“I’ve Got the Worst App Ever and Limited Development Resources. What Do I Do?”

“Refuse to get overwhelmed. Stick with your strategy, and make sure everyone who can help you understands what you’re up to,” says our global mobile strategist Emily Buckman in this post filled with practical advice on whipping a subpar app into shape. Want to talk to our advisory team about your app? Schedule a free 30-minute session with our strategy team anytime.


“This app is all yours to manage!”

Whether those words spark excitement or dread depends on whether the app you just inherited can meet the goals that have been set for it.

But what if it really is (almost) the worst app ever? Then what?

Here’s a 7-step plan (including some options for quick wins you might not have thought of yet) to tame the beast (whether it’s bad app design, difficult UX, or other challenges) meet your goals, and get your app back on the right track — without losing your mind in the process.

Step 1: Document The App’s Unique Value Proposition

It seems like a simple enough question: why should users download your app — and why would they keep it? But it can be surprisingly hard to answer, because things get complicated.

The whole point of an app should be to deliver a brilliant experience for your customers. It should either offer something totally new or offer a faster, simpler or better way to do something they already do in another channel.

Think about your customers’ needs: how can you meet one or more of them with your app? That is your app's unique value proposition. And the experience you create should be personalised, frictionless and contextual. (Don't worry if this isn't possible for you right away — you can get there without lots of development.)

The most important thing to remember is that the app’s value prop has nothing to do with why you want users to download your app. Your value prop absolutely must be about why your customers will (or won’t) want to download it.

In other words, it’s not about you. And the answer to the question “Why would my customers care about this app?” is critical, because it’s going to drive your entire strategy going forward.

(If your app’s not equipped to deliver on a grand value prop today, you may have to identify a new one, and start smaller, with a value prop you can deliver on with the tools at your disposal and build from there.)

Got your value prop? You’re ready for step two.

Step 2: Document the Goals for the App

If this has already been done, great. If it’s been done, but you’ve read the goals several times and you’re still not quite sure exactly what they are (or you had to re-define the value prop) then start over — and keep it simple.   

For example, the goal of a retail app that monetises with sales might be to (no surprise here) drive more in-app sales. Put a number and a time frame on it — perhaps “increase in-app sales by XX% in Q3” — and you’ve got your goal.

For a news app that monetizes on subscriptions, the goal might be to attract and convert more subscribers. “Drive XX new app downloads and convert XX% of them to subscribers.”  

Most apps also work towards the goal of maintaining and growing their monthly active user base (MAU). But it’s also important to measure the impact of the app or a push message on sales if they end up completing in store or online.

Step 3: Join up the Goal and the Value Prop and See Where You’re At

Let’s say the retail app’s goal is to increase in-app sales by 15% in Q3. And the unique value prop is that your customers will get exclusive discounts, perks and freebies if they download the app.

Where does that leave you?

  • Can your app deliver exclusive discounts, perk and freebies? If so, how will app users know about them? (Especially if they’re not opted in to receive push notifications?)

  • What are your current in-app sales? Is 15% a realistic number based on quarter-over-quarter app data, or a stretch goal?

  • How have sales promotions worked in the past? Do they really drive sales — or just app opens? (Are your metrics set up to measure this?)

  • Can you measure the impact of the app or a push message on sales if they end up completing in store or online?

Determine what you’ll need to be able to deliver on the goal. Then start considering some creative ways to get there….

Step 4: Find Some Quick Wins

Armed with your goals, your value prop, some data and a sense of how these might all work together, it’s time to get creative.

First, identify some ways you can hit your goal (or blow it out of the water) and work backwards from there.

For example, what’s the top-selling item in your app? (Or for a subscription-model app, what do you know about the cohort of users most likely to subscribe?)

Let’s say your top selling in-app item is a case that makes your phone virtually indestructible. Calculate how many of those you’d have to sell to make your number.

Now, what path can you blaze for your app users — without doing a complete app makeover — to make buying that item as easy and irresistible as possible? Crappy though it may be, you can make a path that reduces friction and delivers value.

Here are a few options for grabbing some quick wins:

Reach users on day one — and steer them in the direction(s) you want them to go.

