Plan, Build, & Succeed with Apps

White Paper
Building Apps

In order to engage with staff and customers alike, modern businesses have learned to become publishers. But, as audiences have matured, organisations’ tools for giving customers great experiences or empowering staff haven’t always kept up.

Users have demonstrated a clear preference for mobile content, so organisations need apps that are able to adapt to changing requirements, scale to meet customer or staff needs, and that can support multiple platforms, without the need for constant input from specialist developers or IT departments. Delivering all this can be difficult - especially as the number of platforms and devices continues to grow. Even inside their own organisations, the trend towards agile working practices requires that businesses create a digital-first environment, supporting their workers wherever they are, whenever they need, and on whatever device they have.

If you’re navigating these challenges, you’ve probably come to the realisation that, for users to have great experiences whatever device they’re using, you need to support their native platform - be that an HTML5 browser, Android, iOS and more. This paper will help you understand why, then develop, launch, and run your own business apps, with a particular focus on using them to deliver valuable content to users.

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1. Purpose: Plan & Research

When considering an app, the first priority is to ensure you’ve defined the business challenge (or challenges) that it will address. Who’s going to use your app, and why? Is it a B2B or B2C audience? What technologies are they using to interact with your brand? What are those users’ needs, and how can your app add value for them?

For example, if you’re targeting an internal audience, Business-to- Employee (B2E) apps are a great way of reducing costs, enabling agile or remote working, or fulfilling a variety of functions – simplifying previously tedious administrative tasks, improving efficiency or compliance, enabling collaboration, delivering content, training staff, and much more.

Similarly, B2B apps can provide an excellent mechanism to communicate with business customers or partners. For example, in the case of a car marque, apps enable manufacturers to communicate and share with dealers, providing everything from sales material, to contracts, support and more.

Maybe you want an app for sales enablement, to make sure sales teams have access to premium media assets when engaging with customers. Or for employee engagement – which can involve everything from delivering health & safety updates to conducting research, even serving as the gateway to your employee benefit programme.

If you’re looking at a B2C audience, maybe the value-add you can offer is on-the-go access to a loyalty scheme, or connecting them with third-party content in a single hub.

The key point remains the importance of defining clearly and precisely what you want, rather than trying to include everything - and the digital ‘kitchen sink’ - just because you can. It’s essential that you define objectives - a copy of your website, or some repurposed promo material is unlikely to offer real value, or improve the lives of your users.

Other important questions to ask include; which platforms and devices do you need to serve? There’s also the question of monetisation – will your app feature paid-for content or other in-app purchases, will it be funded by advertising, or is there another type of indirect revenue or marketing budget to fund it?

2. Content Planning

Once you’ve established exactly what purpose your app will serve and who it’s for, the next stage is thinking about content - and content strategy.

Content can be created from scratch or reused. If you’re going to be digitising paper documents, or repurposing existing digital media assets, you should conduct a content audit. Assess suitability, and don’t be afraid to cut volume in favour of quality. When it comes to new content, consider again the purpose of your app. What role would this content serve? Does it fit with the aims of your app and your wider organisation? Does it offer value to your customers and/or staff?

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions in business is that ‘creating content’ is a one-off project that has an end date. In actual fact, for successful businesses, content is an ongoing obsession. Whether you’re communicating with staff or customers, creating valuable, relevant, personalised, and consistent content on an ongoing basis is core to attracting and keeping the attention of your audience. To do this, you’ll need a blend of creative thinking, subject matter experts, and robust processes, all supported by fit-for-purpose systems.

It’s also important to make sure you’ve considered how this content is actually going to be delivered. Many apps fail to deliver on user experience, but experiences are what ultimately govern whether or not an app will be used - and defines how users perceive your brand. If they’re having to suffer to interact with your content, you’re doing your brand a disservice.

The core principles of good user experience are fairly simple: Wellpresented, useful content, and intuitive navigation. To ensure you adhere to these, make sure you have considered app architecture (whether your app actually serves your business requirements), crossplatform capability - even connectivity, or bandwidth expectations.


The apps of the future should be considered as products in their own right. Not just a cost-centre or marketing channel, they can drive value, provide services, and even create revenue on their own. Monetisation can take many different forms, both direct and indirect, including everything from paid-for content and in-app advertising, to apps which form an integral part of a paid-for service (think gym memberships, or modern car brands). Not to mention apps’ ability to have a noticeable indirect effect on the bottom line, helping to reduce churn, improve employee productivity, and keep customers engaged.

A Sophisticated Experience

An important way to ensure true engagement with mobile apps is to pay careful attention to the users’ reading experience. With Rakuten Aquafadas Reader, users see pixel-perfect rendering, no matter the content, or device - we call it ‘haute couture rendering’.

Our software allows organisations to deploy rich media, including images, video, and even audio content with ease, by giving non-technical staff, like designers and marketers, specialist tools such as our Adobe InDesign plugin and our cloud HTML5 editor to create responsive content.

