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How to create new engagement for abandoned apps

June 1, 2011

Carol Setter is senior vice president of strategy at Band Digital

By Carol Setter

There I was, staring at my computer screen. Confused. Then it occurred to me, I was trying to find an iPad application – on my computer. My mobile life had collided with my computer life.

My brain was trained to seek the quickest way to the content I was seeking and that was through an app. This simple capture error made me notice something else.

As tethered to my phone as I am, I am still not using the bulk of my collected apps. I have abandoned them.

Lowdown on download
As I swiped through my iPad to get to the desired app, I sorted through the clutter I have made of my screens.

Folders stuffed with apps, favorite apps sitting proudly alone, and downloaded and rarely used apps increasingly pushed further from my app life ground zero.

I can swipe for pages through all the colorful and cool apps I have downloaded, and rarely used. All neatly stacked and abandoned.

It might be out of sight, out of mind for me.

But for brands, the occurrence of app abandonment can mean the loss of a critical touch point with an audience.

Just as site metrics are no longer about unique visitors, but rather the level of engagement, the same criteria are now being asked of apps. Not how many apps were downloaded, but how many were used on an ongoing basis in a relationship.

As documented by Localytics, a mobile analytics company, roughly a quarter of the time, apps were used once and abandoned.

If consumers were motivated enough to take the time to download an app, how can they be recaptured for a second attempt – this time to establish relevance and relationship?

Recontact. When the app is downloaded, post a question. Ask whether you can contact downloading consumers in the future with a functionality that they may find interesting in the app.

This contact should be task-specific and play off of the best and unique functionality, which they may have missed in a cursory view of the app.

Web site demonstration. On your Web site, place a mobile icon that when clicked will show a tutorial of how the action being accomplished by users can be done from a mobile site.

For example, the icon for an airline site might show the sequence for mobile booking. This could be an important step to increasing a users’ familiarity and trust in accomplishing a task from a mobile app.

App preview. Educate your users more broadly about features and benefits before they download.

For example, Amazon’s app “Test Drive,” which allows users to play with the app on their computers, is an effective way to drive a more informed trial. It could eliminate the “download to figure out if you’ll want it” phenomenon.

This feature also provides an easily sortable way to see what others users thought of the app and specific problems it helped them solve.

Chunk the benefits. On alternate digital channels, provide trivia or other short-message methods that list the best and more desirable features or functionality. Reinforce value a bit at a time, bringing the app more often to top-of-mind awareness.

Last chance. If users elect to delete an app, rather than the obligatory “are you sure” or “rate the app” messages, give people the option of seeing a tutorial with a couple of best features of the app. This may re-connect them to why they downloaded the app in the first place.

Just as brands went through the process of using sites to drive engagement, they need to deploy mobile-specific techniques to accomplish this same goal with apps.

Brands may not eliminate abandonment, but they can use and test the methods that help them best reconnect with users and the value that they initially perceived in the app.

Carol Setter is senior vice president of strategy at Band Digital, a Chicago-based digital connection agency. Reach her at

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