Sunday, May 4, 2014

Generation Z girls business instincts and guiding factors

Generation Z Girl Power
(Image Courtesy Scott Swigart Flickr Creative Commons)

Today, I had a chance to attend a Girls Innovate Live Pitch event organized by the Girls Innovate non-profit organization and supported by a 'village' of mentors, sponsors, parents etc. Lots of goodwill, willingness to help and community support to assist today's school age girls (ages 12 to 17) understand and harness the opportunities around computer science and entrepreneurship in general. Not to mention the soft skills of presenting, pitching and support an idea or point of view to a supportive but critical (from a learning standpoint) judging panel.

Ten pitches were delivered today, with counsel following from Christy Remey Chin, Andrea Lo, Julie Won and other pitch coaches. I looked for trends to understand how this Generation Z demographic cohort thinks about the opportunities and challenges ahead of them. What was underlying their business ideas? What guiding factors influence their decision making?

The ten pitches were roughly in four categories. One, Productivity solutions. It was clear that these school age young women were conscious of the time-pressed nature of their lives from school, play and other interests. In a good portion of the pitches, solutions were presented in the form of calendaring solutions, study guides, and other experiences that would make them more productive and efficient. Two, digital experiences that bridged the offline world with the online world. Here, homework assignment tools for teachers, personalized deals/offers, re-imagining medical facilities decor  were some of the solutions that would make today's paper, brick & mortar or partially digital solutions into new and more efficient digital experiences. Three, specialized Q & A solutions that were specific to girls and supported by mentors and peers. Four, new commerce opportunities. Here, the ideas included creative ideas to fill gaps in coffee shop offerings (look out, Starbucks and Peets) and apparel commerce.

Some guiding factors that influence their thinking include Collaborative Consumption. This demographic group appears to have embraced and will carry forward the notions of the shared economy and shared ownership. Social Responsibility - Green considerations, special needs, combating negative digital influences like cyber-bullying were some of the underlying factors in the design and development of their ideas and solutions. Social experiences - Learning from peers, sharing knowledge with peers, tapping into mentors were just some of the underlying social considerations in how they approached solutions. There's an App for that! Apps in the digital marketplaces of today's leading mobile operating systems are the starting point to how they address solving their problems. Well positioned for the evolutions in app stores for wearables and other future areas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For mainstream appeal, Twitter needs to be more like Twitter

 Image Courtesy Wagner Flickr Creative Commons (

Recently, much has been made about Twitter seemingly looking like Facebook or about the ability to tag people in photos in Twitter like Facebook. Twitter offers a delightful experience especially the random walk to discovery and the serendipity of you-never-know what's-going-to-pop-up-next in your feed (especially if you follow a diverse set of people and entities).  For broader appeal, the company is addressing the right priority of mainstream relevance and adoption in its stated intent to " ...By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background..."

However, to do that,  I think Twitter needs to reach into its own strengths and yes, from there, draw some inspiration from others.  I offer a couple of thoughts for Twitter to amplify its appeal to the broader masses.

First, no doubt a simplified view but the ideal social media network  contains (among other things) the narcissism of Facebook, the serendipity of Twitter and the utility of a LinkedIn.

Narcissism is an underlying behavioral trait of mainstream media use. The name Myspace says it all or witness the viral distribution of the Facebook 10th anniversary "Look Back" self-video which saw 'hundreds of millions of movies rendered'. On narcissism, Twitter is highly skewed towards the celebrity. As a Twitter mainstream user remarked to me once, "I'm just going to take my 200 Twitter followers and go the (fill-in-the-blank) home". What Twitter needs to do is to make it more democratic for the masses so that they feel they have a shot at a moment of fame. Their time in the sun. Some ways to achieve that are editorial curation of non-celebrity Tweets through mechanisms such as "Tweet of the Day", "Notable Tweets", "Editor's Choice", "Rising Star"etc. an example being Blogger's Top Contributors.  Another example, fostering and encouraging forums like CNBC's Squawk on the Street where tweets of non-celebrity people are highlighted on the network for their creativity.  Twitter needs to find a way to harness all these outlets and more to make Twitter more gratifying to the masses.

