by Bryan Kirschner

3 lessons CIOs can learn from Kim Kardashian

Jan 26, 2016
IDG EventsMobile AppsSoftware Development

If Kim Kardashian can do it, you can too

I’ve previously shared a glimpse into the kind of data that motivates venture capital to hunt for industries with “weak mobile flanks” to attack.  I’ve offered case studies to help companies get beyond the “mobile web versus app debate.”

But jokes about breaking the Internet aside, television personality Kim Kardashian West has in effect thrown down the gauntlet on what enterprises should be accomplishing in digital.

Her Kimoji app claimed the number one position in the App Store’s paid downloads on release, and held it for several weeks.  For $1.99 the app enables users to insert custom emoticon-like cartoons into WhatsApp, email, and other messages.  

So what’s the upshot for CIOs?

Lesson one is that for all the challenges associated with app discovery and adoption, breaking through is possible (even with one million apps currently listed in the App Store and longitudinal data suggesting the average number of apps people use has held steady).

Lesson two is that this can be done with assets that are puny in comparison to those of a global enterprise. While Kardashian may be popular, I don’t think she has cracked the top 100 brands list yet. Likewise, while much is made of her fortune and palling around shopping with Paris Hilton, I doubt she has resources equivalent to those of a Global 2000 at her disposal.  

And lesson three is that having the pulse of your audience and the heartbeat of their digital lives is key. Today, you must always ask yourself, “how can my brand stay relevant amid the deluge of daily ‘mobile moments’ fighting for user attention?” According to the Pew Research Center, one in five U.S. adults and more than one in three 18-29 year olds report they are “online almost constantly.”

I am keenly aware that marshaling the resources of traditional enterprise IT to compete on end-user experience at “app store speed” can be challenging. But the stakes are too high to give up on the technical, cultural, and organizational changes needed to become an “app master” like Kim.

How do you put these lessons to work for your enterprise? I find there are three keys to mastering discovery, adoption, and use of apps that build your brand and your business.

Fixing “eyes on the prize”

Regardless of how many developers and IT staff you have internally, odds are you don’t have a surplus of talent you can easily afford to allocate to standing up on premises what can be spun up in the cloud or building what you can buy.  

App masters embrace the cloud much more aggressively than the rest of their peers. According to a recent survey by my employer, Apigee, of 800 IT decision makers in companies with more than $500M in annual revenue, nearly half (49%) of all app masters strongly agree that they are committed to leveraging cloud-based resources to meet business needs, compared to only 12% of the full sample. Likewise, a full 61% of the app masters agreed that being cloud-first by making use of IaaS, PaaS, and MBaaS while strategically approaching external resources is “extremely relevant” to their company’s market position.  

Don’t “go it alone”  

Great digital experiences often connect the dots across an ecosystem of apps or services.  Kardashian’s Kimoji app complements WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that are red-hot among Millennials. Ford wisely recognizes that just providing information about Ford isn’t enough to cement a place in daily app usage. By partnering with ParkWhiz and Parkopedia, they aim to enable people to find and pay for parking in their FordPass app.   

Uber is awesome at predicting “time to curb,” but last I checked it doesn’t manufacture thermostats or own the rights to much of a music catalog. Nevertheless, thanks to Uber’s “Trip Experiences” API, third parties will be able to complement your ride by offering a playlist timed to your ride or turning up the heat “just in time” as you’re approaching home.

Work “outside in”  

In the new market context there are progressively more infrastructure and platform services available to help you build, deploy, and monitor apps. Additionally, there are progressively more APIs from large incumbents and start-ups that present opportunities for federated digital experiences. If there’s one magic bullet for outrageous success in this new “world of choice,” it’s walking the talk of “outside in.”

In fact, nine out of ten (94%) of the app masters agree that “outside in” describes their IT organization’s approach—twice the proportion of the weakest app performers.

We’ve found outside-in means different things to different people, but again and again it boils down to some very simple empirical tests. Last year at I Love APIs London, Tom Pitkethly in John Lewis’ IT organization kicked off his response to a question about testing practices by talking about how he would visit stores to observe staff and customers interacting with the retailers’ apps.

It’s simple really: whoever your customers are, your team needs to be passionate about immersing themselves their digital lives and knowing it better than the VC-funded start-ups probing your mobile flanks.

The bad news is if that doesn’t inspire them, you’ve got the wrong team.

The good news is that if Kim Kardashian can paint the target on a number one spot in the App Store and hit it, so can the right team in your company with eyes on the prize and room to run.

(Disclosures: Some of the data cited here is from “Lessons from the App Masters,” a report available at no cost from my employer, Apigee.  John Lewis and glh Hotels are customers of my employer Apigee.   And for the record I do not have the Kimoji app.)