Google research on choice and use of mobile apps

For a customer facing company, there are many potential benefits of developing an app. It can provide valuable customer insight; it offers a vehicle for personalisation; and it can foster loyalty towards your brand, as discussed here.


However, with more than 1 million apps available in Apple’s app store, alone, you really need to understand what drives consumers to download and use mobile apps, if you are going to have a chance at succeeding in this market, at all.


Google has, this month, published the results of a survey done last autumn, to ‘uncover insights about mobile app user behavior[u]r, including app discovery, acquisition, usage, and abandonment’. You can see the report here and here.


Some of the findings are unsurprising. For instance:

  • The main source of awareness of new apps is word of mouth,
  • Price is an ubiquitously important factor when deciding to download an app (with ¾ of us expecting to get free apps), and
  • Approximately a quarter of the apps downloaded are never used.


Moreover, of the apps that are downloaded and used, around a third are quickly abandoned, because users loose interest.

This is quite understandable. Not only is there a lot of competition for each app (i.e., other products that promise to do more or less the same) in the app stores, but there is intense competition for space in the user’s small screen: apps that fail to show their value quickly, or to hold the user’s attention, will soon be replaced by another one, moving to the phone’s (or tablet’s) second or third screen and, soon, to oblivion.


Not an encouraging picture, right?!


So, how can you make your app ‘stick’?


According to the same Google study, the most frequently used apps are those that are useful and easy to use, which is very much in line with the adoption of other technologies (for more on this, check the Technology Acceptance Model, for instance).


However, when it comes to mobile apps, functionality is not everything. Rather, the look and feel of the app are extremely important, too, with more than 50% of respondents saying that they are most likely to use apps that are aesthetically appealing, and which offer a consistent experience across devices. Bad news, if you were planning to get something out quickly, and ‘get it’ right later on!



What are your top 2 or 3 favourite apps? How did you become aware of them, and what makes you use them over and over again?

Positioning: be different but familiar

The textbooks will tell you that the key to succeed in the market place is to differentiate yourself from competition; to carefully choose your positioning. And that means that you need to start by answering this question: What is it that only we can do?

However, a recent chat over coffee, made me think of another, equally important question: Does your ‘only we’ make sense to the customer?

Let me tell you about that chat.

K and I were catching up over coffee. He told me about his new professional venture, which brought together his many interests. His list of interests included the following:

  • Producing music
  • Performing with artists in several music genres
  • Organising music events, and
  • Helping promote musicians

There was more, but let’s stop here.

It would be very easy for K to answer the ‘only we’ question because, really, how many people do all of the above? So, as far as positioning is concerned, K’s surely is unique. But does it work?


K’s activities fall within, at least, four categories: production, performance, event management, and promotion.

Categories are good. They facilitate reasoning, assist in decision-making and prediction, and allow for cognitive economy (cognitive economy is the mechanism by which we retrieve information from memory rather than through reasoning, and it plays a fundamental role in daily life because it enables us to make quick decisions). Categories also enable communication.

Conversely, information that falls outside of well-established categories, is new or unexpected, will require considerable cognitive effort… which we may be unwilling, or unable, to apply. We are also more likely to forget it, or to make mistakes when trying to recall details.

So, when it comes to positioning, this means that you should be different, but within familiar, clear parameters.


Or, as Warren Buffet put it (though not about the marketing of products): “The most important thing in terms of your circle of competence is not how large it is but how well you define the perimeter. (…) Knowing what to leave out is as important as knowing what to focus on.

Day in the Life of an academic #2: of meetings and parking tickets

My ‘Day in the Life of an Academic’ post was quite popular, generating interesting discussions on and off line. So, I decided to do another one. For my second instalment, I chose Thursday (May 7th) as this was such a different day from the one I previously wrote about. It was also 43 days after the first post, which seemed like a perfectly good number :-)

Here we go – this is what I got up to on Thursday.

