The rise in popularity of mobile devices has coincided with the creation of some of the world’s largest companies. These devices, impressive on their own, have also created a platform for brands to quickly and easily connect with consumers. Marketers have been able to push their products, offer services, create communities and ultimately condense the ‘evaluation’ phase of a typical consumer decision journey. Our digital environment continues to become more prolific and fractured on a daily basis. In response there seems be points of tension and anxiety from brands with regards to the strategy they need to take in order to be ‘everywhere’. Is it a constellation of apps, a multi-functional platform, or a little bit of both?
Before we dig into the benefits of multi-app vs. multi-functional platforms, it’s important to understand that it will be hard to make this decision without reliable data. You need to have a keen understanding on not only where your customers are, but how they are using existing platforms. Are there specific tasks that are being performed with a high degree of frequency? What are some primary behaviors you can infer from that? Data is key towards not only making the right decision, but being confident in that decision.
If we take a look at what the benefits are of a great multi-app (app constellation) strategy, it’s easy to start out with User Experience. By being able to focus on a specific function or use case, you’ll ensure that the end experience is not too clunky, hard to find or difficult to understand for the user. This point is emphasized further when thinking particularly about mobile devices, as in-app screen space comes at a premium, and can quickly become overcrowded.
Additionally, multi-app strategies allow companies to build a brand that resonates across multiple markets and services. Take Google for example. There are multiple points of entry to their suite of apps, and each one of them works seamlessly with the others. Consumers who enter the realm of Google through Gmail, may find it easier to then go ahead and use Chrome, Maps, Drive, Calendar and more. Suddenly, without really even realizing it, they’ve found that the Google Suite of apps have satisfied all of their needs and they all work together really well.
Lastly, the time to market for a company who employs an app constellation is much shorter than that of a multi-functional platform. An upgrade to a particular service in an app constellation requires development/testing on that individual app. Whereas in order to do the same thing on a multi-functional platform, there would need to be extensive testing done to ensure that the changes made do not effect any other aspect of the experience. This results in faster upgrade times, and quicker deployment on the Apple Store or Google Play.
A multi-functional platform has the added benefit of providing your consumers everything that they need, in one place. In today’s day and age, brand disintermediation will allow marketers to use their all-in-one platform as a brand image, while redirecting other services to third parties. For example, a restaurant chain could have one major brand platform while extending their delivery and ecommerce functions to third party platforms such as Grub hub and Amazon. It’s getting harder and harder, from an ROI perspective, to justify keeping those services under the same roof.
Additionally, the data seems to tell us that a lot of multi-app strategies don’t seem to working as expected. Facebook, for example has deployed over 20 standalone apps that attempt to solve some aspect of a consumers social networking agenda. However, only two of them have really caught on at the scale one could expect from such a massive company. Those are Facebook proper and Messenger. The later of which now acts as its own platform to build mini-apps and services on, providing a sticky landing place for the user.
There have been plenty of failed experiments along the way to that point, which some would say is actually a benefit of the multi-app strategy. Without knowing that something like Facebook’s Slingshot (Snapchat Clone) or Paper (designed to read articles) would fail, they never would have been able to design the experiences that they have today. If your company has some room to take risks, it may not be a bad idea to test and iterate in that way. See what catches on and roll with it. Again, it’s all in the data.
The debate between multi-app strategies and multi-functioning platforms has been picking up recently. It really comes down to the product or service that you’re offering and if that can be easily parsed across multiple experiences, or if keeping consumers in one place will make it easier for them to accomplish the goal you’ve set out.
Don’t be afraid to use third parties as brand extensions and always keep an eye on the primary behaviors of your users. There is no right or wrong answer in this question, it very much depends on what consumers are telling you and not the other way around.