CJ&N President John Altenbern: Research shows that the battle for real estate on mobile phones is tightening. You don’t want your station’s app to be one of those that doesn’t get used — or worse yet, is deleted. In the local news business that means you must win that fight on the mobile screen. It’s win-or-lose. Here are six suggestions on what can do to win.
How To Win Your Place On The Mobile Screen
Apple just announced that by the end of this year there will be 2.93 million apps in the App store. By 2020, it expects to hit five million. I have several dozen apps on my phone, but many go untouched for weeks at a time. I also have a few well-worn favorites that are part of my daily routine. Chances are, you do something similar.
CJ&N research shows that the battle for real estate on mobile phones is tightening. You don’t want your station’s app to be one of those that doesn’t get used — or worse yet, is deleted. Research shows that while users may have downloaded multiple apps months ago that provide essentially the same things, they eventually narrow their usage to a favorite.
In the local news business that means you must win that fight on the mobile screen. It’s win-or-lose.
Here’s what can help:
You can’t win if you don’t play. The first step is to get users to actually download your app. While we see many stations doing obligatory mentions in newscasts to “remember to download our app,” the far more effective approach is to promise specific content and coverage extras. Consistently prove to consumers why they should be using your app. (And by the way, if you are still pushing your desktop site as a destination, the parade not only passed by on that one, but the band has already gone home. The vast majority of users are on mobile.)
Embrace UX. In the digital world, UX is short for “user experience.” Products live and die by it. For news operations, it is often the last thing considered on their apps instead of being the first thing, as it should be. How does the app actually perform? Is the content fresh, ordered correctly and above all, useful to a mobile user at the time of day they are using it? Is there video of that traffic accident delaying my commute this morning right at the top of the screen? Does the radar image load too slowly?
If you can’t deliver, users may give you a try once, but if disappointed might never be back. Consumers won’t struggle to keep using a product that doesn’t work — especially when your competitor has an app that does. It’s amazing that television managers who wouldn’t put up with bad audio in a newscast, or live shots that constantly go down, are OK with their brand being a consistent disappointment to app users.
(We’re also looking at you, corporate app teams — stronger app design must be a priority. We suggest you actually do user experience testing before rolling out the next update. Not just using metrics, but actually talking with users to see if the app is satisfying, and just as importantly, to ask what’s missing. Imagine putting on a new newscast with no research and zero rehearsals. Why is that OK for stations in the digital world?)
Watch the first screen. Who is consistently monitoring your apps? Web editors who stare at the homepage of your website are missing the boat. They simply aren’t going to see the problems that show up only on a small mobile screen. The first point of contact for digital consumers is likely your app or mobile web product. Think of it as the front door to your house. Does a peek inside the door look inviting, or is it old, shabby and takes you down a dark hallway? This is your news brand we’re talking about. You can’t scare away the customers. News and weather apps need constant monitoring to make sure the first point of contact for your brand is exactly the way you want it to be.
Loyalty begins here. When you satisfy app users, you get repeat traffic. Research shows they can become some of your most loyal customers as well as the most loyal viewers on television. They are the equivalent of those “five days per week” viewers who drive newscast ratings. And today, one of the best way to ensure you continue to have loyal TV viewers is to get their brand loyalty on apps.
Apps drive viewing — and vice versa. CJ&N research clearly shows that push alerts can drive newscast viewing. And newscast mentions and reminders can work to increase app usage. It’s the new “circle of life” for news consumers (and it is indeed a jungle out there). Don’t overlook or abuse the access you have to people who are some of your best customers.
Be a survivor. If consumers have only one local news or weather app on their phone screen, it must be yours. It’s a different world than on television where your viewers may watch your competition, but still come back tomorrow. Your channel won’t disappear from their on-screen guide or channel lineup. But on a phone screen, your voice may be gone forever at the touch of the delete button. And that’s a trash bin you don’t want to have to try to crawl out of.
John Altenbern is president and senior consultant of CJ&N, a media research and consulting firm based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His email is [email protected].