Apps are changing the world. They are ushering in a new, engaged era by connecting people to brands in more intuitive, innovative, and actionable ways.
But you already knew that.
What you’re probably wondering is: now that apps are a big deal, how will they change what I do and what’s on my plate?
The Winds of Change: Apps & Who They Will Affect the Most
Whenever an exciting new technology rises to prominence, it naturally shakes up the whole system. Consumer expectations change, companies realign their resources, and new relationships are forged between people and the brands they love.
Apps (and the shift to mobile) have made us rethink the way we do business. We are moving away from interruptive models to interactive ones. Mobile-first businesses are popping up and thriving, while larger enterprises are racing to add a mobile component.
Today, product managers and marketers will most strongly feel the impact of this shift because these two roles are crucial to 1) actually building an app and 2) seeing it succeed.
Tomorrow, these two roles will merge into one. Intrigued? We’ll talk more about this at the end of this article. Let’s first address how apps are affecting the roles of product managers and marketers right now.
And this depends on whether or not your company is app-first.
Is Your Company Mobile-First or Not? The Answer Affects Your Job
In an organization where your app is the bread and butter of the entire operation, your role as a product manager or marketer will come with more authority, responsibilities, and flexibility. After all, you need to create a groundbreaking app because the health of your business depends on it! Product managers and marketers at app-first companies are more strategic thinkers. They need to deliver an app that pushes the limits on what’s possible on mobile, while also driving revenue.
Comparatively, in enterprises where mobile is not your core offering, product managers and marketers will have different app priorities. For example, there might be less focus on innovation and more attention on integrating the app with your other marketing channels and ensuring it adheres to your brand.
So, we just went over how the goals of product managers and marketers will change with apps in the picture. Now, let’s take a look at how apps will change the day-to-day lives of people in these roles.
From Product Managers to PlatformManagers
As a sharp product manager, you do a lot; you build things and rally a team of developers, designers, and engineers around business goals to deliver something that is worth selling.
That’s why the responsibility of bringing your company’s app idea to life will fall onto your capable shoulders. But if you think of your app as simply another product, you’re headed in the wrong direction because apps are much more than that. Apps are a channel for growth.
As a mobile product manager, your job is to now build an app that will act as a platform for communication, transactions, time management, ecommerce, etc.
Here’s how this process will be different:
1. Behavioral research primarily guides development
Apps are not consumed; they are used. As a result, you’ll need to research long and hard about what problem your app is going to solve (i.e. how can people use your app to improve their lives?).
Quick Tip: Map out 3-4 main user scenarios around when and why people will use your app. Then, talk to people about their mobile preferences and behavior in your industry. Or, comb through articles, studies, or survey results that already exist. Find out how your app can help fulfill users’ needs and wants.
2. Multiple stakeholders are involved
Even if you’re officially assigned ownership of your company’s app, you’ll need to work with multiple departments to build, launch, and maintain an app. Engineering talent will do the backend coding and designers will beautify the frontend. Marketing will help you think of the app as it fits into the customer experience and develop solid user acquisition and engagement strategies around it. Support will be instrumental in collecting customer feedback, addressing any issues, and relaying them back to your product team.
Quick Tip: Get these stakeholders involved early. Their insight and input will define your app’s purpose and feature roadmap, not just the post-launch promotion.
3. Functional wireframes are needed
Every product manager is familiar with wireframes, which are pictorial schematics essential for organizing product elements. Traditional wireframes help you answer questions like, “Does this layout make sense?” and, “What is the best way to display information?”
When it comes to apps, product managers also need to craft functional (not just visual) wireframes. Functional wireframes illustrate how an app is going to be used and help you map out key funnels and conversion paths.
Quick Tip: There are plenty of tools that can help you create functional wireframes online. For example, try out JUSTINMIND.
4. Increased focus on beauty and aesthetics of the user interface
The importance of having a beautiful, clear, and intuitive user interface is amplified on mobile, where screen size is small and sensitive to touch. Make sure you spend a lot of time polishing off your app so it’s easy to use and navigate through. People are much less forgiving when they encounter poor design on their beloved smartphones or tablets.
Quick Tip: Don’t forget about your app’s icon and home screen widgets (if it has any) when designing your UI and UX.
5. Different development guidelines need to be followed
Apps are constrained to the guidelines and limitations of the operating system they exist on. And depending on whether you develop for iOS or Android first, you’ll need to ensure you follow Apple or Google’s rules. Otherwise, your app may not be approved for their app stores and it risks being incompatible with smartphone features.
6. Your app’s roadmap will be (at least partially) dependent on the iOS or Android roadmap
Speaking of following someone else’s rules, your app’s long and short-term feature roadmap will also partly depend on Apple and Google’s roadmap. Obviously, you’ll lay out a vision of your app’s evolution based on business needs and customer feedback, but be prepared to adapt and react to changes in the iOS or Android operating systems.
Quick Tip: Due your due diligence to keep tabs on what Apple and Google are planning for their mobile platforms. Be quick to update your app to take advantage of new APIs, features, and developer tools released by these tech giants. Don’t be blindsided by major announcements and unprepared on next steps.
7. Product iterations could lead to multiple apps
As a product manager, it can be hard to see your product split into smaller pieces. But this could be a good thing when it comes to apps. Look at how different groups of people are using your app and ask yourself, “Are some segments using my app in very specific ways?” Sometimes, it may make sense to spin off features into brand new niche apps to provide a more focused customer experience.
Quick Tip: To help you understand how different audiences are using your app, use an app analytics and marketing platform.
8. You will be accountable for new metrics
Product managers and mobile product managers focus on different metrics. Key performance indicators for apps include session length, cohort retention, and user lifetime value. In a nutshell, these metrics will help you gauge the stickiness and likability of your app.