Complimentary Services

One of the final areas to consider when planning, is how you might supplement your app and help your users by integrating complementary services. Rakuten have a wide range of capabilities, including;

  • Collaboration Tools
    helping staff stay in touch with customers and each other, slot-in collaboration tools such as Viber can simplify communication, make sharing easy, and even support communities.
  • 3rd Party Content
    for certain use cases, offering thirdparty content, such as films or ebooks can help keep customers engaged and even generate revenue. Rakuten TV powers Easyjet’s entertainment app, allowing them to delight customers in a brand-friendly environment.
  • Loyalty Services
    can be used to drive installs, encourage regular use, or even reward content consumption. Rakuten Super Points, and the forthcoming Rakuten Coin, benefit from the globally recognised Rakuten brand and an international platform.
  • Fintech
    to help with everything from singlesign- on, to payments, vouchers, even online banking, these services can bring the functionality you need without distracting you from creating great content.

3. Develop

After the conceptual shape of your app has been outlined – what it’s for, what content it will contain, and how that will be delivered to users – you need to actually create it!

The first question is whether the app is developed in-house, outsourced, or some combination of the two. Naturally, this depends on your inhouse capabilities, and how much bespoke functionality you need. Even with a well-resourced, specialist inhouse development team, you need to consider whether your organisation has the capacity to deliver - and on time; speed to market is important here, as delays can have a real opportunity cost.

The next question concerns which platforms the app will be developed for – does it need to be available on Android, iOS, Web, etc? Again, this depends on the needs of your audience, but note that it will impact how the app is developed, and how long it will take. Can you prioritise one platform over the other, initially? Can you afford to develop and maintain multiple apps to serve different platforms?

In the past, businesses might have been put off by the higher barrier to entry (and ongoing maintenance requirements) for native apps, but there are now solutions which mean this no longer needs to be the case.

By using (or in certain circumstances, creating) a robust native app infrastructure, content can be delivered on an ongoing basis, without the need for specialist platformspecific coding or continuous updates. SaaS (Software as a Service) app platform solutions provide such an infrastructure, particularly for content apps - allowing marketers and non- IT staff to create content and handle most operations. SaaS solutions decouple the codebase from the content, minimising the need for long-term developer support.

Progressive Web Apps

Perhaps the future of mobile apps, progressive web apps (PWA’s) are, effectively, container apps for fairly standard web pages - although the user wouldn’t necessarily know it - a hybrid of native apps and web apps.

As markup languages (such as HTML), and the engines that render them have become more capable, it is becoming possible to blur the boundaries between mobile apps and the mobile web, whilst keeping many of the benefits of both. Because they can help organisations to deploy content across all devices, using a common language such as HTML5, PWA’s are set to gain traction. Key benefits of PWA’s include;

  • No App Stores
    updates can be published immediately without the need for review and approval, plus users don’t need to find or install PWA’s.
  • Offline Viewing
    PWA’s use local caching to deliver content faster and enable offline viewing.
  • Push Notifications
    PWA’s facilitate the same key communication channel as their installed-app cousins, allowing for marketing messages, content update notifications and more.
  • Common Code
    no matter the platform (iOS, Android, Windows, and others), PWAs are based on standardised languages, rendered by browser engines - this means every device can be served by one code-base.
  • Search Friendly
    by their nature, progressive apps are visible on the open web, rather than only inside app store walled gardens - a significant SEO benefit.

4. Engage

Once your app is ready for release, it needs marketing and distribution support to encourage discovery and uptake. Whether it’s B2B, B2C, B2E or even B2B2C, all apps need a marketing strategy and a continuous flow of content – first at launch and then throughout their lifespans. Some key considerations include:

  • App Store Optimisation
    A healthy ASO strategy requires thought around keywords and tagging, as well as the building of positive reviews, to help push the app up the rankings.
  • Listening
    A well-designed listening strategy can help spot content issues and software glitches, whilst at the same time engaging users by giving them the opportunity to contribute.
  • Marketing
    Worthy of its own Paper, app marketing can include everything from paid-for advertising, to incentives, competitions, and more. It goes without saying that you should support the app with organic content on your existing channels. If your app is for staff, pre-installing apps, or simple tools such as emails, cascading information via staff meetings and briefings, or even signage in office buildings, can all be effective.

Much of the above can be continued post-launch to build and grow loyal users. When it comes to retaining and re-engaging existing users however, a powerful weapon in your armoury is the push notification. These messages can be sent via your app, direct to users’ notification bars, making the most of the money you’ve already invested in acquiring those installs. Push notifications can be an excellent way of flagging new content to help build regular usage.

5. Maintain

Once your app is out in the world, and your launch campaign has started to put it in the hands of users, your app’s lifecycle begins in earnest. So far, we’ve walked you through planning, development and deployment, but as far as users are concerned, this is just the start.

