Does your membership organisation have a great app?

Award-winning digital agency Cantarus are currently working on a new app for memcom on their acclaimed MemConnect platform. We had a ‘Discovery meeting’ with the team a few weeks ago and were totally blown away by their fresh ideas, drive and technical know-how. It’s no wonder the agency has recently been named as Number 24 in The Prolific North Top 50 Digital Agencies 2019 and have been shortlisted for three awards at the memcom membership excellence awards 2019 including Best Website and Best Use of App.


We interviewed Lee Adams, CEO & Co-founder of Cantarus, this week all about apps, with a focus on membership organisations. Thanks for your time Lee!


Why should membership organisations have an app?

We always start with the ‘why’ questions when looking at app delivery for a client. Why will this app help with execution of our business strategy? Why do we need an app in addition to our other digital channels? Why would a member download this app? Why would a member keep using this app? Why shouldn’t I build this app? There are many more and usually a strong case can be built for an app, but if not it’s best to discover that at the beginning and invest elsewhere.

As a general benefit, massively improved engagement through content personalisation and push notifications with strong calls to action can be transformative for an organisation. Push notifications allow organisations to provide up-to-date, relevant information to their members, which in turn encourages engagement. Compared to emails, push notifications have a 50% higher opening rate, and the click rate is 7x higher than email (footnote 1).

Expecting users to proactively visit your website, even when prompted via an email, is increasingly unrealistic and apps offer convenience; convenience is undoubtedly one of the most important considerations in user experience generally. As of 2018, 52.2% of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones and this is only expected to grow, so it’s more crucial now than ever for businesses to get on board with apps ((footnote 2) According to Comscore, mobile apps account for 66% of all online minutes, and 85% of mobile minutes.

Mobile apps also offer fantastic opportunities to capture general insights from highly-detailed analytics; understanding email opens and reads is much more error-prone than understanding the reach of push notifications for example. These insights can be used to refine an organisation’s app offering, confident in the knowledge most users have their apps regularly updating in the background.

Apps can also offer functionality that is not particularly suited for websites, from digital membership cards to convenient instant payment via biometric security such as fingerprints and face ID.


How should the an app differ from a website?

A successful app needs a clear value proposition and should deliver a great Member Experience (MX) by being intuitive, fast, reliable and integrated. An app can be a much more effective way of engaging members with exceptional and personalised short-form content via GDPR-friendly push notifications when compared to, say, email. Push notifications are eye-catching and tend to see immediate engagement, as opposed to an email, where you might keep it lying unopened in your inbox or maybe even your spam folder for a length of time. Apps can also include features that drive ongoing engagement, whether acting as a convenient interface into an online community or providing digital membership cards, building access and offline access to digital resources such as clinical guidance.


Is there anything one should avoid doing when building an app?

There are many things to avoid! However, the largest and most common mistake is undertaking an app project without first making the business case and articulating the answers to the aforementioned ‘why’ questions. After that I’d include: merely replicating your website, using generic or template apps, failing to integrate with existing back-office systems, not considering what happens after go-live and failing to understand your true competitors in this space are other organisations – such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn et al – vying for your users’ attentions and that you must deliver a user experience on a par with theirs.


Can you talk us through the benefits of using an app platform?

I think we all understand the advantages of bespoke software development: we can deliver a perfect functional-fit – i.e. the app does exactly what you want, no more no less – and customise the visual design as required. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost… literally! Developing a bespoke app that can compete with the likes of Instagram and Facebook in terms of user experience, whilst also being performant, reliable and secure, is often a very expensive undertaking. Supporting and maintaining such an app as new operating system updates and new hardware formats are constantly released is even more expensive over the medium-to-long-term. Most membership organisations simply cannot afford to fund a mobile app do a great job, and keep on doing a great job over time, with a bespoke app.

Off-the-shelf apps typically offer a much lower entry point in terms of cost compared to bespoke apps but most of the benefits of a bespoke app are lost. Typically, the apps will be vendor-branded in the app store and a member must download and install this third-party app before undertaking some configuration to identify which membership organisation they are interested in. Some of these apps will then perform some basic look and feel customisation but the initial installation process is a terrible user experience, fronted by someone else’s brand and organisations end-up with an inflexible app that offers nothing unique.

We designed the MemConnect app platform to deliver the bulk of the benefits of both bespoke and off-the-shelf apps, whilst falling much closer to the off-the-shelf end of the spectrum in terms of price. An app platform has two main components. First there is a common cloud-based middleware layer linking the app with the membership organisation’s back-office systems such as CRM, CMS, eLearning and events platforms. Second there is the mobile app itself. This is assembled from pre-built and interoperable components much like a set of Lego can be used to build an almost infinite variety of creations. The app also supports layering of a bespoke design onto the assembly of components giving a near-bespoke app level of flexibility at a fraction of the price. Further, because we’re talking about a platform, ongoing development costs are shared amongst many customers in the form of a predictable licence fee. This means technical support, updates for new operating systems and hardware, plus technical support, are all taken care of. Using this approach, a membership organisation can deliver a great user experience at low cost and also benefit from the shared learning intrinsic in being part of a platform community.


How does the Cantarus team approach an app brief?

As with website work, the key is to start with the client’s purpose and strategy and from there use workshops involving disparate skillsets – typically design, technical, marketing and business – to compose an approach. Projects are led by our Consultants – all of whom have an excellent technical background combined with a good all-round skillset – on our ‘One Team’ principle to ensure ongoing engagement and buy-in from the client and all of the disparate skillsets required for optimal delivery.

In our case, we benefit from the unique MemConnect app platform for membership which gives us a multi-organisational dataset we can use to inform design decisions from day one; in short, organisations can benefit quickly and directly from shared learning.


Why should the Revo app win best app, in 10 words or less?

It’s the first implementation of an app platform that is truly transformational for the entire membership sector!


Any predictions for app development over the coming years?

Bespoke development will become increasingly niche and template apps offering a poor user experience will fade away.


Any apps from the commercial sector we can learn from?

Lots! Many insights can be gained simply by looking at what the large social platforms are doing. Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest use ‘badges’ (the numbers appearing on your app icon showing unread messages, etc.) very effectively to drive engagement, as these won’t disappear until you’ve actually clicked into the app. The best apps offer very fast performance and integrate with native phone functionality – such as fingerprint or face ID – to make tasks such as logging-in both painless and highly-secure. I also find that apps which are clearly defined and relatively narrow in scope – i.e. they don’t try to do too many things – work best. I’d also look at apps from some of the challenger financial services companies such as Revolut and Monzo; a great user experience and high levels of back-office integration and automation are central to their success.


Interested in apps? There are some superb insights in this Revo case study over on the MemConnect website, click on the image to view.



1 Salesforce, Statista UK