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Episode 74: Why great apps make it personal

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All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

It’s an app happy world, and Kelly Slessor loves it. The brains behind BanterMob, she’s dedicated to making others’ lives easier, and believes the keys to a successful app are that its design be simple, it’s easy to use and it saves you time.

Something of a data nerd, Kelly combed through 40,000 Apple App store reviews — which she calls the new currency — last year. What she discovered about customer sentiment could make a huge difference for your small business.

So tune to Xero Gravity #74 and you’ll also hear Kelly’s other great insights, like why Google Maps is a must for your brand, the importance of a sound mobile strategy and the rise of voice-activated tech. All that plus words of wisdom on app personalization, Kelly’s excitement about artificial intelligence and the wacky Hipmunk app. Boom!

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Episode transcript

Host: Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]

Guest: Kelly Slessor [KS]

EÜ: Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Ü, and this is Xero Gravity.

KS: My phone knows where I am. It knows what the weather's like. It knows what time of day it is. It knows who I'm going to meet next. It knows what room I'm sat in. If you could use that intelligence and improve my day and make it easier, then I think for me, that would be the biggest application of technology at the moment.

EÜ: That's Kelly Slessor, a true lover of apps and all things mobile. She's the brains behind BanterMob Mobile Marketing, and she's a firm believer that we should use technology to solve problems, not the other way around. Kelly says the key to building a successful app is to keep it simple, make it easy to use, and save customers' time.

I'm a little bit confused by apps, because it seems to me that these days, everything is an app.

KS: Well, I suppose from a consumer point of view — and then that's what I think of— I'm always focused on what the consumer defines as an app, or a mobile site. It would be something they download from a store to their phone. It's as simple as that. We see apps as something we download to our phone, that sits on our home screen or on our carousel screen, and we utilize, on a day-to-day basis, or every now and again.

EÜ: Are games apps too?

KS: Absolutely, in fact gaming is probably one of the biggest, is one of the biggest industries in the app world.

EÜ: That's from not only number of downloads, but how much money is actually crossing the transactions?

KS: Yeah.

EÜ: What sparked your interest in apps?

KS: Well, I've been in mobile for nearly twenty years now. I started my career in British Telecom. At that time, I was building out big technical products, and I then went on to run a mobile content company in Australia. Back then, only Facebook didn't exist, where we had WAP technology, so we were doing campaigns, and we were doing client campaigns using really slow WAP technology. When the iTunes store came into play, and the mobile internet got faster, it was kind of gold dust to us people in the mobile industry, because actually, the things we'd been talking about for years and trying to do and implement for years actually started to happen. My passion is in simplifying people’s lives. That's what I'm all about. It's actually not about the technology, but I love how the ability to connect with so many millions of people in the App Store allows us to build things that do that on a grand scale, and test them constantly.

EÜ: Well, so tell me more about this passion for simplifying people's lives. Is this based on some personal experience, perhaps?

KS: I think it comes from being in the technology industry for so long, and seeing so many implementations of seeing people build stuff out, or build technology out, where they think it's a good idea. And I do believe we've got to a point where, in a lot of cases, we build technology for the sake of technology. We're almost creating problems for technology to fill instead of working out what the problem is. If you look at all the working out what the problem is that we can solve with technology, and if you look at some of the highest-performing apps with the highest consumer sentiment in terms of reviews and downloads, it's things like Über, it's things like your Airbnb. It's not just because they've come up with a great, amazing concept, because we actually had all of those services before they came along. They just made them a lot more simple, and they solved the problem of saving us time, which is ultimately what it's all about, right?

EÜ: Yeah. What's a challenge in your own life that you wish some app would come along and make more simple for you?

KS: Just organizing my life. I mean, I was talking to a head of a big architectural firm a couple of days ago, and we were talking about workplaces, and I was saying, "In Australia, Google Maps is one of the highest downloaded apps across the world, highest used apps across the world." I didn't understand why that was happening, because, I mean, Sydney's pretty small, and we don't travel outside of Sydney. Well, I personally don't. I don't go across the bridge that much. To get anywhere else, it's like a three hour drive. I was fascinated by this, so I did an analysis of the reviews in the App Store. I read about five thousand reviews and categorized them into the reasons why, which is my data junkie side of me. What I actually found was, it was all about saving time. The reason in which we are downloading Google is because we want to get from A to B in the quickest possible time. One of the things we were talking about was, how do you help people, when they're on that commute journey, to save time?