With first open and inactivity triggers (available out of the box with our Engage solution), you’re on your way to using push notifications to engage your app users at scale, and send them where you want them to go within your app. You can also use automation and custom events to trigger personalized messaging to customers who abandon carts, or to encourage use of app features. For more possibilities, see our blog post that gives you 50+ ideas for using automated push notifications to create deeper connections with your users.

Divert user attention from areas of the app that are less satisfying with in app messages.

Get your app users’ attention with in app messages — especially important for reaching users who never opted in to receive push notifications (or who have opted out).

In app messages can be as fancy as you want them to be — you can even include videos, sound, gifs and other media. (We also have templates you can start with.)

In the example of a phone case retailer: offer a discount on your best-selling phone case, and deep link the ad directly to the product page in the app (or on your mobile website if you can demonstrate the lead came from the app in your analytics) and you’ve got a path that cuts right through your app.  

Bonus points: Segment the in-app messages using user-level data if you’ve got it. For example, build an in-app message featuring your case preventing disaster at a hot nightclub for the younger set; a message featuring your case preventing child-related phone mayhem for the parents on your list, etc.

Create a "safe space" inside the app with an in app message center.

An in app message center is an in-box in your app helps you create a space inside the app that you can control, and where users can have a positive experience. It's a brilliant destination to drive push messages to if your crappy app has a poor UX or challenging CMS.

You can send discounts and offers to your entire app user base — and add an iOS badge to your icon to let them know there’s something waiting for them inside.  

Bonus points: Set an expiry date on your message so it will disappear when the offer ends.

Bypass the app but stay active on mobile: send a coupon/voucher/offer through a mobile wallet pass.

Sending a mobile wallet pass turns the pass into your front door on mobile instead of your crappy app.

Getting a mobile wallet pass onto your customer’s phone also means you’re increasing your brand’s surface area there — and giving yourself a mobile presence in case a user deletes your app.

If you're not already tight, go make friends with the person who runs your brand’s email or social campaigns and see if they’ll include a link to your mobile wallet coupon in their next customer communication. From there, for your customer, it’s as easy as clicking a URL to download the pass to their phone.

Bonus points: Send a push notification directly from the wallet pass when an offer is getting ready to expire.  

Step 5: Deploy, Measure & Use Your Data to Drive Your Next Move

Before you deploy your easy win tactics, know how you’ll measure results so you can see what worked and what flopped. We’ve set up a content planning spreadsheet that incorporates message type, measurement and targeting to get you started.

Want more help with the measurement strategy step? Check out our blog post 3 Keys to Making Sure Your Mobile Analytics Move the Needle — or dive in a little deeper with our on-demand webinar, Rethinking Mobile Measurement: A New Approach to Achieving Success.

Now you’re ready to execute, and start measuring.

Did your strategy work? Did it help you meet your goal and provide value users couldn’t get enough of?

If not, determine whether fine tuning or a complete re-think of the approach is needed. Regardless of whether your “quick win” was as winning as you hoped it would be, you’ll have learned something about your customers, and you can adjust.

If it went gangbusters, then you’ve got the raw material to create a plan to build on your success — and a business case that can help you get more resources for more fixes.   

Step 6: Parallel Track Your Strategy: More Quick Wins + Long Term Plan for App Improvement

Experiment and iterate to find the wins that keep driving goals while you create a longer-term plan for fixing those areas of your app that aren’t up to par.

Refuse to get overwhelmed. Stick with your strategy, and make sure everyone who can help you understands what you’re up to.

Step 7: Report Out on Your Plan & Your Progress

Regularly communicating your goals, the app’s value prop, and learnings from your quick win experiments will help you continue to bolster your case for dev resources and raise the profile of mobile in your business.

Add and adjust goals as your app and your strategy evolves. Before you know it, your incremental improvements will result in an app that’s more effective — for you and your customers.

And yes, we know it’s never as cut and dried as we’re making it sound. If you’re stuck or need a fresh set of eyes to help you figure out your quick wins, we’re here to help. Schedule a free 30-minute session with our strategy team anytime.