Social Marketing Fella

All Smooth, No Friction at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit

As published on Technorati

Mobile Apps and Great Minds
A year ago PandoDaily writer Paul Carr, gave lodging mobile app Hotel Tonight a less-than-stellar review. “It doesn’t matter how slick your app is, disrupting an industry as complicated as the hospitality business involves building a huge number of real-world relationships,” Carr reported at the time.

Hotels that enroll with Hotel Tonight do so to offer a limited number of unsold rooms at a discounted price.  Hotel Tonight then offers some of those discounted rooms, revealing the deals at noon, daily. The company offers discounted rooms at different hotels each night to prevent users from predicting which hotels will be offered.

Fast forward to today when a group of mobile-minded tech leaders congregated together at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit. Aunkur Arya, general manager at mobile payments providerBraintree, kicked off the discussion with accolades about Hotel Tonight’s app design. The way Arya sees things, if you’re not reducing friction, you shouldn’t be building mobile apps.

In the mobile tech, user app world, friction is inconvenience. It’s the steps that stand between user adoption and user abandonment of an app. Things like repeated credit card entry, repeated log-ins, and too many questions requiring too many keystrokes.

A good article by TechCrunch offered a good comparative analysis on friction by dissecting the taxi-hailing process improved by industry disruptor, Uber.

Standard Process 

  1. Find a Car: Stand on the street waving at taxis as they drive by, hoping one stops (this can take a long time in SF), or call for one, which usually takes 15-30 minutes to arrive.
  2. Set Destination: Tell the driver where you are going.
  3. Ride: Many taxis aren’t the most peaceful drivers.
  4. Take out your wallet and pay with cash (or credit card if they accept it – many don’t).
  5. Tip: Calculate a tip to add to the fare.

Uber Experience

  1. Find a Car: Open app and hit Pick Me Up. The car usually arrives within 10 minutes, sometimes within 5.
  2. Set Destination: Tell the driver where you are going (although you can set this ahead of time)
  3. Ride: Almost always a quiet, peaceful experience.
  4. Pay: Your credit card is charged automatically.
  5. Tip: Tip is calculated for you and included in fare.

Consensus? The mobile app is the equivalent of WD-40 to an antiquated service model.

To our original example, Hotel Tonight does this in the hospitality world by eliminating options that aren’t on point with user objectives. Because the app is designed for last minute, real-time rates on an immediate hotel reservation, the rate that you see is available for the same night and up to five more at most hotels.

Back at the Mobile Summit, this group of mobile thought leaders agrees. To reduce friction at checkout, cross-capture information and promote account creation across channels. Google+ is doing it, Facebook is doing it. It’s one of those win-wins that serves both the consumer and the merchant.

Another theme from the session–don’t try to be everything to everyone. Know your audience, and build your app specifically to fill that utility. Uber doesn’t work for the cheap-o like me who prefers the airport shuttle. Hotel Tonight doesn’t work for the quintessential travel planner (again, me), who would never find himself in some strange city suddenly looking for a hotel. The one time in Montreal after breaking up with my girlfriend being the lone exception.

Mobile leaders in this small but balanced group agree, more information equals less friction as does mobile utility. Both result in greater adoption, greater return visits, and more business. In a crowded app space, these elements are key. A study by Localytics found that just one in four mobile apps are never used again after being downloaded, and 26 percent aren’t used more than once.

As our one hour together drew to a close we went around the table and each gave our last thoughts. Some memorable takeaways:

  1. Sephora pretty much rocks. 80% of consumer purchases are made with use of the brand’s rewards program. Envious? You should be. That’s 3-4x greater than industry averages. Part of this high success rate is because the rewards program is so easily accessible by user mobile devices.
  2. Amazon‘s (still) doing it right. You can be at a conference, hear about a book you’re interested in, buy it, and have it downloaded to your Kindle back at the hotel when the day’s over. Big utility, zero friction.
  3. The Uber excitement hasn’t died down. People love it. You should have no more than one click to complete a transaction, some in this group believe. Others say we’ll see more of Uber’s “no click” transaction solution adopted by others.
  4. Dynamic offers, the kind you’d get walking down the street prompting you to a nearby service? Some like the utility, others say it’s impractical because how many of us are ever just out wandering around, eager for someone to give us direction.
  5. And lastly, incentivize immediate, mobile purchases with a discount, to curb buyer tendency to make the purchase later, at home, on a PC.

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Andre Bourque (SocialMarketingFella) is Editor Emeritus of Technorati.

He covers emerging trends and news in social, mobile, cloud, and related technologies.

Based in San Francisco, he can be contacted via his social channels and at: andrefbourque@gmail.com

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