If they're running late, how do you let people know they're running late? How do you make sure the coffee’s there when they arrive? My phone knows where I am. It knows what the weather's like. It knows what time of day it is. It knows who I'm going to meet next. It knows what room I'm sat in. It knows everything about me. It knows how late I'm running for my next meeting, which is not too often, but if you could use that intelligence and improve my day and make it easier, then I think for me, that would be the biggest application of technology at the moment, personally.

EÜ: You must be really excited, then, about all of the voice-activated functionality that not only phones, but other devices are introducing into the mix these days.

KS: I am, I am, but I think there's a learning curve with it, and there's a natural way, and although our natural language to speak from person to person is voice, our natural language to speak to phone is not voice yet. So there is an excitement around it, but I think as with SMS, when we first launched some of the first ever SMS campaigns, we saw — the great thing about SMS — it was quick, and it was a hundred and sixty characters, so it was quick communication, but we saw this learning curve that took place. I remember sending my first SMS when I had my big, massive phone that plugged into a middle of a car and you had to carry a suitcase around with the phone attached to it to charge it. It took a while.

Now, the rate of technology, and the rate of change, is so much quicker nowadays, so I am excited about it, and we're actually looking at how we can use it with some clients. But I think the adoption will be, there will be a learning phase that we need to go through before we actually fully adopt it.

EÜ: What's an example of a campaign that, either one that you've been working on or one that you've seen out in the marketplace, that you think has done a really good job of taking advantage of the most exciting app technology that you see?

KS: I think Pokemon Go at the moment. It is absolute genius. It went from zero engagement to seven million in about six days, and it was a real interesting use of technology that we haven't really seen evolve yet.

EÜ: Well, what's interesting about that is, to me... I have an undergraduate degree in geography, and here you're saying that Google Maps is one of the most downloaded apps worldwide. Do you think that there's other opportunities for businesses to use, whether it's geocaching games, or other sort of geographically oriented technology, to promote their services?

KS: Yeah. I think there's a really basic tactical way, and I don't know if I mentioned, I work with Westfield, so I work with a lot of their retailers. One of the things we do when we're looking at their consumer journey on mobile, and generally, on digital, is I look at how they're being found. Now, we've all done this, where at the weekend, or during the week, we'll jump on our phones, and we'll search for anything from skinny black jeans to the latest computer technology. The way in which brands, companies, or retailers are found, is A, because they've got a website presence, but also that in Google Maps — and we're seeing it more and more — if you jump onto Google Maps on your phone, you can see businesses pop up around you locally. We search that for local coffee shops, when we're not in our area, and we find the ones with the best reviews.

One of the really tactical pieces of advice, and things that I work with, with both small independent businesses and the big ones, actually, is actually looking at their presence on Google Maps and ensuring that they have really good imagery that is visible on mobile. That they have their location is really clear, and that they have reviews on there that people are reviewing them and saying great things about them. So that it almost makes it a no-brainer for me to go to that business whenever I Google something specific.

EÜ: Right. Is it popping up right on your phone? It's easy to see, you know what you're going to get, what to look for when you're walking down the street?

KS: Absolutely.

EÜ: I think this actually brings up a point that I wanted to ask you about, which is that here is a mobile marketing solution that has nothing to do with actually creating another app. This is something that I feel like I've seen a lot with some of the smaller banks. I mean, I'm a huge fan of the Move Your Money campaign, and so I prefer to support smaller credit unions rather than the huge banks. A lot of them have launched an app. So there's a standalone app where I can do my online banking with them, and I'll be totally honest, I don't want to download another app. I just want to do what I need to do on a mobile site that actually works. It seems like whether we're talking about airlines or banks or whatever it is, so often they're going to launch this app that, again, I don't want, I don't know if I'm unusual, but other people don't necessarily want, and the mobile site, there's always some point in the process where the mobile site doesn't actually work.

How do you advise them, as far as determining whether it makes sense to launch a standalone app versus really just focus on whether it's the mobile site? Or, like you just said, making sure that their...

