The apps economy has changed the way companies control their brand experience.

Consumers have high expectations for their digital experiences. Web and mobile applications need to work the first time and every time. Slow load times, design flaws, subpar content, and other emotional responses affect users' experiences and opinions.

Moreover, brands also must understand how human emotions affect their users' app experience.

How people are feeling affect how they regard your apps

An individual's experience with an app is largely defined by the gap between his or her expectations and the actual outcome, and the emotions created by that gap.

The app may have all the recommendations and encouragement in the world, but if the user doesn't see his or her expected utility or actual results, the blame is suddenly shifted to the app and the brand.

Research conducted by ARC (my company Applause's research department) on user experiences with dating apps shows that a person's experience with mobile apps is affected by the people encountered and the subjective emotions that result (good or bad) following those encounters. So bad dates—or any type of bad results—can dramatically influence users' opinions of apps.

The same applies to many types of apps that facilitate consumer engagement. Social apps for younger demographics can quickly turn into cases of bullying; gaming apps with emotional subject matter can affect the experience; financial apps may stir monetary distress… You get the picture.

How do customers feel when they first encounter your app?

Developers also have to address an emerging concept first proposed by author David Norman: emotional design.

A person will find an aesthetically appealing product much more functional and useful because it connects with the person on an emotional level, according to Norman. This same concept can be attributed to users and their apps. People automatically process emotional signals with no conscious effort; they just feel a certain way when they see something for the first time.

App developers need to be sure that their apps are giving off a good first impression to keep users coming back for more.

Feelings, not facts, affect purchase decisions

Consumers typically base their purchase decisions on emotions rather than on the information presented to them by brands about their products and services, according to Psychology Today. If the brand representation—whether in the form of a commercial, advertisement, or a brand's mobile app—consists only of the product's attributes and features, no emotional links influence consumer preference and action.

The richer the emotional content of a brand's representation, the more likely the consumer will connect with the brand on a personal level and create a loyal user for life.

When taking real human emotion into account, traditional methods of discerning the quality of a brand's app (KPIs around app usage and adoption rates) are often insufficient to fully understand why a digital experience is succeeding or failing.

That said, much more can be done, especially now when a brand's products and services are delivered literally into the palms of their users' hands and customers control the fate of a business and brand.

Marketers must take into account those factors that contribute to the emotional experiences their customers encounter digitally. They can do this by...

  • Listening to their customers
  • Processing the "bad experiences" that might be unique to that user
  • Creating ways to improve individual relationships as a result

Marketers can take control of reengaging users and winning back even greater loyalty.

Consider the dating app scenario as an example. User reviews may mention the quality of candidates on the app, which is admittedly not the fault of the app. However, the app itself can do a better job of setting user expectations and more precise matching between users.

Key elements of dating apps—messaging, profiles, pictures and matching algorithms—can be designed to enforce truthfulness, transparency, and precision in other apps.

Making the app as reliable as possible engenders user trust in the app, despite an occasional missed or wrong connection.

Build a personal, supportive relationship with your app users

Just as a Weight Watchers coach might treat customers at meetings each week, apps can incorporate strategies to engage, encourage, and build a user's confidence by listening and creating actionable responses to that person's experience.

Those responses can be viewed in the same way an e-commerce company views shopping cart abandonment strategies—as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Say that, for some reason, your prospective customer was turned off and decided not to buy or renew. How can you earn a second chance? Reward users for meeting goals, make it intuitive for them to continue on their path, or encourage their effort in a personalized way.

Such emotion-driven exchanges will result in the perception of greater app quality.

App developers must focus on an emotional experience

Designers must go beyond merely creating a usable product and instead create an emotional experience (e.g., enabling users' preferences to create a deeper connection between brands and users), according to Aarron Walter, MailChimp's general manager and author of Designing for Emotion.

Marketers must follow suit and offer their customers personalized app content that speaks directly to their users, canceling out negative outside personal influences their users may have experienced.

* * *

Understanding emotional behavior requires digital marketers to consider human nature more than ever. They must listen and respond in actionable and relevant ways by going right to the source—users themselves—to tap into the sentiment that influences whether customers keep coming back.

The best way to accomplish this is to get an app into the hands of users before the app is launched and available widely to customers.

Understanding and anticipating digital customer sentiment gives companies the best chance to understand potential visceral reactions, both good and bad, and even get out in front to create digital brand ambassadors that can help them win the hearts (and business) of potential customers.

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Why Your Customers' Emotions Affect Their App Experiences

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image of Matt Johnston

Matt Johnston is chief marketing and strategy officer of Applause, which enables companies to deliver winning digital experiences.

LinkedIn: Matt Johnston