How Hollywood Can Help Your App Succeed


Article ImageOnce upon a time, Steve Jobs and Apple invented the iPhone, and the world was fundamentally changed. We have shorter attention spans. And we live on demand, two taps or 5 seconds at a time. Easily distracted, easily frustrated, easily disrupted. In this environment, when embracing the mobile moment with your audience—be it B2B, B2C, or to an internal stakeholder—it is imperative to help people either save time or kill time. Taking a few lessons from the storytelling masters in Hollywood can help you accomplish that goal.

What makes a great story—be it in a dramatic, binge-worthy TV show or a page-turning book? Characters you root for and a plucky underdog, perhaps. Memorable scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat and some great music that captivates you. A character arc and a captivating story. Great contributions from the people involved: director, sound department, editor, scriptwriters, actors, and the supporting team. It isn’t an easy equation to solve, but we all know a great story when we see it. And it usually manages to hold our attention.

The biggest, most successful brands know the value of engaging customers with a good story. Take Amazon and Netflix, for example. Both are growing rapidly. In Amazon’s case, it is obsessing over its customers, not its competitors. Conversely, Netflix is obsessing over the data it needs to provide content that tells a great story—and deliver it to the right people. These companies are leading the industry because they think about storytelling everywhere, not just online, not just in advertising—but 360 degrees, across all of their touchpoints.

The Trailer

Other digital services and products can apply lessons learned from the masters of storytelling: Hollywood. Let’s start with the trailer. In the world of apps, ASO (app store optimization) is similar to SEO, but for apps. By changing key variables such as title, metadata, imagery, and description, you can appear more prominently in search results, which is the key method used to find and discover apps. Having a great app store listing also helps conversion to download. The app store preview video—basically a 30-second trailer—that promotes your app and helps show what it does, who it is for, and why you should download it needs to capture audiences quickly. What value does it deliver? Does it look like it is for me? This is similar to the Hollywood approach to marketing a film: Show some of the best bits, but not so many as to ruin the story and hope people flock to see the main event at the theater.

The Hook

Let’s assume the app is downloaded. We need to understand that the beginning is critical. No movie director wants to see an audience leave the theater after 10 minutes—and this shouldn’t be acceptable for app developers either. Keeping people moving through the funnel or creating a great first impression is key. Too many apps blast the user asking for permission to use his or her location, send notifications, and maybe even to sign in before the app has even told him or her what the benefit would be. There needs be a better value exchange up front.

The beginning of the story—the way the characters are introduced, the buildup of drama, the use of music, the overall aesthetic, and the opening credits—all make an initial impact. It’s the same as the impact that a well-crafted value proposition and tutorial might have when using an app or site for the first time.

The Meat of the Story

The digital industry has placed a great deal of time and focus into user on-boarding, as it is a proven path to conversion that ultimately makes a big difference. However, in the spirit of best-in-class narrative and storytelling, more attention is moving to the off-boarding and the middle of the story, as myopically focusing on just one-third or one-tenth of a journey doesn’t make sense.

Similar to a good story, we (app users) want to be immersed and guided into another world—we seek clarity and moments of empathy, joy, and tension. Getting the basics of narrative and story and reducing frustration right in service designs are critical—and that is where user testing and audience research comes in. Hollywood tests its movies (and trailers) with different types of audiences, and key scenes are reshot or edited out as a result of audience feedback. A movie may even be delayed for significant amounts of time due to user testing insights, because getting it wrong is a costly affair, especially for a big-budget movie. However, in the digital world, user testing is not often thought of—or it’s disregarded in the interest of saving money and time. For a large new product, this is a very bad and expensive mistake to make. In fact, user testing an app or website or new proposition is a great way to bring senior stakeholders in, reduce concerns, and enable the team to focus on delivering the right product that is user-centric. It’s also the best way to stay off the bottom of the list on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes.

The Climax

Then there is the crescendo leading to the film’s climax. Maybe the hero gets the girl, someone saves the day, or a couple lives happily ever after. Finally, there is the resolution or key closing scene (or mid-credit sequel tease)—this is the user off-boarding. This is the key moment: someone successfully checking out in the quickest, simplest, least cluttered/confusing way. The purchase page might be the most expensive page on your site, but it should be.

Then there is the sequel, prequel, reboot, or franchise movie. These exist because they have a profile, existing fans, and a strong brand built on trust. The same is true for brands in the digital world when it comes to the repeat visit and ongoing advocacy and loyalty. Trust is hard to earn, but easily lost.

Amazon’s customer obsession and Netflix’s data obsession enable them to create leading and trustworthy experiences that make life easy. You visit Amazon because you have an inherent trust. You watch Netflix because of the personal experience and because the content is rich and entertaining. The content commissioned for on-demand consumption on Netflix is exactly the right length: It is the length the creator wanted it to be to enhance the storytelling.

With Amazon, you save your card details and build up a wish list, because you trust the brand and the technology behind it. You enjoy the convenience, the immediacy, and the user reviews that provide you with peace of mind. If a delivered package goes missing, you rely on customer service and infrastructure to remedy it to your satisfaction using the tools provided. Jeff Bezos and crew know that they have to keep you happy right up until the proverbial credits roll. Amazon and Netflix have been producing blockbuster results for shareholders and customers alike, so perhaps it is time for all brands to take more care of their digital storytelling before they get edited out.

The end.  


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