Quick Tip: If you’re unfamiliar with these metrics or want more information into what they mean, read this article.
9. You will evolve into an app marketer
On paper, you may be a mobile product manager, but you will also need to embrace and understand app marketing principles. Why? Because push and in-app messaging campaigns are both an extension of an app (that you’ll need to develop), and key components of an app’s marketing strategy. For example, push notifications can deliver your app’s value to users’ home screens (through transactional alerts), while also serving up promotional advertising (like highlighting an in-app sale).
Quick Tip: Want to get a head start on learning the best practices of push and in-app messaging before you begin to build them out? Check out “The Anatomy of a Successful Push Messaging Campaign” and, “The Anatomy of a Successful In-App Messaging Campaign.”
From Web Marketers to Omni-ChannelMarketers
As a versatile marketer, you wear many hats; clever wordsmith, tireless publicist, bubbly sales cheerleader, and customer champion, to name a few.
Now, it’s time to add avid app marketer to that mix. Traditional and web marketers will be called upon to create demand around a company’s new app, develop a launch plan, and ensure it earns a happy (and growing) user base.
And as apps become the digital centerpiece connecting consumer devices, marketers will focus on optimizing the omni-channel experience.
Specifically, here’s how your job description will change:
1. You will become more data-driven
Smartphones and apps contain a wealth of both behavioral and profile data, which can help brands understand what their customers are doing inside their apps and who they are in the real world. As an app marketer, you’ll need to use this information to better target your push and in-app messages. Data-driven app marketing leads to the personalized app experiences people crave.
Quick Tip: Hungry for some research-backed app marketing best practices that you can use right away? We reveal six of them in this post.
2. Web marketing and inbound principles will need to be applied to apps
Apps are fundamentally different than websites, so you can’t apply the web’s tired strategies to the mobile world. Instead, you’ll need to freshen up your web marketing prowess and inbound learnings for the app-first era where App Store Optimization (ASO) (not SEO) is the key to getting found, push and in-app messages are essential for nurturing users (more than emails), and context marketing replaces content marketing in driving conversions.
Quick Tip: The best way to learn something new is to relate it to something you already know. That’s why we created a handy-dandy “this = that” chart of web to app equivalents. Check out how the online tactics and web metrics you know and love map to mobile.
3. You will need to understand app business models and choose the right one
Your company’s app has the potential to bring in revenue, but you’ll need to decide which business model makes sense for your audience. At the core of this decision is your ability to identify what’s truly unique about your app and whether or not people would be willing to pay for this. Then, you need to evaluate the pros and cons of the mobile business models at your disposal. Some of these bring in more money right off the bat at the expense of gaining users quickly, while others result in high initial downloads and accumulate profits later.
Quick Tip: Not sure which model to choose? We’ve summarized the advantages and disadvantages of the six most bankable ones right here.
4. You will be responsible for integrating your app into your marketing ecosystem
A big part of marketing an app is to ensure it is well integrated with your company’s other marketing channels, including your web presence, social media accounts, and brick-and-mortar locations. Part of this process will require you to evaluate how your app will replicate, augment, or replace your brand’s current customer touch points. Or, will it provide entirely new ones?
Quick Tip: Remember, your app is an extension of your brand, so you can’t leave it to fend for itself. Weave your app into your marketing organization by figuring out how it connects with every major channel and where it can be promoted. Here are specific tactics on doing just that.
5. Your focus will be driving engagement, not sales
Marketers are typically held accountable for the number of leads they send to sales, or how much revenue was marketing-sourced. When it comes to apps, your focus will shift from enabling sales to eliciting engagement. In particular, you will probably keep an eye on the growth of your monthly active users, retention rate, and the click rates of push and in-app messages that drive meaningful app usage.
Quick Tip: One way to evaluate how successful your app is at continually engaging users is to compare it to industry averages and trends. Our “State of the App” guide distills data collected from thousands of apps making it a valuable resource for benchmarking.
6. You will optimize for the customer experience, not for the channel
Don’t fall into the trap of simply optimizing your app for mobile – optimize for how your app fits into the customer’s journey. Think about when people come across your app. What stage are they at in the buying process? What part of the marketing funnel does your app fit into?
Quick Tip: You can identify your app’s place in the bigger marketing picture by defining its consistent use cases. In other words, in what scenarios will people turn to your app over your other marketing channels? Why? What can it do better than your website?
7. You will evolve into a product/platform manager
As you start executing app marketing strategies, engaging with your users, and monitoring their in-app behavior, you’ll get insight into what they like about your app and what they don’t. You’ll be able to decipher and understand data on what features people use most, what screens they navigate away from quickly, when they fall out of conversion funnels, etc. This will empower you to lead updates to your company’s app and inform its roadmap, putting you in the product/platform manager’s shoes.
Quick Tip: Marketers should work to align their app’s development steps to the buyer journey and ensure user scenarios guide the app’s feature build-out. Wondering how? Here are the templates you’ll need to thoughtfully iterate on your app.
Blurred Lines: Apps will Blend Product Management with Marketing
Apps are blurring the boundaries between devices, channels, and careers. In the near future, product managers and marketers won’t exist as separate roles because a successful app needs both slick features and standout marketing.
You can’t build an app and expect people to automatically flock to it – you need to spend time and money promoting it. And mobile marketing isn’t about bombarding people with generic advertising; it’s about learning to predict, personalize, and evolve your app based on who they are.
Apps are indeed changing the way we live our lives, the way we connect with others, and the way we do our jobs. But this isn’t something to worry about. Rather, it’s something to get excited about.
Because without change, there can be no progress. And apps are most definitely moving us forward.