Don’t Let The 80/20 Rule Hold Back Your Mobile Ambitions

It’s true that bad headlines grab readers, even in the world of email newsletters and research reports on technology, digital and social marketing. It’s also true that while many of these stories emit the faint aroma of bad news, they also reveal all sorts of silver linings upon closer inspection.

Last week, Forrester Research’s Thomas Husson published a blog encouraging mobile marketers to consider alternatives to publishing branded apps as a part of winning mobile strategies. Husson predicated his recommendations on the fact that though the typical smartphone user will utilize 24 apps, on average, per month, she will spend 80 percent of her time in just five apps.

Based on that premise and applied narrowly to branded apps, e.g. an app for Heinz ketchup, Husson’s recommendations are solid. He points out you don’t need a mobile app to have a successful mobile strategy. Sometimes, a mobile website that you promote via advertising in other successful apps, mobile search, and video can satisfy your mobile objectives.

Mobile apps and marketing are hard, but you’ve got nothing to fear

What about the premise, though? At first glance it appears pretty discouraging. If you’re a mobile marketer or developer, and your app isn’t driving as many downloads or as much usage as you had planned, or if you haven’t published an app yet, the facts about how many apps really engage a user can make your task seem even harder.

Take 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, Forrester’s news shouldn’t necessarily hold you back.

Run some simple math (5 apps used most heavily divided by 24 apps used every month) and you’ll realize that Forrester has just proclaimed that mobile apps obey the Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 Rule. It suggests that 80 percent of all consumption can be attributed to just 20 percent of all products or users. I bet I spend 80 percent of my TV time on just five networks and 80 percent of my reading in a combination of five websites, magazines and newspapers. In this way, apps join familiar company.

Breaking through in an 80/20 environment is hard but not impossible. The stuff in the 80 percent changes over time. Lifestyles change. Habits shift. Innovators tempt us with newer and better things. That means the content we consume, whether in apps, games, TV or the web, will change. When it does, consumers give marketers an opening.

Also, while smartphones appear to be ubiquitous, they still have a lot of room to grow. In fact, this report estimates that just one third of the world’s population will own a smartphone by 2017. There’s a lot of room for growth, both in phones and apps.

Finally, Husson’s recommendations specifically call out branded apps. If you’ve got an idea for a game or productivity app, on the other hand, they’re not as relevant to you.

Designing, building, publishing, distributing, marketing and monetizing mobile apps is tough work. There are all sorts of reasons why you may fail, and industry articles with daunting headlines can only make the job seem more daunting. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll find that quite often you’ve got nothing to fear.

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