Born in the heyday of the smartphone revolution, YML was made for mobile application design and development. And we rock at it. But, as we grow and position ourselves to best serve our clients, it’s clear apps are not the future. So what is?

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” ~ Wayne Gretzky

Eight years ago, mobile applications were the hot new technology—brands needed them, new businesses were born because of them. But today, not so much. In my experience, brands are trying to reduce their number of apps to just one (sometimes two—internal and external facing ones) and app strategies are about reduction, not addition. Added to this, consumers are downloading fewer apps—the majority of U.S. consumers still download zero apps per month...and 63 percent of users stop using apps within the first month.

Instead, brands are thinking up new engagement strategies; ways they can reach people via other platforms—apps, services, experiences—that already have engagement built in—like Siri, Alexa, Instagram, and Messenger. Or they are creating new experiences using web, AI/ML, TV, kiosks, or in-car interfaces, to name a few.

The mobile app industry is slowing down, and growth opportunities for digital product agencies specializing in apps are going to be much harder won. In short, brands are bringing their core products (apps) in-house, and off-app initiatives are becoming the strategic imperative.

So where does that leave digital product agencies like us? What’s next?

No worries: I have identified three ways to slay:

1. Marketing

It’s a dirty word: marketing. I’m a cord cutter. Pre-roll irritates the hell out of me (never a good brand experience). And I don’t think I have ever clicked on a banner. Awareness marketing is not something I wish to do, and it’s not the future. It’s loud, annoying, and constantly interrupts people, vying for their attention. But conversion marketing, that’s different. For example, if someone chooses to visit a website, they have expressed interest. They want to know more. Website content—words and pictures—needs to be alluring, convincing, impeccably on-brand. Shoppable items should be beautifully rendered, and a path to purchase should be easy to navigate with clear signposting. For an agency, the benefits of marketing are that it’s more seasonal, predictable. It’s simple: a brand launches a shoe, then three months later they launch another shoe. I believe that magic happens when the worlds of marketing and digital products converge to generate an engagement strategy and create experiences that include the energy of a brand moment with the well designed means to buy, subscribe for, or tailor a product or service to your liking. The kind of brands that I think do a great job of conversion marketing and website design are Everlane, Soul Cycle, and Square. Each brand’s website has a compelling story, look and feel, and useful, simple web based tools that help seal the deal.

2. Customer Experience

It should come as no surprise that in today’s increasingly customer focused world, user experience, human centered design, and Design (with a big D) are essential for building brands. It has been said that every company is—or should be—a service company, and great brands design exceptional, holistic experiences for their customers, and their employees. For example, have you ever been to a WeWork? Their staff are so amped to be there. That’s because the staff experience has been carefully designed to be awesome and it’s infectious. As a result, it gets passed on to the customers that work there, and it creates a brand halo. Someone once told me (a student) that ”design is a process for solving problems.” I think this is quite cool. Customer experience design (CX) is a fantastic way to truly affect digital transformation, evolving companies to be the best version of themselves. It’s an emerging field focused on connecting touchpoints, optimizing ecosystems, and designing the best experience at every touchpoint. At YML, our growing customer engagement strategy service includes user research, data analysis, stakeholder interviews, business and technology strategy. The output of which includes customer journeys, ecosystems maps, service design blueprints, and a vision brief. And they generally get developed before we start wireframes, prototypes, visual design. Brands killing it in the CXd field are AirBnB, Lyft, and (as previously mentioned) WeWork—each has best-in-class customer and employee experiences that help uplift the brand.

3. The Next Wave

We grew up on mobile. We rode the app wave. This wave isn’t going away soon, but it is slowing down. So what’s the next wave? It is our belief that data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are the next big frontier for brands (although we are exploring other tracks, like blockchain, IoT, and drones, too). The promise of AI is twofold: Better service (AI is instant, you don’t have to queue for it, it’s free) and more scale (AI can serve thousands of customers instantaneously, with minimal overhead). I think of AI like a brand’s digital brain; a service layer that sits above all of its digital products and services. These “brains” are, of course, a brand’s smarts, but they are also its personality. There is going to be a generation of consultancies that design and develop a brand’s brain—how a brand thinks, and how it behaves (and not just how it looks and feels). A brand’s intelligence should feel human, empathic, it should know you, personalizing your experience across every touchpoint on every device. Agencies that help design brands’ AI brains will also start designing how its intelligence and personality manifests in an app, on a website, on Alexa, or as a call center agent. A good example of brands that do AI well are Spotify’s music recommendation engine, and ASOS' visual search.

And so…

At the risk of giving away our company strategy, we have built expertise in all of these areas. We have hired world class talent, developed practices, and authored services for our clients. Our vision is to become our clients’ most valued partner, and this is the happy path that gets us there.

But, of course, we have not lost sight of our core competencies—engagement strategy, design, AND technology. Our strength is turning vision into execution, creating products and experiences that have lasting impact. We are fast and agile, and it’s how we make a difference for our clients and the customers they serve, when others get bogged down in the theoretical. We are strategic makers. We get stuff done. We believe in putting products in the hands of millions of people.

And deckware is our foe.


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