How to Build an App That Keeps Users Coming Back

Written on
Jun 6, 2013 
Alan Knitowski  |

ADOTAS – GigaOm recently reported that over 50 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple App Store; however, research has shown that 25% of those apps are only used once. Not only is that bad for the user as a lack of usability makes an app less engaging, but it’s bad for companies’ ROI. If brands are investing big bucks into their mobile apps, what differentiates those apps that become beloved among users, from those hardly touched after downloading, ultimately deciding for a brand whether mobile is worth it? The answer: A strategy that will engage users with great content, seamlessly manage a user’s efforts and enable monetization across any vertical.

Take LinkedIn, for example. The company’s new LinkedIn Contacts app engages by incorporating great content. LinkedIn Contacts provides useful content, pulling professional contact information not only from LinkedIn, but from Google, Yahoo! and Evernote, and enables access to all of this information from a single location. The app will be a great addition to the company’s mobile strategy if it moves beyond just content to focus on management and monetization as well. Content is a good starting place, but brands also need to have a blueprint of how to manage all of that content and track what users are doing within an app, and figure out a way to see a positive return from it.

To see success with mobile, brands need to address content, management and monetization, and make all three components work together. If one strand is left out, an opportunity is missed, and all that’s left is a disjointed, one-dimensional app.


An app’s content, in addition to its utility, comprise its foundation, as what it does and provides is what drives users to return again and again. After all, mobile applications can be highly emotional and personal for users, and if a brand does not engage or delight, a user will not be incented to stay, engage or return.

The key to creating great content comes from a brand’s understanding of its customers – what they want, what interests them and what they need. If a brand’s customers are active on social media, the app should have shareable content that easily pulls to and from social communities, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

To revisit our LinkedIn example, the choice to only pull from contacts via email and Evernote was both smart and strategic, because LinkedIn users are looking for professional contact information, not solely social contacts.


Engaging apps make for engaged users. And ongoing success depends on how data is managed. If an app has push notifications and location-based services but forgets the content management piece, a brand will find themselves with great content, but no way to leverage it. We’re seeing this happen a lot – more than we expect, given the numerous amounts of available applications.

One of the reasons for this disconnect is the disparate systems and sources brands use to pull their data streams into one application. In other words, brands are using one vendor to build an app, another to create content, a third to create mobile videos, a fourth to enable social media interaction from the app, and so on. Not only does employing multiple vendors for all of these capabilities require more effort and money, but it makes it impossible to run a seamless application. Each component works against another, instead of enabling all components to work together.

For a truly comprehensive app where all of the moving parts – content, push notifications, rewards, location-based services, etc. – work together, they need to employ a universal login and be managed from a single platform.


Monetization of an app can take place many ways – it all depends on the strategy decided upon by the brand. One common option includes charging for an app and not servicing ads and sponsorships. As a result, this does not require ad targeting. Free apps with ads and sponsorships require targeting and are another option for monetization. A brand can even decide to include its content as a part of the app experience, or require in-application purchases of its content for consumption.

Targeted advertising is a great way to monetize, as it allows brands to reach their core group of consumers. However, analytics are needed for targeted advertising, which is why it is important to aggregate data from every aspect of an application to assess which strategies are working and which are not, thus allowing for better content and targeted in-app advertising. This can be achieved easily if everything is housed on one platform and if it’s done correctly, in-app monetization is achievable.

A monetization strategy should lead the app creation process, as the opportunity to generate a new revenue steam is almost limitless. As such, building a way to see that return can ultimately make or break a brand on mobile.

Content, management and monetization each play a vital role in ensuring users are engaged with apps and it’s those users that ultimately decide a brand’s fate in the mobile ecosystem. Only when all three components are incorporated into the larger mobile strategy can a brand truly benefit from its investment in mobile.

Alan Knitowski, CEO of Phunware

Alan is a successful serial entrepreneur with multiple post Internet and technology bubble exits to such companies as Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), Level 3 Communications (NASDAQ: LVLT) and Internet Security Systems (NASDAQ: ISSX). He has been a Founder, Executive, Angel Investor and Fund Manager throughout his career in the private sector after serving in the United States Army as an Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger qualified Captain in the Corps of Engineers both domestically and abroad. He has also created and managed companies that have won both regional and national awards for growth, including the 2008 Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Orange County and the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 North America awards. As a mobile industry expert Alan is frequently quoted in trade publications and is a frequent panelist in industry events.

Previously, Alan was President of Alternative Investments for Curo Capital LLC and both Managing Director and President of Strategic Investments for Trymetris Capital Management LLC. In the past he was a Co-Founder and Director of Telverse Communications, a next-generation advanced services ASP focused on wholesale communications services for carriers, service providers and value-added resellers, which was acquired in July 2003 by Level 3 Communications. Before this time, Alan was Director of Marketing for the Voice Technology Group at Cisco Systems and was responsible for business, market and community development, including business planning and strategy for Cisco’s global packet communications initiatives. In November 2000, Alan joined Cisco as part of the Vovida Networks acquisition, where he served as Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer and led the company from idea conception through its eventual acquisition by Cisco.

In the past, Alan was an Angel Investor and Director of vCIS, a proactive software behavior analysis and anti-virus security company, and helped negotiate and structure its acquisition by Internet Security Systems in October 2002, which was subsequently acquired by IBM (NYSE: IBM) in August 2006. Additionally, he was a Founding Director of both the Open Multimedia Protocol Alliance (OMPA) and the International Softswitch Consortium (ISC) in 1999, which were subsequently merged and scaled to nearly 200 companies prior to renaming itself to become the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC) in 2003. During his tenure at the consortium, Alan served as its Vice Chairman, Co-Chair of its Government Liaison Working Group and one of its external evangelists.

Alan has worked in various operational, line management and consulting roles with The Results Group, Nortel Networks, Hewlett-Packard and the United States Army. Alan holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, an MS in industrial engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a BS in industrial engineering from the University of Miami (Magna Cum Laude). He has delivered and moderated general and executive sessions at various events and conferences within the communications industry, has appeared on radio and television to discuss next-generation networking, packet communications and outsourcing and has delivered educational sessions on next-generation networking and packet communications to the United States Federal Communications Commission. Alan resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife Kelly and their four young children, and currently serves as a member of the President’s Council of the University of Miami. He also serves as a member of the Central Texas Angel Network and the Austin Technology Council.

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