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If you plan to launch an app in 2015, or beyond, you face the equivalent of throwing the proverbial needle into one of a number of haystacks.

Sure, it is possible to tie a metaphorical red ribbon on your needle to make it easier to find by using app store optimization techniques (ASO). However, even if consumers do pull your app out from the hay pile, there’s a one in five chance they’ll see it as ‘just another needle’, and throw it straight back.

So how can app developers ensure users retain and use an app until it becomes habit-forming? What unique features can they add that will make them stand out from the crowd?

I’ll be asking those exact questions in a webinar next week, where we’ll dig deep and answer them. In the meantime, I asked Mike Schneider, VP of Marketing at Skyhook to help explain how we got where we are today.

We download over 50 million apps a day. What do those that manage to get found and used have in common with each other? What is the secret sauce that makes them different from the masses that never succeed?

smartphone-in-location“The apps, which make it, are the ones that provide something vital to their users,” Schneider said. “They have a way of giving a user some kind of value whether it’s discovering something in the place they are, helping them find something they love based on what they read already, or getting something done more efficiently. It’s all about understanding your user and serving them the functionality they need in order to get into the everyday flow of the apps’ users.”

What do users want from an app that will make it part of their day-to-day, and how has that changed over the last few years?

“Users have become more sophisticated and so has the technology,” Schneider said. “The biggest thing, we are noticing, is that data is now being leveraged as a central part of the design process. Data-driven design is key to providing a vital experience, and building a great app is more than just coming up with a great idea and solving for it elegantly. App owners need to evolve continuously and get to know their users so they can anticipate what they want next not only in their road-maps, but in the next moment. ”

From VB Insight’s research into mobile user acquisition, mobile games monetization, and mobile app analytics, we know this to be true. A full grasp of past, present, and predictive data are fast becoming key to effective app development. But what has changed in marketing; finding users to download your app? What has changed the most in the way apps are promoted now versus four years ago?

“There’s a lot of promotion through paid channels, such as through social media,” Schneider said. “We can now target people based on their individual interests and needs. We can promote apps they may be more inclined to download, based on that personalization and targeting, through the channels they visit every day — like Facebook and Twitter. Specialized marketing companies have also arrived on the scene of app promotion. One example is Fiksu, a company who thrives in getting app downloads for companies.”

While targeting based on interests and needs ahead of the app download is part of the promotional mix now, the app itself still needs to be engaging. Location and proximity marketing were big themes at CES this year, and I wondered what part that data is playing in app, and user, retention?

“Knowing location behavior can tell you a lot about your users,” Schneider said. “Map the functionality they use to the places they are in, and you can find patterns in how your app is used when a person goes to those locations. You can then use that data to figure out how to design for those places. Adding something like Skyhook Context Accelerator can help simplify this process by geofencing any and all similar places while also triggering place-based experiences when the user goes to certain locations you designate. We call this process Appticipation.”

Designing for place is set to become a key driver in 2015 for any app developer that wants to make their product or service stand out from the crowd.

Join our webinar next week to get the latest research and case studies. You’ll find out how putting the ‘power of place’ to work in your app helps to anticipate user needs, monetize your app, and differentiate your app experience.