How to Build Apps for Millennials



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The millennial generation has a unique relationship with apps. It’s the first generation of native internet users - people who have been online most of their life, including their formative years. They grew up with it. They expect connectivity in every aspect of their lives.

Millennials are the biggest generation so far. This group includes anyone born between 1980 and 2000. They make up 35% of the workforce and possess $1.3 trillion in annual purchasing power.

Apps for millennials

Most importantly, 85% own smartphones, which makes millennials the largest consumers of online content in the US. According to Statista, millennials spend 4 hours a day on their mobile devices.

Fortunately, the millennial generation is already primed to use apps to solve their problems. They are more likely to download a hotel's app to book a room than call the front desk. They are more comfortable using Uber than a taxi.

They have different expectations for their technology than older generations, as well. They want complete efficiency, mobility, and instant gratification.

Most importantly, they want to feel engaged with their tools. They want to be a part of something significant. These expectations aren't limited to their social media platforms. They want these qualities in their day-to-day tools (like banking and delivery apps) and their enterprise solutions.

To help you understand how to build apps for millennials, let’s dive deeper into what they want out of their tools and solutions.

(Please keep in mind that we are making a lot of generalizations in this article. Obviously this advice won't apply to every member of the millennial generation, so it's important to work with your product team to understand your specific customer.)

Lightning-Fast Performance and Efficiency

The average attention span of a millennial is eight seconds. Pretty short, right? If you keep them waiting for too long, they’ll abandon your app for something more entertaining or something else that might solve their problem. They aren’t forgiving with their time.

Furthermore, keep in mind that millennials are heavy app users. They keep multiple applications running on their devices at the same time. In many cases, they switch between apps frequently.

Take Instagram, for example. An Instagram power user doesn't just use the social media app. They also use a photo editing app, a hashtag finding app, and a post scheduler. All of these tools need to run efficiently even when they don’t have access to all of the device’s resources.

This means technical performance should be a serious consideration whenever you develop an app or system for this generation. According to Google, high performing sites and applications retain users better than poorly performing ones.

Functional performance is essential as well. Does the app solve a problem well? Does it deliver on its promise? It’s far better to release an app that solves one problem well than an app that fails to solve many problems.

Immediate Access to Information and Features

Millennials are accustomed to having their questions answered immediately. If a feature isn’t intuitive, they expect to only spend a few seconds learning how to use it. This means a few things for your app.

First, keep it simple. Ideally, users shouldn’t have to think much to use your app. The main actions should be apparent right away. This is especially important during onboarding.

Second, additional resources should be close by. If a button or link isn’t intuitive, include a tooltip. If a feature requires multiple steps, link to a documentation article.

Most importantly, keep your app simple and solution-focused. Don’t add bells and whistles just because you think “someone” will use them. Each extra button is a distraction from the app’s core purpose.

Disrupt a Market or System

More so than any other generation, millennials are willing to try something new, even if it is radically different than what they're used to. If you want to connect with them, you have to bring something new to the table - something that disrupts the normal way of doing things.

Before Venmo (and similar apps), sending money to friends and family was clunky and full of friction. There were other peer-to-peer payment apps, but they were clunky and charged a fee to one or both parties. Venmo found a way to waive the fee for non-business transactions, which quickly built them a massive user base. For millennials, Venmo is literally replacing cash.

If Venmo had tried to compete as just another payment processor, the giants like PayPal, Stripe, and Square would have quickly squeezed them out. They only succeeded because of their disruption. (Venmo was so dangerous, in fact, that PayPal had to acquire them.)

Not Just Mobility, Accessibility

True mobility doesn’t just mean offering an app for mobile devices. Everyone does that already. True mobility means being as accessible as possible anywhere, at any time. Millennials expect to complete tasks with a few taps of their fingers. Anything more is just cumbersome.

How do you achieve mobility and accessibility?

Create a seamless experience across platforms

It’s important to have a web app that’s compatible with all major browsers and devices. You know that. But does the experience feel similar on each platform?

Make your app available on all platforms. They should be able to switch between each platform seamlessly based on their needs and preferences.

Let’s say your app awards points for certain actions. On the web app, this point value appears as white text in a blue circle, displayed at the top right. These points should appear in the same colors in the same position in the mobile app so users can use both without learning a new platform. Follow the same principle for logins and workflows.

Streamline old habits, but don’t ask them to create new ones

Apps are successful when they help users complete tasks they already perform. Young people were already posting lots of photos on social media before Snapchat, but the photo-focused app found a way to streamline sharing photos that didn’t exist on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. This convenience makes the app much easier to adopt than a social networking app that forces users to socialize in an unfamiliar way.

When you develop your app, be mindful about how millennials behave. Don't look at their preferences and habits as obstacles to overcome. Instead, consider their habits opportunities to encourage adoption.

Incorporate Social Proof

Millennials value the opinion of the crowd more than any other generation. They care about what regular users think about your app, especially if those users are similar to them.

Venmo also does this well. The app’s social feed shows real people using the app successfully over and over. There are lots of emojis, inside jokes, and fun messages, such as “Thanks for brunch!” and “Girls night.” This is invaluable social proof that other people love the app.

Apps for millennials

That said, they are not concerned with celebrity approval. Partnering with a famous musician or athlete won’t necessarily connect with them, unless you are targeting a very specific segment of this generation.

Create a Sense of Purpose

Millennials want their lives to mean something. They’re less concerned about wealth than their impact on the world. They look for ways to create meaningful connections.

Ideally, you want them to feel like they’re part of something special when they use your app - something that changes the world, supports an injured group, or breaks through a barrier (a barrier could be an inefficiency, a social injustice, an environmental blight, etc.).

Obviously this isn’t simple if you’re building an app that isn’t sexy, like an internal human resources tool or an inventory management system. It’s hard to make someone feel like they’re impacting the world when they log into a tool to run paid time-off reports or check supply levels.

In many cases, organizations aren’t interested in paying what it costs to develop polished user interfaces or workflows. They don’t need their people to love using it. They just need the app to solve a problem.

But if you want millennials to engage with your app, look for ways to give them purpose. Does it make your organization more efficient so you can spend more resources on your mission? Does it make your team’s lives easier or better? Does it affect the industry or market? Highlight these benefits in the app and in your marketing to attract millennials.

Going Forward

Like we said, this post involves a lot of generalizations. We’ve tried to help you understand what millennials want from their apps, but they are more than a demographic. Whenever you build a product, drill deep into your specific customer. Unpack their needs and preferences. Study their behavior and habits. The most successful apps are always customer-focused.

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