KS: A mobile strategy.

EÜ: ... Google Maps strategy is working.

KS: Yeah. Yeah. There's kind of two parts to that question, and honestly, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, "I've got an app idea," I would be literally a millionaire. I would make a lot more money than I do now. I get it a lot. I get it from big businesses and small businesses, and there are two million apps in the App Store, in the Apple App Store. Seventy-five percent of users don't return after the first use, and twenty percent of apps only get used once. There's a lot of money being piled into making these apps. I've seen clients spend five thousand dollars on building an app, and a million dollars on building an app, and the downloads to justify that return on investment on, or sort of that investment on both ends, have not stacked up.

Which is the point that, sometimes, when I get called in, when they come in and they say to me, "Look, we've spent a million dollars," or, "We've spent ten thousand dollars on building this application, and we're not getting the downloads," and I look at the app, and I go, "Well, where's the value in it?” What you've done is taken what we can do on a mobile site and added the functionality onto the app and added a couple of more bangs and whistles. But where's the real problem that you're trying to solve with this application that makes someone like you, Elizabeth, go, “Actually, this is enough value in this for me to have this on my phone, to have this as a constant presence on my phone and utilize it.”
I think that's what we miss.

On another note — and this is kind of the second part of your question — is the App Store, or the app environment, will evolve. My son said something to me the other day. He asked me to download something for him, and I said to him, "Yeah, you're going to have to ... it's just downloading," and he said, "Why does it take so long?" I said, "Yeah, that's a good point." He said, "Why can't it just be there?" I said, "That's really interesting." I'm obviously molding him without even realizing it. What I believe we will get to is a point where it won't really matter what you go to on your phone, but you will have that app experience. It won't be a clunky, "I'm either in mobile site, or I'm in app."

EÜ: Well, and it's starting to happen, and I wanted to ask you about the things that we can learn from some of the more successful multi-purpose apps, like WeChat or Facebook Messenger, or even Snapchat has really gotten a lot more complex than it was when it first came about. If in the old days, if I can use that term, apps were often one-hit wonders that could do one thing, and they did it well, but we're seeing a lot more integration or combined functionality. What can you say about that and where things are going?

KS: Absolutely. We're spending one and a half hours a day in messaging apps. We spend more time in messaging than social media, and this is why I say voice is going to take some time to evolve, because messaging is our natural language on mobile now. That kind of quick text message is our natural language, and actually the product I'm developing at the moment is based on a messaging format platform. If you take AOL, for instance, I think AOL's a great example for me. I talk about it being that walled garden example, which people still try and replicate in some ways, but it became this portal of everything. I think we actually don't want a portal of everything. We compartmentalize, as humans, psychologically, we compartmentalize.

EÜ: One of the ways that I've found this to be most interesting, from the consumer side, is, again, I'm, I don't know why I'm obsessed with airlines right now, but some of the chatbot functionality. You're getting customer service, you're getting directed to the exact page on a website you're trying to find, just by interacting with their online cartoon character chatbot person. I mean, this is really changing how we're finding the information that we're looking for.

KS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Again, the platform I'm working on is a shopping platform, and it's exactly the same thing. It's like when I want a pair of black boots, or when I want a new top for work, I am overwhelmed by choice, and it's the same with airlines. We're overwhelmed by choice. We don't have time, which is our biggest commodity. We don't have time to search for thousands and thousands of products, and thousands and thousands of airline tickets, but we want to know that we're making an informed choice. We need a certain amount of choice. There needs to be a certain amount of research. If I was to say to you now, "I'm going to give you an app where you asked for an airline ticket, and I'll give you one," that may sound like a great idea, but in reality, human nature is such that we want to discover and we want to research to make sure we're making the best choice for us. The validation process.

I need to give you links or information and let you go on a journey of actual discovery, but at the moment, we're actually taking that to an extreme. I mean, the last time you searched for airline tickets online, how many airline tickets came back to you?

EÜ: I mean, this is so interesting, and I think it really speaks to the importance of psychology. So we're not really just appealing to people's reason and rational thought. I heard recently that Hipmunk, those results, if you're searching for the cheapest airline ticket on Hipmunk — and I love how they're sorting them by agony — it's not just price or duration, it's like they're a combination of the two, so you can find the flight that has the least agony.

