App Splash Screens – The Good, the bad and the ugly

I’m not a fan of app splash screens. They delay app usage without presenting any useful, or even pleasant, information or interface. To me, they imply either:

  • badly thought out app design requiring loading loads of data before the UI can even be shown, or
  • a pathetic branding attempt that spoils UX by unnecessarily delaying app access

Here’s some thoughts on how to (not) do splash screens in apps:

The Ugly

My pet favourite object of splash screen hatred is the MyFitnessPal app. It has not one, but 2-step splash screen. The first one shows a progress bar, which I assume shows the status of data stored locally on my device.

MyFitnessPal – Splash screen stage 1

This is followed by another phase of splash screen madness under the Synchronising data title with a rotating symbol this time (so no indication of progress).

Myfitnesspal – Splash screen stage 2!

Only after the local data has been ‘loaded‘, and synchronised with the servers, is the user allowed to see the app UI. And despite this, the headline daily dairy numbers they show on landing screen is wrong most of the time. Specially if another app (Garmin Connect for me) has synced exercise calories with MyFitnessPal.

This feels so wrong. Why can’t they just show me the default landing page UI right away, letting me do what I do on most app uses – log food consumption – as quickly as possible. The changes can all be synced in the background.

The multiplicity of logos on the splash screen, as well as several other UI decisions in the app seem to convey that MyFitnessPal has a weak UI/X team being overridden frequently by a politically strong marketing/content team.

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Insider lingo, Marketing asset

I placed my lunch order at Kokoro:

Small chicken katsu with rice, please.

The fella after me ordered:

Small chicken katsu curry rice.

There’s a small difference between his order and mine – it’s not just the ‘please’ or the ‘curry’.

He was speaking the lingo of a regular – each word of his order meant something specific – dish (Chicken katso), size (small), base (rice), and optionals (curry). Mine was close, but my server had to separately ask me if I wanted curry on top (yes).

His order statement wasn’t just about efficiency, it was also about signalling – that he was a loyal customer, one who spoke their lingo.

Next door to Kokoro is my favourite coffee shop in town, Harris + Hoole. They’re a chain, owned by Tesco, but with a very independent, neighbourhood coffee shop vibe. You place your coffee order any way you want1 and they happily make it for you. You can even walk over to the Baristas and chat about your coffee, any special mods, day’s weather, or anything else that suits your fancy.

Contrast this one of the most successful marketing & loyalty schemes ever – the institutionalised coffee ordering terminology at Starbucks. It communicates loyalty, gives the customer a feeling of being on the ‘in’, is flexible to let the customer tweak and be unique, all the while being extremely efficient at communicating the order to the Barista. By opening up their internal coffee lingo to the customers, Starbucks created a word-of-mouth marketing & loyalty program that money couldn’t buy.

And they insist on getting customers to learn it2 – by repeating your order in the correct manner when you don’t order it in the lingo. So that when you get it right after that 5th coffee, you’ll feel the quiet joy of accomplishment, of finally belonging to the clique. Welcome to Starbucks elite!

Does anyone know of companies / brands outside retail who have created marketing assets out of their insider lingo? Any startups who’ve created, or tried to create customer loyalty by creating a niche clique?

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Distribution versus Product

What comes first – distribution or the product?

To most businesses, this isn’t even a question – there’s nothing to distribute without the product, so it comes first. But in the new era of lean startup, it’s something to ponder upon for those starting up today.

In the established, fast fading way of building startups, the distribution problem is generally tackled after the product-market fit has been achieved. The focus is on iterating the product based on customer feedback(?) till a P-M fit has been achieved, when you switch to focusing on distribution.

The problem with this approach is demonstrated by the thousands of untouched, unloved landing pages littering the Internet. How do you get valuable, and wide-based customer feedback on your MVP, if you have no distribution – no way of reaching a large number of users.

Low, and reducing, cost of developing MVPs means the battle line is shifting. It’s not as much about building the product right any more, as about getting the right product to the correct, target market. And while the cost of developing that MVP (whether a landing page or more full formed) is coming down fast, the cost of reaching a large number of relevant, interested users (to get the feedback from) is actually increasing due to the large number of MVPs seeking them out.

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Adwords – narrow or broad

This post refers to my work with a startup. Like with all work and consulting projects, I wait at least 6 months before writing/tweeting about them.

While setting up adwords campaign for a product set, I felt 2 different pulls.

  1. Set up keywords as broad as possible to gather the widest set of users who may want our product. Even people who weren’t really looking for our product, or had an idea that a product like ours (so relevant to their needs) even existed. Or,
  2. Set up narrow keywords about our product’s specific focus areas, thus targeting users who are looking for ‘us’.

