Cross the Generational App Divide by Discovering Improvement Points

October 13th, 2014
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flickr user Jason Howie under CC BY

It happens all the time: older generations just don’t get the latest gizmos kids these days are using. What doesn’t happen every day is when there’s a conversation about it in an editorial space and the publication makes that conversation public.

That’s what news site Quartz did last week. In talking about payment app Venmo, writers under 30 said they used the app all the time and that they and their friends found it incredibly useful. The response from the over-30 crowd: “Why?!”

Venmo allows users to pay their friends for split checks, rent, whatever. The fact that one of your friends paid another can show up in your feed, like social media, or the payments can remain private. The over-30 participants in the chat remained bewildered as to why under-30s would want such information shared and why they would connect their bank account with an app in the first place.

As an under-30 myself, I’d never heard of Venmo and would probably never use it. But the over-30s in this conversation missed a crucial point, one that is frequently missed when talking to and marketing across generations: It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it, because people use it anyway.

In August The Atlantic published some findings about the most popular apps by generation, and while everyone’s top apps include Facebook and Pandora Radio, there’s a surprising (or not so surprising) difference between age groups. People over 55 play solitaire and use Yahoo! Mail, people 35 to 54 use Viggle and still play Candy Crush, users 25-34 still use Skype and have the highest Netflix usage, and people ages 18 to 24 use Kik Messenger, Snapchat, and Ifunny :).

This makes plain what most people would expect: Just as different generations respond to different words and messaging, they use different apps and interact with their smart phones differently. The Quartz discussion makes clear that for public relations pros and marketers, it’s important not to get caught up in thinking “why would you use that?” but instead to focus on the facets of popular apps that draw in users of specific age groups and leverage that understanding to reach an ever broader audience.

The most important thing to focus on is what does the app improve? Most apps that resonate with users will improve an existing procedure. Kik allows you to message your friends while also browsing news and games. This improves chatting by not forcing users to switch apps all the time. Venmo makes it easy for kids who don’t like to carry cash to easily and immediately pay each other back.

You might not be an app developer, but analyzing app use across generations can help you figure out what users and generations value and then speaking to those values.

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