I woke up shortly before my alarm went off (yay), and checked the news on my phone. Today is Election Day in the UK, and there is much uncertainty about the results. At home, the UKIP’s hatred of migrants and the Conservatives’ pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership inspired some discussions about our identities (national vs. cultural) and position in British society.

IMG_7181Unlike the previous ‘Day in the Life’ post, when I worked from home, today I left home at around 8 am (already having put a load of laundry in the washing machine, and emptied and refilled the dishwasher). I dropped the youngest in school, and headed to Brookes. Not much traffic, fortunately.

At Brookes, I downloaded a paper that I agreed to review for a journal, and searched some materials on co-creation for something that I am working on. At 9h30m, I joined department colleagues in a meeting to discuss developments in the MSc Marketing. It was a really interesting experience to join this meeting (as opposed to leading it), given that I am on sabbatical and, thus, not the current programme leader for the MSc. Still, it was a very long and very intense meeting, lasting for more than three hours! Thank god for coffee and cake.


After that long meeting, I met with my Head of Department to quickly go over what has happened lately (both in the department and in my sabbatical), as well as what will be happening in the near future. That meeting lasted for about 30 or 40 minutes.

As I was leaving the building, I bumped into one of our students and we had a quick chat. She told me about an exciting internship she was about to start. I vividly remember her initial days in our programme, and how nervous she was. So, it was really nice to see her ‘coming out the other end’.
IMG_7184I then popped into the café, grabbed a soup, and headed back to my office. I crossed paths with one of our former students, who has since launched his own company, and who told me about how busy he has been securing funding, hiring people and so on.


I finished downloading the materials that I needed for the co-creation paper, and then left at 3 pm. There was a parking ticket on the car – argh…

carAfter picking the youngest from school, I stopped by the supermarket to buy some milk and other basics. When I arrived home, at around 4 pm, I helped the youngest with his homework, and dealt with admin issues. For instance, I sent a message to the editor of a special issue I am planning to submit a paper to, asking for clarification on some aspects of the call for papers; I also exchanged e-mails with two colleagues to discuss next steps in a project we are working on; and I prepared for a very important meeting scheduled for the following day, with a company that collects consumer feedback. I was so engrossed in these tasks that I lost track of time, and missed my class at the gym. Not good.


Once the kids were in bed, I did another 90 minutes at the laptop. Unfortunately, I was too tired to do any substantial writing. So, in between getting a parking ticket, not being able to do any writing, and missing the gym, this was a rather frustrating day. At least, it was nice to see my colleagues, and the students.


These meetings and chats (e.g., with the former student), brought home how much time a manager / director / head spends on non-vocational stuff (dealing with people issues and securing funding, as opposed to doing what you trained to do). It seems that the higher you go in an organisation’s hierarchy, the less you do of what got you noticed in the first place.

How do you balance climbing an organisation’s hierarchy (academic or otherwise) with staying close to your vocation?

About creativity, coffee and the need to think like a customer

Somebody told me about a very interesting TED talk on creativity. I was very intrigued, and decided to search for it when I got home. The person that mentioned the talk, said that the speaker discussed how starting to drink coffee (instead of beer) had had such a positive impact on creativity: people were lucid and energised for one; and they started meeting in coffee houses, which were great environments for exchanging ideas.

That was all I knew about this talk.

So, when I got home, I went to TED’s website, and entered the keywords ‘creativity’ and ‘coffee’ on the search box. But, as you can see from this screenshot, I had no luck:

creativity coffee TED

Then, I entered the same keywords on Google, and… voila: look at the very first result:

creativity coffee Google

I thought that this was a curious example of how being very close to a product may actually make it more difficult to sell it to a customer.

TED knows all about product features like the title of the talk (where good ideas come from), the speaker (Steven Johnson), the topic (innovation)… and probably organised the information according to those clues.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have considered how the ‘customer’ would search for this product: i.e., the interesting or recognisable aspects about the talk that people might remember or mention to each other.

I am going to save this example for my classes, about the need to think like a customer, not as a product expert.

On a different note, do check the video. It is very interesting.

