advanced features come with a price tag.

Chuck Martin

     Chuck Martin

"The power users will pay because they want that extra utility," Martin said.

There may be a short window to win potential power users over, however, according to the Session M data. Weller said the firm's research showed that after the first day of usage, only 31 percent were likely to use an app again. On average, the report indicated developers have only the first three days to retain most users. This is in contrast to data from third-party sources such as Flurry, which recently suggested some gradual improvement in the volume of app usage after three months, though other research suggests that users immediately will uninstall an app if it freezes for five seconds.

"I'll go download some apps and find that they're not guiding me through why is this useful," Weller said. "You need to integrate things that speak to that first-time user. If you can get them to consistently open the app within that short period of time you can move them into that group that wants to open that again."

How to give power users VALUE

Chuck Martin suggests developers keep the following acronym in mind as they create their products in order to attract and retain rapidly loyal and active users:

Value, just like the acronym itself. It's the most obvious thing but easiest to forget or ignore, Martin said.

Always-on. "You can't create an app that is for a specific time or a specific thing," Martin said. "It has to be broader if the developer wants users to be tapping into that on a regular basis."

Location: Power users expect apps to know their location, as well as context or situational relevance. If someone is using an app at noon or 6 p.m., they may be interested in content that's related to mealtime. "In the future, all search will be location-based," he says.

Utility. Activity can't just be content-based, according to Martin. "An example of this is an airline app that lets you not only look up a flight but also book the flight," he said. "It's surprising how few of them do this."

Entertain "Give a nod to the power user. If the app can tell the user is using an Android device, you might want to offer them customization features. For iPhone users, it may be important to offer easily functionality from the first screen, rather than the second or third screen," said Martin.

Understanding the behavior of your most active users
Power user activity also tends to vary day by day. Some of the lowest sharing and in-app activities happen on Mondays, according to Weller, while Tuesdays are a particularly strong day.

"When I was working as a developer we would get into discussions around the best days to launch," he said, adding that the data should settle some arguments. "A Tuesday or Wednesday is the best day."

Martin suggested that developers should also think of usage scenarios that tend to foster power usage among consumers. A good example is in the retail sector, where so-called "showroomers" visit a store location to look for an item, then turn to their smartphones to use price-comparison apps to see if they can get a better deal elsewhere. It's also important to recognize that, while the collection and use of private personal information may worry mainstream consumers, it's more of an expectation among power users.

With all that in mind, Martin cautioned against ignoring the needs of the mass market, who may turn out to be more engaged over the long haul than what developers may see today."It's not just expectation, it's understanding," Martin said. "They have an expectation that when it's on, that they're leveraged to the maximum. They know they can vanish when they want to. The non-power user is relatively unaware of these kinds of things." That means the more personalization and context-awareness developers can build for that core audience, the better.

"There's still only about 50 percent smartphone penetration. People are going through a discovery process," he said. "They're realizing that, 'If I do this, I get that.' All of a sudden they look at more apps that can provide value. There may be a lot of [potential] power users out there who have not yet become power users."

And if developers can help convert a few? More power to them.