How To Take Advantage Of The Top Two Motivations For Using Apps: Loneliness And Boredom

My parents' dog, Cosmo, bored while watching television.
My parents’ dog, Cosmo, bored while watching television.

When I first saw last week’s Nielsen report that shows we download apps most of all when we’re bored and lonely, I felt despair. How unfortunate to think that the cumulative effect of entrepreneurial creativity, hard work, and risk is a battle for a consumer with nothing better to do.

Developers and mobile marketers: turns out you’re not only competing with millions of other apps. You also have to worry about daytime television, salty snacks, and over 8 million Bing search results to the query “I’m bored what do I do.” (Of which “reading the Matt Collins Blog” is almost certainly an option.)

After a couple of days and, thanks to Halloween, enough Milk Duds to induce lockjaw, I’ve come around. Competing with the stuff that vies for our idle time is a blessing.

First, it puts apps in a lucrative, albeit crowded category of alternatives for those with a surplus of time. I bet M&M-Mars, Frito Lay, and Coca-Cola have shelves full of research studies about their product categories that read a lot like Nielsen’s. Nearly every reality TV show comes into existence not for the enrichment of its viewers, but to simply keep televisions in the “on” position. It’s hard to imagine that moviegoers trudged to the theaters to watch the six (six!) Police Academy sequels for any other reason than pure grade, triple distilled boredom.

Killing time must be a hundred billion dollar sector of the economy. That smells like a golden mobile opportunity.

Second, when we’re bored, rational thinking evaporates and emotions take over. When we’re bored, we respond to stimuli that promise the most modest of improvements to our condition. When I marketed video games, I learned right away that it was a lot more productive (and fun) to market the things kids wanted, not the things they needed. After all, no one needs a video game.

Armed with the certainty that customers use apps while waiting for something else to happen empowers app developers and mobile marketers to change the way they engage the market. The pitch you gave your investors highlighting your innovation, technology, and development team probably won’t convince the dull minded to download your creation.

So shift gears and ask yourself, “What makes the app awesome?” This is the sort of stuff that will appeal to the bored mind. To help you along, consider the following:

  • How did you and your team feel the first time you got the app to work as you had planned?

  • How will users feel when they do that?

  • If your users were going to tell a friend about your app, what words would you hope they use?

  • Recognizing that pictures tell a thousand words, can you capture screenshots that are likely to evoke this response?

Third, mobile devices give your boredom killer a built-in advantage. If you haven’t noticed, mobile is all the rage these days. All the non-mobile companies I mentioned earlier would love to figure out how to bring their solutions to life on the billion or so smartphones into the world. Until someone invents a Star Trek Replicator app, many will be on the outside looking in.

In other words, fighting for the sluggish is a windfall waiting to happen. That’s not to say it will be easy. Nailing what makes your app awesome and finding the right words, visuals, and channels to communicate it is at least as hard as it was to put together your investor deck. You can’t afford to give this exercise short shrift.

After all, you’re competing against entire industries that long ago figured out that their success depends on compelling the inattentive. If you’re going to win, you’re going to have to play their game.


  1. […] We download apps when we’re lonely and bored, but when our checkbooks are depleted, we’re dwelling on potentially awkward family encounters, and girding ourselves for long lines at the toll booth or airport security lines, we seek solutions to our problems. Shopping, mapping, livery, and banking apps: I’m looking in your direction. […]


  2. […] post originally appeared on Matt’s Blog, and is re-used here with […]


  3. […] a second look, though. Just as my post on loneliness and boredom, the two top motivators of app usage, encourage readers to look on the bright side, […]


  4. […] post originally appeared on Matt’s Blog, and is re-used here with […]


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