April 2015 round-up

April is high up on my list of months that just flew by. Seriously, where did the last 30 days go? April was also a month of contrasts: highs and lows, fast and slow, noise and silence… It was a month that gave me a lot to think about, as I was preparing my monthly report (a practice that I started during my PhD and which I find really helpful to reflect on what I achieved, and the barriers that I faced or self-imposed, and to reconnect with my path) and this round-up post.

Looking back through my 5pm pictures, I notice a change in pattern. I did not find myself outdoors more often than in previous months, as I expected. But I did find myself sitting at my desk more often than in previous months. And, on two occasions, I was just relaxing – marvellous!


This month’s highlights are summarised below. I look forward to hearing yours.


I have been developing (with colleagues) two questionnaires, which has been a very long process. It is not just about coming up with the questions. We need to check the wording so the questions are neither confusing nor leading. We need to rethink the order of the questions to make it as effortless as possible for the respondent. We need to keep it short but achieve insight. Phew…


04 30I have been working on two papers: one on social media data, and the other one on the use of digital technology in SMEs. I was hoping to have very good drafts of both papers, by the end of the month, but that just did not happen. I have been struggling with the second paper in particular, because I have some doubts about the core message of the paper. I.e., because my thinking is muddled, my writing is blocked. Luckily, this is a co-authored paper, which means that I can discuss my doubts with others.

This month, I also had one paper rejected and one requiring revisions. I was quite disappointed by the rejection, to be honest, but later realised that, at least, now I have really useful, actionable feedback that I can use to improve the paper. #GlassHalfFull


No teaching this month, again. But I learned what I will be teaching when I am back from the sabbatical, and I am really happy to be going back to teaching a specialist module that is close to my research interests.


I had several conversations this month (about professional activities and plans) that taught me that there is very fine line between ‘having multiple interests’ and coming across as ‘random’ or ‘lacking in direction’. And I also learned about this really interesting TED talk, arguing that a good idea is more like a network with many different connections, than a break-though moment (and deriving some implications about the design of spaces, collaboration, side-projects, etc):

What were April’s highlights for you?

An historical example of how (even well intentioned) data collection can lead to negative consequences

I was having a chat with the lovely Monika (aka Mum On The Brink) about the risks of blanket data collection. I said that, in many cases, the purpose of collecting data is harmless or even well intentioned (for instance, save time, show information that is relevant…), but that those same datasets could then be used in a different context, or collated with other datasets, and generate unintended, unanticipated and very negative consequences. And, then, Monika told me the story of the Norwegian census: how data that were initially collected for a perfectly harmless goal turned out to be instrumental for persecution and crime.

Monika is a former knowledge manager, now a professional blogger and social media consultant. At Monika writes about family travel and technology. She is also very interested in sustainable living, and is planning a fantastic sailing trip with her family. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and other popular social media channels.

The value of social media data is not in data itself, but the interpreter and the use

Tim Kourdi’s comment about the value of information, in my latest blog post, reminded me of an interview with Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey. Jack challenged criticism that the physical constraints of the platform (specifically, the 140 characters limit for a message) would lead to shallow, value-less content being shared. He did acknowledge that the limit would lead to a very particular type of message being shared: namely, users leaving instantaneous ‘marks’ rather than saying ‘the right thing’. Yet, he felt that those short, instant marks had value, too. He said:

‘It is all up to who receives the message… we can’t judge the value as it goes out. We have to leave it up to the individual to really bring value to that message, to that tweet’.

The full interview is available here, and the excerpt that I am referring to here:

Jack’s comments resonated with me for two reasons.

First, the recognition that the characteristics of the platform shape the conversations that you have – not just the length of the messages, but also (or, even, more importantly) the topic of the messages. This is extremely relevant for those mining social media data, for instance for sentiment analysis.

Second, the value of data resides not in data itself, but in what the interpreter does with it. Value in use, rather than value in availability.

I am doing some work in terms of valuing social media data, and I am very interested in hearing testimonials / examples of gaining (market / consumer / competitive) insight via social media data. Can you help?