Option 1 has its pitfalls – broad keywords would mean we’d rank quite low on some of them, and our CPC quite high. However, if designed properly, this had a chance of helping us reach out to a much wider audience and, if clicked, grow really fast.

Option 2, on the other hand, would limit us to only serving users who are looking for a product like ours, or maybe even our specific product. Thanks to high relevance, and narrow focus, the CPC would generally be lower, and clicks per thousand impressions much higher than the first option. However, this would also amount to spending money to preach to the converted, if not the choir. Is that really the best way to spend on adwords?

I started off with option one. Saw really high CPC, really low engagement, but huge number of impressions. I was treating my ads, like any old-school pre-digital marketer, as a billboard next to the freeway. Even though people weren’t clicking through, I was hoping the ads were creating a space for our product/brand somewhere in their memory which might help direct them to us later based on brand recall.

The old school MBA in me was marginally satisfied, but the data wrangler was itching.

So, I set up another campaign. A very narrow one. So narrow that when you searched for any keyword combinations, our website listed in top 10 of organic results. Quite often more than once. And there were only 2 ads shown – ours and that of the only big 800 lb gorilla in our competition. As expected, the ads started resulting in traffic immediately – a trickle, thanks to narrow nature of targeting, but at a very low-cost. Almost 1/8th of the cost of the broader ads, and it could’ve still been optimised further.

Success!! Or was it? Were we paying Google to send us users who were anyway going to come straight to us? Spending money to preach to the converted, if not the choir?

Looking back now, a few months on, I see both ads as being different part of the sales & marketing jenga.

The broader ads, much like the billboards I compared them to, are for brand marketing. The core purpose of these ads is to create awareness for your product/brand for search terms which may be relevant to your potential users, but where you never feature anywhere close to the top results to get any organic traffic (or visibility). Yes, they may land you a few direct users. But the goal is not to land users ‘now’. The goal is to land users in the future. Users who don’t even know that they need, or will need, your product. Goal is to, in old-school marketer speak, create brand recall.

Focusing on CPC for a brand-awareness adwords campaign is the worst metric possible – sorta like checking how many (incremental) people bought insurance from AIG the day after United played in AIG jerseys.

So, how do we calculate the real – total, long-term – benefit of the brand awareness adwords campaigns? I don’t have a strong answer, yet. But impression numbers are a good starting point – higher the better.

The narrower ads are only partially for marketing. Their core goal is to reach out to users for whom your product is a strong match, and then lead them directly to your conversion page* – and only to your conversion page. Not the home page, not the about product page, not a sign-up page, and definitely not (in absence of your ad) to your competitor’s whatever-page. The narrower ads are your sales-activation channel.

For these ads, the focus should be tightly on the cost – your CPCs. Lower your CPCs (multiplied by conversion rates of your conversion page) as a %age of lifetime value of a customer, higher your margins on the sale. Impressions are important too, but not in isolation like the broad, branding ads. The metric that eventually matters is [Impressions x [CPC x Conversion rate (to paid users, or whatever)]], while keeping the second part of that computation as below the LTV as possible. It’s not straight forward, or easy. And in part, its bit of art, along with data science as well. But that’s the fun part, innit ;)

Which ads should you run? Depends on who you are and what you do.

If you are an early stage XaaS business, like we were, I’d suggest you focus on narrow, sales activation campaigns. Money is tight, life is short. Invest in the present, and if we live to tell the tale, we’ll spend enough on marketing to tell the tale we want.

If you are already generating good cash flows, or are handsomely funded, like our 800lb competitor was, do both – broad brand awareness campaigns, and narrow sales activation ones. Further, don’t keep sales activation campaigns to your product. Run narrowly targeted campaigns on all complementary/supplementary products as well. Run narrowly targeted campaigns on products of competitors, potential competitors, and emerging competitors. Don’t hold back. You’ve got an in, a chance, now go for the kill.

As a separate tip, if you’ve grown a bit and have a bit more of a budget to look beyond Google – Facebook is the place to be for broad, branding advertisements, and Twitter is much better suited for narrowly targeted, sales activation ads. Choose your next medium wisely.

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Smart wearables – ‘Game Theory 101’ case study in the making

Google announces a platform for wearables, inviting its industry partners to conceptualise, design, and deliver actual devices.

Apple will release its device(s) – polished, with unified design, closely integrated with rest of its hardware offerings.

Google can then choose to let its industry partners respond, or actively force direction with a Nexus watch kind of product.

Apple might choose to respond by adopting features from Google where it’s lacking, attacking with lawsuits where it’s leading, and with refining the allure of its own product where it sees the need.

It’s a multi step game, one side has huge brand loyalty and an integrated device-platform play, the other has flexibility in strategy and ability to flank. One wants to maximise earnings from hardware sales, other wants more users on its platform.