KS: Yeah. It's that process of research. We need to know that we are making the best possible choice out of a selection of choices.

EÜ: What do you think makes an app really good? Maybe you can give some examples of what you think are the best apps that you've seen.

KS: So there's your Spotify and things like that. That is all about personalization. That's all about a space on my phone that is about me that you make sure that every time I go in there, there is content for me personally, and I think personalization, it's one of the biggest keys to the success of applications going forward. Going back to my point earlier on, you know me, you know where I am, you know what I'm doing, you probably know what mood I'm in. There's so much you know that my phone knows about me, and using that information to actually save me time, whatever it might be. Last year, I read about forty thousand app reviews around retail and eCommerce and loyalty, and some in sport and health and fitness as well, trying to look for what is the common thing that people say about amazing apps. Your calorie counter, your Runkeeper, your Spotify… all of those apps. One of the amazing things that people are saying about them, and it was simple, simple to use, easy to use, and saved me time.

They were the three biggest things that came out of that research.

EÜ: How much do you think the actual App Store fronts are influencing the apps that people get access to, relative to which ones might actually providing the best value?

KS: Oh, hugely. I think 65% of apps are found using App Store search, basically. One of the things that I work with a lot of brands on, as well is App Store optimization, because it's such a key area that people miss out on, and reviews. Reviews are totally the new currency. If you think about the last time you searched for an iPhone app that you knew about, or an app that you didn't know about, that you were looking to solve a problem. Generally the path of course is, we'll jump on our mobile, we'll go into the App Store, we'll go, "Is there an app that solves this problem," or, "Someone's told me about this app, so I'll search for that." I get a list of apps, and then I'll look, even without knowing, it's a subliminal process, I will look at the star rating, and I will decide... 85% of users decide based on that star rating.

EÜ: Word of mouth isn't really as important, then, as those good reviews.

KS: I think they're equal. I think word of mouth is still important. And you hear about, I hear about apps all the time from friends, and depending on what category it's in on business blogs and things like that, but that App Store optimization and the online reviews is absolutely driving a huge percentage in downloads.

EÜ: In all of the research that you've done, and given all of the different technologies that you have been involved with over the course of your career, what are you most excited about, as far as what apps can do for small businesses and entrepreneurs and startups, especially in the marketing space?

KS: I'm excited about artificial intelligence. I'm really excited about the ability for artificial intelligence to cut down the amount of time we need to process things, and to intelligently learn our behavior over time. Because we know that having hundreds of thousands of people sat on the end of an app, texting people back, is not financially viable, and it doesn't stack up. But having artificial intelligence where you're constantly learning, and then you can use people in an emotional intelligent way, as opposed to almost a computer-generated script way, to actually fulfill the needs of people on the go, is probably the biggest area of excitement for me. I'm actually working with the, he's world renowned Dr. Richard Xu, who's the head of machine deep learning for University of Technology in Sydney. And I'm working with him on the project or the product that I'm working on at the moment. The intelligence in this space, for want of a better word, is amazing, and I find it fascinating. For me, that's kind of the next step, or that's the bit I get excited about.

EÜ: Is this accessible to small businesses, or what's a good entry point, if you're really small and wanting to get your toe in the water in this space?

KS: Absolutely. I mean IBM Watson is probably higher end, but there are some artificial intelligent learning products out there like Kick. There's some really… Google have got their own version. There are some things that you can embed in your application that allow you to learn as you go along and give people what they need based on that learning. On top of that, it's also constantly doing that consumer validation and surveying them in app, and asking them questions, so it's basic old stuff, but it works.

EÜ: Well, this has been super fascinating. I also think that we need to credit you with coining the term "appsolutely."

KS: No, please don't.

EÜ: Ba-dum ching.

KS: Please credit me with intelligent stuff.

EÜ: This is so fun. Thanks Kelly so much for joining us on Xero Gravity.

KS: No problem. Thank you for listening to me.

EÜ: That was Kelly Slessor, founder and director at BanterMob Mobile Marketing. Thanks for listening to Xero Gravity. We are Yoda, and we'll see you next time.

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