On serendipity, one of the delightful aspects of Twitter is trends and breaking news. Currently, Twitter's notifications are along the lines of follow more people i.e. "People like XYZ" even if you are already following 100+ people. The masses don't have time for more information streams. But, they crave being the first to know. They fear missing out. So, the notifications should be, based on your interests, here is what news broke on Twitter, here is what you missed,  your interests XYZ is trending now etc.

Finally, just an Facebook adopted hashtags and celebrity following through Subscribe, there is one small thing that Twitter can draw inspiration from Facebook. Namely, the addictive, eye-catching, urgency inducing Red colored Notification icon for notifications. Twitter's blue on blue is too subtle for the mainstream. Red on Blue works - Look at the native apps on iPhone like the default mail icon, the phone icon etc.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 - The New Whole Product

The New Whole Product

Description - How has the whole product concept changed in the light of trends like cloud, consumerization, social, self-service distribution etc.? A new present-day whole product framework is presented and the elements that are different and new from the categories in the original framework are discussed in this post.

The Whole Product framework/concept was first coined by Regis McKenna and imprinted in our (technology) minds by the timeless (in technology years) book, Crossing the Chasm.  The Whole Product concept refers to the need to address the complementary set of products and experiences that a customer expects beyond the generic product that a firm creates. The premise is that by understanding the expectations of the mainstream customer, a company can plan ahead to build the complementary set of partnerships and experiences to fulfil the mainstream customers expectation thus creating a broad market for the new product entry.

I have created a framework that extends the original 'doughnut' concept into a new 'wheel' framework that attempts to incorporate the market dynamics and evolution in customer expectations since the book "Crossing the Chasm" was first published. The original premise still remains that a firm can plan market entry for a new product by understanding and addressing the complementary set of experiences that fulfil the whole product promise.

Original Framework (Source "Crossing the Chasm")

Source: Crossing the Chasm, ISBN 0-06-051712-3

Source: Crossing the Chasm, ISBN 0-06-051712-3

The New Whole Product Framework

So what are the categories in this wheel framework that are different or incremental from the original doughnut framework?


Marketplace - Marketplace here refers to the digital watering holes of today where complementary products, professional services, tools, references, processes etc. gather to provide a supporting set of capabilities that help complete the generic or base product.  Examples of successful marketplaces that offer these complementary capabilities include the Amazon cloud marketplace, Salesforce AppExchange etc.. Samsung's recent struggles in not being able to attract a rich developer community to build apps for the Tizen mobile operating system shows us how the generic product cannot cross the chasm to the mainstream without a supporting marketplace or ecosystem.

APIs - APIs can be core to a company's approach be it a company like Twilio's whole dependence on a developer community for its communications services or on the other side for a developer needing data sources to build a business and income stream. APIs can be also be internal to in-house developers for knowledge sharing, repeatable solutions and business agility such as discussed in the Netflix API-as-a-tactic post by Daniel Jacobson. For my framework, I refer to the "non-core" extensibility and leverage that APIs provide to business objectives by closing the gap between the generic product and the augmented product.  On the consumer side, a familiar example is how the social media companies have driven traffic and user engagement through the Share APIs that allow for easy content sharing by creators on the social media networks. On the enterprise side, the various SaaS offerings in the Amazon Web Services Marketplace that require the SaaS partner to be primarily hosted on AWS infrastructure is an example of extensibility of the AWS core offering.


Support and Social Learning - Today, support includes community based learning and the leverage that social media provides.  Social media groups, Q & A websites like Stack Overflow, vendor specific communities like Angie's List Answers  and community forums like Bimmerfest for BMW present and future owners are a key part of the support model today beyond the traditional call-in tiered support, onsite support etc. The whole product needs to factor in the availability of these support channels to augment the support model that comes with the generic product.

Training & Experiential Learning - Training now goes beyond the vendor created classes or industry body created certifications. Freemium models, free trials, advertising-based product version allow customers an entry point to experience a product version before committing spend to a full-scale, paid or ad-free version respectively. Also, consumerization of the enterprise is a strong trend, so enterprise vendors would do well to help build products that have interfaces similar to what people experience in their personal lives or to create consumer facing versions of enterprise products.  Vendors now need to create an experiential dimension to augment the generic product.

Self-Service & Multi-Device Access - Today's distribution channels include self service portals and an expectation of solutions that work across different form factor device access points. If the generic product is centered around a single device experience or high touch distribution such as field sales, then the whole product experience must be thought about carefully to include self service and multi-device experiences. 


