5 Growth Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn From the Most Popular Mobile Apps

Features such as gamification, social functions, and a clean UX are great things to prioritize if you want to stand out from the crowd and stand the best chance of out-competing your rivals. 
mobile phones and apps

Almost all of the top mobile apps these days are owned by hugely successful businesses and some of the world’s most recognizable brands. This is not a coincidence. After years of underestimating the potential benefits of mobile applications, most corporate decision-makers have allocated significant resources to the development of mobile apps that complement their portfolio of products and services, and it’s easy to see why.

Apps now account for 90% of the time we spend on our phones. Thus, a well-designed app is an excellent tool for deepening customer relationships, increasing brand awareness, and generating revenue, all of which are critical components of running a successful business. 

Furthermore, suppose you manage to attract a loyal user base to your new app. In that case, it can serve as an excellent marketing tool that gives you direct access to a large audience, opening up new opportunities to upsell, cross-sell and drive home more profit.

The good news is that unlike many other forms of marketing,  it can be hard for your competitors to replicate this type of strategy, since developing an app is a time-consuming and often expensive process, which means you can gain a competitive advantage over your rivals.

With that said, if you’re a small business owner, you may be wondering where to begin and what features to incorporate into your app to give yourself the best chance of success. One of the best places to look for inspiration is at the top of the download charts, since these apps have already proven that they are doing something right and seem to have resonated with their specific market segment.

Of course, each company is different, and your application will have its own set of unique goals and challenges. However, there are some common traits among the top players in the app market, regardless of the industry or demographics targeted. Let’s look at some of the key growth lessons that small business owners can learn from the market leaders.

1. Go social 

Looking at the top charts, just about every app has some sort of social feature, where users can communicate and interact with each other. Even Google Maps has a wide variety of social functionalities such as public reviews, messaging, the ability to follow local guides, and a news feed that updates with local events.

When developing an application for your small business, it would be a good idea to try and innovate some social features to keep users engaged with your app, so they continue using it, thus giving you more opportunities to generate revenue. 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Customizable profiles
  • Social media integration and easy sharing 
  • Ability to follow or friend other users
  • Newsfeeds

2. Aim for a clean and simple UX

Whether you provide a free or paid app, the quality of the user experience is critical to its success. As evidenced by the top charts, competition is fierce, and there is no room for shoddy apps riddled with friction, clutter and glitches.

Users don’t always require complexity and dazzling graphics when it comes to mobile design. Most of the time, this just gets in the way of the app’s core function. Therefore, your mobile design should cater to your user base’s needs first and focus on style second. 

Through creating an intuitive, simple design experience on your mobile app, you provide customers with the satisfaction they seek, as well as a positive association with your brand and customer service, and the secret to making this a reality is with simple navigation and a minimalist design.

3. Focus on branding 

Many of the most popular mobile apps have become world-famous brands, such as TikTok, Candy Crush and Pinterest. This didn’t happen by accident. All of these companies have carefully fostered their brand image from the very beginning of their journeys, and so should you. 

With this in mind, try to make your app stand out from the crowd by highlighting your uniqueness and core values. 

With that said, your app should remain consistent with the rest of your business practices, so try to stick with the same logos, images, typography, and colors that you already use so that your customers and users know who they are dealing with and can begin to develop more trust and loyalty with your brand.

4. Consider your target demographics carefully

It’s hard to find a truly universal app. The age ranges of the leading platforms vary quite drastically. For example, TikTok’s user base is nearly 60% female, with 47.4% of their active users aged between 10 and 29. In contrast, male users between the ages of 25 and 34 constitute the biggest demographic group on Facebook. 

This means that even though they are both social media platforms, the companies’ marketing tactics and design priorities might vary widely, adjusting their strategies to keep their app relevant and appeal to their specific user base. 

With this in mind, you need to keep your target market in mind. Try to refrain from offering products and services (or trying to engage in ways) that don’t resonate with them. Instead, hone in on what methods of engagement work best for your target user base and figure out what features and deductions they want to see from your application. 

You can do this by observing your competitors or simply going out there yourself and conducting primary research through in-app questionnaires, social polls, or sending an email asking for feedback, linking to a survey you’ve created. 

5. Gamify the experience

Mobile gaming is now the biggest gaming sector globally, accounting for over 57% of global gaming revenue. Pretty impressive, right? Looking at the top download charts on both the iOS and Google Play Store, it’s easy to see just how popular games have become, with both of the charts showing plenty of mobile games.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to turn your app into a game and sacrifice the integrity of what you are trying to achieve. Still, there are some features you can implement to make your app more attractive to users and to keep them coming back time and time again.

For example, many developers have added gamification elements into their applications, even if they aren’t in the gaming niche per se. These gamified elements help to trigger a sense of achievement and thus motivate users to use your app even more. 

Let’s take a look at Duolingo, the most popular free education app in the world, as an example. Even in this niche, the developers have managed to include various gamification features in order to increase user interest, such as:

  • Badges
  • Progress displays
  • Quizzes
  • Leaderboards
  • Rewards
  • Daily streaks

Win like the big boys

Developing a mobile app isn’t easy, especially when you consider the fierce competitiveness of the market. However, by taking lessons from some of the most popular apps on the download charts, it’s early to see some prevalent trends that developers use to pique the interest of their users to keep them coming back. 

Features such as gamification, social functions, and a clean UX are great things to prioritize if you want to stand out from the crowd and stand the best chance of out-competing your rivals. 

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