With that in mind, ongoing support is an important consideration. The app needs to be maintained to ensure its continued functionality, but beyond this, it also needs to keep up-to-date with evolving needs – those of your business, and those of your users.

Typical requirements will include server maintenance, keeping up with OS updates and staying on the right side of legislation changes. These changes will likely require specialist support, but, depending on which development route you’ve chosen, much of the day-to-day upkeep may be within the remit of your own team.

It’s also important to remember that content needs maintenance - use analytics to monitor performance, develop new pieces based on user behaviour, and identify poor performers for removal or update.

6. Measure & Adapt

Analytics are a vital part of any app strategy - they give you the insight you need to ensure your app is doing the best possible job of serving users.

Using analytics, you can understand the typical user journey; establishing what route users take through your apps, identifying top performing content and common pain points, including usability issues and navigational bottlenecks. Whether your app is targeting a B2B, B2E, or B2C audience, all app owners should be utilising this information from the moment of launch, in order to optimise user experience and inform content strategy.

As you adapt apps, ensure you regularly review your objectives, adding new ones where appropriate. For any serious app, taking the long view is essential. With that in mind, someone needs to take ownership of the apps in your organisation, to ensure continual improvement and to ensure they are always delivering against your objectives. Treat apps as a long-term investment, and they can pay equally long-term dividends.

Top Tip: Measurement goes beyond analytics!
Consider how else you might gain feedback for your apps - including app store reviews, crash reports, event focus groups or user surveys. Particularly where you have a clearly defined audience such as a with internal apps, use the tolls at your disposal to measure app adoption rates.

7. Looking to the future

In this section, we’ll take a brief look at some emerging technologies and how they might work with apps to delight your staff and customers.


AI (Artificial Intelligence) is very much a bucket term. Certain subsets of AI (such as machine learning) are already obvious in our everyday life - think Siri, Google Assistant, or Amazon’s Alexa. Others are still in their infancy. As a generalisation, the concept of machines being able to “think” in a humanlike way, naturally has massive potential in apps and digital technology as a whole. In fact, in one form or another, it underpins much of the technology we’ll talk about in this section.

Certain practical applications of AI, particularly those based on machine learning, such as the automated parsing of text to identify content themes or perform on-the-fly analysis, are already appearing in applications. Advanced analytics can already provide automated monitoring to spot underperforming content, or unusual user journeys - and there’s a lot more to come.


These are actually two distinct technologies, which are commonly grouped together because they share some principles.

VR (Virtual Reality) uses headsets – which can be as simple as a housing for a standard smartphone – to place the user in immersive 360° computer-generated experiences. AR (Augmented Reality) on the other hand, layers digital content onto a live camera feed to add to (‘augment’) the real world. These two technologies can also be combined into what’s known as Mixed Reality, where a VR environment incorporates real-world elements captured through a camera.

Right now, these are cool technological showcases, but can be very resourceintensive to develop, and haven’t yet found a stable user-base. However, the technology is more commonplace than you might think. AR took a major step forward in 2016, with the success of Pokémon Go, which situated Pikachu and co. within real-world environments. For example, this technology could easily be used to overlay video when viewing the front cover of printed magazines through an AR enabled device (such as a smartphone). The future of apps will undoubtedly see growth in this area.

Integrated Chat & Live Customer Service

If your app includes some aspect of customer service or staff communication, there are a number of solutions in the market that can directly incorporate live chat functionality, without having to send the user to an external app to get in touch.

It can be a great way of offering realtime, one-on-one user engagement, and depending on the solution, can include extra features like group conversations and GPS location sharing. Including chat is widely reported to increase overall time-in-app and retention rates.

If having a constant human presence available is beyond your means, there’s an increasingly popular alternative: Chatbots can simulate human conversation, and answer most simple questions, before handing users off to a real person where necessary.

Automated Content

Content marketing can present a challenge, especially to smaller businesses – producing new content quickly enough, on an ongoing basis, and without blowing the budget is tough. Content automation promises to help with this, by using natural language processing to produce written content that reads like it was written by a human.

Certainly, the technology is still young, and not yet capable of producing long-form content that doesn’t require a careful human eye to edit and make ready for consumption. But, as you consider the next step for your app, it’s certainly a trend to watch. Shorter, fact-based content snippets, or social-style posts are already within reach.

Success with Apps

So, in summary; whether you’re communicating with staff, business customers, or consumers, apps can be a real opportunity. Whatever your sector and whatever your use case, it’s almost always fair to say that users are becoming more mobile, and that their expectation of high quality experiences is increasing. At the same time, modern organisations need to create and deploy content like never before, meaning that investment in an app platform which allows non-technical staff to do just that - across all devices - and without committing significant resources to maintenance, is becoming vital. Armed with such a platform, line-of-business professionals, from marketing, sales, and HR, can get back to their day job - creating great content, empowering teams, delighting customers, and generating revenue.

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