The stakes for understanding mobile users are rising quickly as people spend more time on their smartphones. Recent acquisitions suggest that companies are racing to build up their knowledge of mobile users and provide a better customer experience.Smartphone sales bypassed feature phone sales for the first time last year, reported Gartner. Consumers are also spending more time using their smartphones. Acccording to Nielsen, Americans spent 34 hours using mobile apps and the mobile Web in December 2013, up from six hours in 2012.
Companies are turning to mobile analytics firms to better understand the behaviors and preferences of smartphone users. Yahoo was one of the latest companies to invest in a mobile analytics firm. The Sunnyvale, CA company acquired Flurry, which provides analytics on app usage rates, time spent on mobile operating systems, and other user behavior, on Monday. Media reports speculate that the acquisition price ranges anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion.
In May, Microsoft acquired Capptain, a French startup that delivers targeted push notifications based on behavioral analytics. And earlier this year, retargeting firm Criteo scooped up mobile analytics provider Ad-X and local search and advertising firm YP bought Sense Networks, a startup that creates profiles of mobile users.
"2014 will be known as a year of phenomenal mobile exit events - especially for those companies buying audience," writes Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask in a blog post. "It's a good time to sell."
Mobile data is valuable for its contextual insights, Ask continues, which can help marketers understand customers' interests in order to deliver relevant messages and better serve them. That's the hope, anyway.
Businesses still have a long way to go in engaging mobile users, says Christopher Dean, CEO of marketing automation and mobile analytics firm Swrve. Only 26 percent of users actively use an app within 24 to 48 hours after downloading it and that percentage quickly drops to 13 percent 7 days later, according to the firm.
"Developers are still focused on downloads, and are not spending enough time on creating an ongoing engagement with their customers," Dean says. "They need a strategy to keep users coming back." One mistake that developers often make is asking users if they would like to receive push notifications as soon as they open the app.
Developers need to give users a reason to opt into receiving messages, advises Dean. "Wait until the user has opened the app a few times before asking them if they would like to receive push notifications and explain the value of those notifications," he says. "If you're a news app, for example, ask if they would like updates on developments or breaking news alerts."
And more importantly, give users options. In addition to using analytics to determine what users want, allow them to personalize their experiences through preference panels and other features, Dean adds. "Users will tell you what they're interested in and what they like, just ask," he says.