SXSW Mobile Saturday Recap: From Apps to Obsession: Sparking Enviable Fandom

We get it — a lot goes on at events and SXSW Interactive is no exception, so it’s easy for everything to meld together. But good news! We’re here to help — this is the second of our five panel recaps where we’ll share key takeaways and themes from Urban Airship’s Mobile Saturday at SXSW Interactive Event to help maximize your learning.

The second Mobile Saturday panel discussion, “From Apps to Obsession,” largely revolved around creating a superb experience to drive additional mobile engagement. Carrying that experience across different channels (or into real life) via thoughtful user design was the main topic.

Urban Airship’s Michael Richardson opened up the discussion by asking the panelists how they each think about their audience (or audiences) and how to decide what technology to build for them.

The consensus?

  1. Learn about your users

  2. Design for them based on personas

  3. Use data to inform and refine your approach

Personas to Move Towards Personalization

After Richardson’s opening question, the panelists emphasized thoughtful user design and developing user personas right away as crucial steps to building an app users will enjoy — and return to.

Michael Conley, vice president of digital at the Cleveland Cavaliers, recommends starting with your most loyal fanbase when designing your app. “A lot of people try to go out way too wide,” he said. “We approach it trying to define a very controllable segment.” For the Cavs, that’s their “most loyal [fanbase] […] those that engage with us 365 days/year.”

By starting with your best users, Conley says you can “almost work backwards” as you iterate and update your app since you know that “[your] most passionate fan serves as a ceiling.” Conley said the Cavs’ goal is to personalize for every fan in their ecosystem.

Karin Grant, business development director at Bottle Rocket, added that they focus on finding how each app they build with a brand can serve that customer. She, like many other panelists throughout Mobile Saturday, focused on user testing early on  — “try to get something in their hands as fast as possible — even if it's paper prototypes/drawings,” she said.

.@fanduel @bionicdan says they do persona-based testing. Solicit users for feedback. #mobilesat

— Melanie Nichols (@kiasuchick) March 12, 2016

Personas are an important step to move towards personalization. FanDuel’s Product Director Dan Melinger shared how the fantasy brand gets to know who their users are on a deeper level through personas, prototype testing and daily reminders.

“We spend a lot of time getting to know our users — from every part of the product development lifecycle,” Melinger said. FanDuel has different types of personas, such as social players, those that see it as a job and the commissioner/manager type player. These distinct personalities are all looking for different things when interacting with FanDuel.

The solution? “We create personas to design around those different archetypes,” Melinger says. Then, they bring users into their office or do remote testing sessions, placing a high importance on user feedback early on in development cycles, as well as on an ongoing basis. “We live, eat and breathe designing for our users,” he said.

Data is a Diamond in the Rough: Find it and Use it!

All the panelists highlighted using data to drive design decisions as well as the key to uniting the user experience across different channels.

Getting rid of physical interaction points and making them digital gives you tons more data to understand the user. #mobilesat #sxsw2016

— Dan Polinsky (@danpolinsky) March 12, 2016

Grant said getting a detailed analytics program set up before launch is a good way to see where your users are hitting a wall in your app. She also recommended using data to improve a user’s interaction with a brand. For example, a hotel app could use data to inform the user experience pre-, during and post-stay. Data such as the upcoming weekly weather forecast can help a user pack prior to getting to their destination, and a reminder of where they’re staying (with address) can help smooth out the sometimes-hectic travel experience. She said a similar approach could be applied to brands of a variety of industries to improve the mobile experience for users .

@mpconley is killing it with marketing automation and truly connecting the offline and online world #MobileSat #SXSW2016 #measure

— Isaac Abramowitz (@iabramo) March 12, 2016

For Conley, it’s about going beyond simply implementing a data program around your app and app messaging to actually analyzing campaign activity on a long-term basis. This ongoing evaluation, he says, is key to success and user satisfaction: “Data is only as good as the use cases you have against it. If you don’t evaluate effectiveness long term, you’re developing for yourself, not for your fans”

All Paths Lead Back to Your App’s Value Proposition & Respecting Users

At the end of the day (and session), the panelists emphasized that the success of your app and business always comes back to the user. Grant said a best practice when asking people to opt-in or allow access to certain apps/utilities (microphone, calendar, etc.) is being clear about how this information will serve the user or the benefit they’ll receive. A screen that explains how these different opt-ins will be used prior to the default iOS screen can be valuable.

Having a clear value proposition that’s clearly communicated to users helps ensure their understanding and stickiness with your app. Also, when brands allow users to tell them how and when they want to be interacted with, it benefits both the brand and the user. “We don’t want to bombard [our fans. We] want to set thresholds for how to engage to provide a relevant experience,” Conley said. “[App users] have to opt-in to so many things — it’s a marketer’s dream — we have to be careful with that and we we want to respect that.”

Conley may have summed it up best: “Be respectful, because at the end of the day, all this stuff we’re trying to automate — there’s a human on the other side — [and they’re] ultimately the one you have to impress.” — Michael Conley, Vice President, Digital, Cleveland Cavaliers

Be sure to check our blog this week and next for other panel recaps, or get the whole scoop on takeaways from our Mobile Saturday event by downloading our overview: 15 Key Insights from Mobile Saturday at SXSW.