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A small number of apps are becoming the gateways to consumer attention

How important are apps becoming as the soul platform or channel to communicate with an individual?
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Charlie Greenwood
March 10, 2021
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I’m writing this blog at home, with my MacBook plugged into a large screen monitor. I’ve got four app windows open in front of me (email, Slack, browser, calendar) and then four apps on a second desktop accessed with one swipe (whats app, zoom, another browser and excel). There’s about 20 or 25 apps on my computer, but about 95% of my time is spent in only seven of them.

Then look at my phone and there’s easily 80+ apps on there and I use at most eight or nine of them multiple times per day: email, calendar, WhatsApp, Slack, messaging, Safari, weather, Google Maps, Twitter (even though it makes me angry) and the BBC News app. I’ll use others such as my banking app or podcasts on a regular basis, while I haven’t used my British Airways app in what seems an eternity. Of all the apps on my phone not many are getting used regularly at all and many of them, email, calendar, WhatsApp, Slack are exactly the same ones that I’m staring at all day on my laptop. Most of the time, my phone’s screen is locked, so I’m only going to see things if they appear as notifications on my lock screen, meaning that the lock screen notifications have become a channel in their own right.

Then take our Smart TV, we “cut the cord” some time ago so only watch what is available on the apps on our TV. 99% of it is across Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, All 4, Now TV and BT Sport. I’m still holding out on Disney+ but Star Wars will win in the end – the force is too strong. So we’ve gone from a world of an infinite number of channels to one where a small number of channels, each with a very deep library, are the access points to what we watch.

If you are a brand, a broadcaster, my football club, a retailer or any organisation that wants to get my attention, then you need to talk to me in the channels that I’m using or I’ve given you permission to send me notifications from. That’s not that many channels. It’s very likely that I will go from my “core” applications that have my attention to something else (another app, streaming service or website), but as a starting point, a prompt or reminder in these channels is going to be way more effective than hoping that I will go to your app / website without a very specific reason to do so.

I’ve used our setup at home as an example, and the specific apps that hold people’s attention will obviously vary between different people, geographies and generations. For example, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord and Houseparty are much more likely to feature amongst younger users “core” lists and are less used on my phone (I like Tik Tok, it just makes me smile). Older users are much likely to get information via email than younger users and younger users will tend to have both more apps installed and use a greater variety of them. But the principle remains the same – a relatively small number of apps are the gateways to consumer attention.

So what does this mean if you are a sports team, brand, league or broadcaster wanting to reach your fans and audience? The concept of “fish where the fishes are” is not new, but why does it feel so pertinent now? Well, there seem to be three broad trends – first, as shown above, is the concentration of people’s time and attention in an increasingly small number of channels, secondly the growth of, and investment in,  companies such as Substack who are helping deliver content directly into the applications that we are using every day (in Substack’s case the email inbox), or as the NYTimes put it, For us, the inbox is becoming a more attractive medium than the news feed” and thirdly, the trend for content to be increasingly shared within private channels such as WhatsApp or Slack groups rather than posted publicly, therefore further increasing the time spent in the “core apps”.

Let's look at this through the lens of the increasing number of right holders who are launching, or considering launching, direct-to-consumer propositions, which inevitably from a consumer’s point of view, means more apps that want your attention. At first glance, trying to get fans to a new destination app to watch your sport, feels contradictory to the trends that I described above. However, I think the really interesting part here is not whether a direct to consumer offer is the right thing to do (in many cases it absolutely is), but rather, if you have a direct to consumer proposition, how do you interact with fans in their “core apps” and when is the right time to try and move the fans between them?

It’s very unlikely that a direct to consumer streaming service for a specific sport or team is ever going to be one of your daily go-to apps for many people, but it can be exactly the right thing for specific “appointments” – when the match you want to see is on, your favourite player is playing or you want to see the highlights. Therefore, letting the individual fan know about the things that will be of interest to them in the channels that they spend the majority of their time becomes paramount. This requires data as a precursor to a genuine understanding of the fan. Have a look at Sports Loft company PumpJack and the work they are doing to bring multiple sources of data together about individual fans, such as what content they engage with, what tickets they buy or what players they follow, in order to get a deep understanding of the fans. It also requires being able to notify them at the right time and in the channels where they are spending their time, have a look at Sports Loft company Covatic, and their work to understand “windows of opportunity” in people’s days when they are most receptive to receiving content.

However, one channel that I think is still massively untapped when it comes to letting people know about things that are of interest to them and potentially moving people into streaming services or towards other content is the calendar – one of the most heavily used apps on both your phone and computer, but the experience is often very static. Companies such as eCal and Stanza are doing some very interesting work in this space, but this feels like an area with lots of opportunities.

Yet, to take this all the way back to the idea that we are witnessing a concentration of people’s attention into a relatively small number of apps, not everybody will rely on the same core apps. Therefore, for sports organisations to deliver great experiences in the channels that the fans use every day or choose to use around specific events or matches, this means being able to operate to a high standard across multiple different platforms, which is very hard. Sports Loft company Satisfi is a prime example of recognising this and all their recent work around engaging with fans away from the stadium through virtual assistant and trivia has been across multiple platforms such as WhatsApp, Messenger, SMS, tournament apps and voice – meaning that they can serve their fans over whichever platform the fan chooses to use, whether its one of their core day-to-day apps or something they specifically use to watch matches.

And if you are going to try and get people’s attention inside the core apps that they use every day, then you need to stand out – and that’s by creating really good content that people want to engage with. For many people, the core apps will be the social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (especially on their phone) and when it comes to sport, the content that drives engagement will often be player related. Sports Loft company Greenfly operates right at the intersection of athlete content and the social channels, helping teams, leagues and brands to use athlete content in order to really cut-thru the deluge of social content. Equally, Sports loft member company Slate helps teams and leagues maintain their  brand consistency across their social posts whilst operating in real-time, making sure that the quality of the posts remains really high in these "core" apps.

So, if you are a sports organisation grappling with how to connect with your fans and through which channels, please get in touch. There are a number of companies at Sports Loft who can help. And if you a startup company doing great work in this space, please also get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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A relatively small number of apps are the gateways to consumer attention."