My 3 key mobile app trends for 2021

Bandwagon alert! Here are my three key mobile trends I would advise to keep in mind as we head into 2021. From an accelerated shift to a mobile-first lifestyle, to calls for more data transparency, this is an attempt to anticipate what to expect from mobile app users in the next year.

Let me be the first to disclaim that trying to predict what a new year will bring is always a challenge. Rewind to this time last year, when we all had a very different anticipation for 2020 (am I right?). Which makes it reasonable to state that 2021 will hold even more uncertainty than usual.

The past dumpster-fire of a year saw both expected change and unexpected trends emerge. We’ve seen companies adapt to, and adopt, the “new normal”. Consumers defied previous norms, expectations and behaviors. And every element of our daily life and work morphed into being one and the same.

As the pandemic plays out, we will continue to navigate new obstacles and attempt to mitigate the impact, build stability and minimize uncertainties. To do that, we need to understand how the mobile market is evolving and how consumer lifestyles have, and are, shifting.

Here’s three influences that mobile app designers and marketers could expect to see in 2021.

An increasingly accelerated shift to a mobile-first lifestyle

The promise and potential of a mobile enabled lifestyle met its tipping point this year. Now that travel, commute, entertainment, and work places are restricted, we’ve turned to mobile as a priority channel. We now use mobile apps to work, learn, shop, read, watch, network, and even exercise. Whereas a mobile phone was mostly a distraction-slash-entertainer first, it’s evolved to an indispensable enabler.

That shift to mobile-first is nothing surprising, and long promised (overdue, perhaps?) It is, however, rather palpable how in 2020 the pandemic has added such velocity to this promise. For most of customers, brands and institutions, 2020 has been one giant leap forward. For 2021, there is a likely notable increase in the number of new and available mobile apps, furthering an increasingly saturated app marketplace. If in 2021 an app is to stand out among a multitude of competitors, it will need to implement an end-to-end marketing strategy that increases app discoverability, user acquisition, and, most importantly, user engagement.

As people continue to adapt in 2021, we should expect the unexpected when it comes to new trends and spikes across the app stores. Stronger and better agile practices are going to be vital for brands to make sure that their app is ready for potential sudden influxes of users, increased drop offs, or shifts in functionality and desired journeys.

With more users looking for apps in your category, brands need to have a proactive plan to ensure that their app is visible, discoverable, offering a clear value proposition and a compelling on-boarding. Achieving this tactically means placing a continuous focus on keyword optimization and app store optimization (ASO) to ensure that your app ranks for as many key search terms as possible.

It means holding a focus on ensuring that the user journey is seamless; a lack of clarity, complex on-boarding processes or existing pain points can cause increases in user drop offs that you can’t afford in a saturated marketplace.

But it also means that on top of building and iterating your product in an agile manner, the business itself needs to operate agile. Decision making, road-mapping, prioritization: this all needs to happen faster, across the company verticals, collaboratively.

Not just user-centric: customer-centric

With an increased dependence on mobile and rising consumer expectations for what mobile should provide, it’s critical that your app has an engaging and fluent user journey. That’s just basic housekeeping, really.

There is, however, a distinction in play. While user-centricity (UX) is the foundation upon which to build, customer-centricity (CX) will provide the insights and focus to provide engagement and resonance with a target audience. If they do not feel at the center of your attention, they will quickly abandon your services and look for this elsewhere.

In order to truly engage your customers, you must humanize the relationship.

This is much deeper than offering them a transactional solution to a previous off-line journey. What makes your customers react positively? What would the empathetic messaging need to be? How well do you anticipate their context — their job to be done — when they use your journey? To be or become customer-centric it’s important to consider incorporating things like this throughout the full user journey.

Another recommended approach is to learn alongside your customer. Customized push notifications does not equal including a customer’s name — although I am continually appalled by the number of brands that appear to have missed the memo on this. Observing and measuring customer actions, such as preference, search history, usage path, etc., can go a long way to improve open rates and drive engagement. And provide insights to thoughtfully tailored marketing across all relevant channels to help you to build long-lasting relationships with your customer.

An increasingly data-transparent future

With increasing consumer awareness and concerns around data usage, there has been a significant shift among big tech companies to be more transparent about user data. One significant upcoming change is Apple’s depreciation of the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers). Once introduced, app users — your customers — will have to opt-in to the IDFA. This means mobile apps will have to request permission to track unique user or device data.

It’s a moment of truth for your brand and your customers as you bring their attention to the ‘hidden cost’ of your app services; collecting their data.

Many third-party tools, such as attribution and analytics platforms, rely on IDFA as their primary method of collecting data; because of this, there will be a significant push to diversify the ways in which data is collected ahead of its depreciation.

There are of course other ways of collecting data that fall in line with Apple’s new regulations as well as increasing privacy regulations from governments. This includes being more dependent on probabilistic attribution models — using historical data to determine the probability that an install was driven by one or more campaigns — as well as using predictive power to curate in-app experiences. By widening the net when it comes to the data you choose to track, you can still learn a lot about your users. But it will be a new effort or process for most teams. Those that can quickly learn insights and anticipate behaviors from this new view of data will have the better position to deepen engagement and resonance with their audiences.

I anticipate we will have to re-evaluate the growth metrics we track. Whereas before many mobile apps were reliant on metrics that required device identification, such as Cost Per Install, testing out more advanced metrics, such as Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) or Lifetime Value (LTV), may now be key to using the available (less precise) data to build out a more comprehensive picture of your users.

Mobile app success in 2021

To drive long-term app engagement and remain competitive in an increasingly crowded app marketplace, your company needs to implement a holistic app marketing plan. A successful approach blends organic and paid growth strategies to maximize app discoverability, user acquisition and, most importantly, retention of high-value, loyal users. Proactive planning and testing–and staying on top of mobile trends–are the keys to implementing an effective app marketing plan that drives larger business goals.

Head of CX Design and Strategy, Tribal Worldwide. Designer. Strategist. Author. Speaker. Graphicdesignosaurs. Skilled Daydreamer. Incurable Nighthinker.

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