Mobile Apps

Feature Creep

By: Bob Kernen

No, it’s not the latest horror movie thriller. It’s much scarier than that.

It seems that nearly all of our clients are in the midst of launching apps, websites and other new digital initiatives. This is great news as our industry really needs to keep moving the digital ball forward. Of course change is hard – both for us and our audiences. Our collective goal should be to improve our digital products without being scary to our audience. Give them something new and better without depriving them of the familiar. It’s hard.

Frequently, media companies get so excited about the opportunity to improve their product that they feel compelled to cram their digital products with more and more new stuff – feature creep. The result is often a confused and disappointed audience.

A good way to avoid this is to adopt a concept from the software world called “MVP” or minimum viable product. This concept asks product designers to determine the simplest version of the product required to satisfy the audience and focus on that. It’s a good guideline for anyone in the media space.

When I worked for Martha Stewart, we didn’t launch anything until Martha herself anointed it perfect.  This makes sense if it’s a bowl to be sent to China and have ten thousand copies return months later. But in the digital realm where a product can be launched, iterated and launched again, Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra holds sway: “Done is better than perfect.”

Mobile apps and websites provide such an immediate feedback loop that you’re much better off putting it out, getting feedback and improving it. That outside feedback is far more useful than your staff sitting in a conference room worrying it to death.

The other advantage of the “MVP” approach is that you can focus on your product’s most important features and get your users accustomed to them before beginning to roll out additional capabilities. There’s no point overwhelming your listeners with a lot of bells and whistles. It just makes it harder to tout what’s great about your new product. Let them have the most important features first, get used to them, and then add new things.

Besides, it’s hard to let your audience know about a long list of new features. Why not leave yourself something to talk about next month (or next quarter). The pattern we see in app downloads is an initial rush of downloads (those super-P1s), then much less activity. So going back to your audience in three months with something new gives you another chance to encourage both new downloads and more use of your app by existing users.

So when you think about your launch plan keep these three simple rules in mind:
• Keep the initial product simple and don’t worry it too much
• Listen to user feedback carefully and work it into your on-going plan
• Offer new stuff regularly to keep interest strong and appeal to new user groups.

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