Neither will play for a draw, though that’s a result both will gladly (eventually) accept.

Place your bets, buckle up, and get ready for a ride.

It’s Game On. Again.

Continue reading Smart wearables – ‘Game Theory 101’ case study in the making

Company-watch on reddit

Pro-tip for marketers:

Learn what people are saying about your company on @reddit with a simple URL:[your-domain]

Example: Track any posts on reddit mentioning/linking Europe’s leading seed investment program here:

P.S.: If the scarcity of posts on that Seedcamp mentions page bothers you, get in touch with the program here: Wanted: Head of Content.

iPhone and the high non-iPhone mobile tariffs

Apple‘s iPhone is widely hailed as a must-have for most mobile operators, so much so that some go to quite some lengths to get the phone on their networks just to stop haemorrhaging of high-value customers.

There seems to be an un-talked-about additional benefit to mobile operators from the rise of iPhone – higher ARPUs on non-iPhone plans than they’d otherwise get.

As visible in the graph above, after taking out the retail cost of the phones, the monthly cost of an iPhone contract is consistently lower than that of the relatively no-risk SIM-Only plans. As a comparison, the similar ex-phone monthly cost of a Samsung Galaxy S3 is also higher than that for an iPhone on both EE and Vodafone (though surprisingly lower on O2 and 3’s networks Note 4-G).

It appears that the operators are giving up margins in the device (compared to pure hardware sellers like Amazon or Curry’s Note 4-F) and/or margins in monthly tariffs (compared to SIM-Only plans) to ensure the iPhone users stay with them. Add in the higher network traffic from iPhone owners (as frequently reported in media Note 5), and higher risk (compared to no-hardware SIM-Only plans) and it seems that the operators are killing the very reason they want iPhone owners so desperately on their network – higher revenue realisation.

My guess is that something else is happening. Instead of a SIM-Only plan being a baseline price, of sorts, and iPhone plans being built upon it to at least recover the phone subsidy, it’s the other way around. Operators have set the ex-phone monthly cost of an iPhone contract at the baseline figure – the minimum revenue realisation they want from a pay-monthly customer. Then, they’ve built all other phone and SIM-Only plans on top of that baseline figure.

This ensures that instead of haemorrhaging on iPhone contracts, and making normal profits on all other contracts, the operators now get to make normal profits on iPhone contracts and above-normal profits on all other contracts.

Thus, the cost of an iPhone contract acts as a high tide raising all the other contract prices along with it, resulting in higher ARPUs for operators than would have been possible in a non-iPhone scenario. Obviously, the telcos must love the iPhone Note 6.


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Netflix – Good Strategy, Bad Execution?

Read this interesting piece on cnet about Netflix’s problems last year, and their CEO Reed Hastings. The author blames, not in these exact words, Reed Hastings for everything that happened, and hints at hubris as the cause.

After reading the article twice, the only fault I can find with the initial decision (of separating DVD & Streaming subscriptions, and increasing prices), is in the way it was rolled out. The decision itself seems strategically perfect.

In fact, had they not so messed up with the execution of that strategy, that decision should’ve gotten Mr. Hastings a standing ovation for foresight and business acumen.

With the benefit of hindsight (and probably even without it), here’s how I think the strategy should’ve been executed:

  1. Limit the number of movies/shows available for streaming to about half of what the median user was streaming. Don’t mess with the price.
  2. Offer a separate unlimited streaming package for $7.99, as they did.
  3. Offer a separate unlimited DVD only package for $7.99, as they did.
  4. DO NOT offer an add-on unlimited streaming bundle to the 1st option for $4.99

This laddering of subscription options will slowly filter the customers into one of the three buckets. Moreover, the lack of the 4th option will help push more customers into choosing one of option 3 or 4, instead of staying with option 1.

Now, keep the new pricing for an year. End of the year, if a majority of the customers are still on #1, increase the price to, say, $14 while still keeping the cap. If not, retire the 1st option forcing the users to choose one of the other two.

Using this ladder & stagger manner,

  1. doesn’t make the users feel like they’re being sucker punched on pricing.
  2. lets the users filter themselves into one of the new buckets without feeling they’re under an ultimatum to do so.
  3. lets the market confirm your business strategy before you’ve made the final split.
  4. reduces the negative voices when you finally decide to remove option 1.

Unless there was some internal politics at play, or pressure from content providers (Hollywood studios or, maybe, Starz), there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for the abrupt, arrogant, even amateurish manner in which the strategy was executed.

Wonder if this could be cited as one of the few instances when having execution-oriented external business consultants at hand would’ve been helpful? :)

Continue reading Netflix – Good Strategy, Bad Execution?