Service Providers - Given the growth of the cloud-based X-as-a-Service market, to access the broad mainstream market, a traditional on-premise solution must be augmented with a cloud delivery model. A generic product may be extended into the cloud market through partnering with a cloud service provider and help them create a viable service offering. This is the 'arm merchants' to the cloud approach to extend the generic product to cloud-based delivery such as Desktop-as-a-Service. The other approach is the earlier example provided where SaaS providers can build upon an existing IaaS cloud service provider infrastructure to create a whole product cloud solution.

The overall strategies in "Crossing the Chasm"  and the tips on whole product management continue to be quite inspirational. I suggest the new framework detailed above to take a more current view of the new market dynamics to achieve success through the strategies espoused by Geoffrey Moore.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Where is the 'Consumerization of the Enterprise' puck going to be?

Image Courtesy Kenneth Lu

Description - What consumer behaviors today will create new incremental enterprise revenue streams tomorrow? How can enterprise solution providers prepare for where the puck is going to be?

The term consumerization has a few related definitions. The reorientation of product and service designs around the individual end user.  The use of personal consumer electronics at work. The blending of personal and business technology use.  Gartner summarizes it as " Consumerization is the specific impact that consumer-originated technologies can have on enterprises. It reflects how enterprises will be affected by, and can take advantage of, new technologies and models that originate and develop in the consumer space, rather than in the enterprise IT sector. "

The oft-stated example of how consumers translated their personal device preferences (e.g. iPhone, iPads) into enterprise class communication tools of today is probably the best example of consumerization of the enterprise where consumer preferences created a new enterprise market. In fact, I think about the Apple case study as prominent and repeated as the Dell operational excellence 'build-to-order' case study of the last decade. Other less-accounted examples of consumerization include the consumer cloud storage space where consumers brought their personal usage of tools like Hightail(formerly YouSendIt), Dropbox etc. into the enterprise to share, store and collaborate work files because they found it difficult to work within the constraints of equivalent enterprise tools. SaaS, Social Media in the enterprise, and the list goes on.  Consumerization is beyond hype and demonstrated significant economic value for enterprise vendors/service providers.

So, how will present day consumer behaviors and expectations translate into new future economic streams in the enterprise? How can enterprise vendors  amplify existing consumer usage or foster new consumer usage to take advantage of these trends?
Recommendations, Ratings and Reviews - As consumers, we have become accustomed to proof-points  that are in the public domain. We expect a Yelp or Zagat review before we try a new restaurant, we expect opinions on Trip Advisor before we select a vacation destination, we rely on crowd-sourced recommendations to pick a movie to watch on Netflix, we look to ratings to evaluate apps in app stores or to trust a merchant in an online marketplace. While the recommendation/ratings/reviews system is still maturing and ironing out some wrinkles, it is here to stay. Today, the enterprise provides proof-points via customer testimonials, 3rd party studies, analyst influences etc. However, these proof-points are initiated and fostered by the vendor. The democratic or public opinion system will translate over to the enterprise.  Enterprise vendors can prepare and foster this aspect by starting with building presence in the evolving enterprise app marketplaces and proactively building support and quantitative proof-points in the online communities relevant to their industry.

Education - Products used in schools, colleges, universities are habit forming. Our first bank account, first email account etc. are sticky. The earlier in life, the stronger the habit. I recently attended a middle school club event which required presentation by groups of students to a large audience - Powerpoint was not the presentation tool of choice for this particular group of middle schoolers. Early experiences like these are what this generation will carry over into their work lives. Enterprise vendors/service providers will be well served by investing in low-cost or free solutions for education. Another way enterprises can foster consumerization is by contributing knowledge, products and define new course offerings in the evolving MOOC education space populated by Udacity, Coursera, edX etc. The M in MOOC stands for massive!

Experience - As consumers, we increasingly buy experiences more than we buy products these days. Part of the experience is manifested in the showrooming effect which the consumer vendors such as Best Buy are embracing to their advantage. We increasingly try before we buy. The experience precedes the purchase. The enterprise players already have a head-start on this through existing mechanisms such as technology centers, centers of excellence, development environments, demo/trial programs etc. The enterprise players should invest in and amplify these avenues.

Fun - "Happy Streaming", "This is gonna be fun", "Why's it cool" - These were the messages I received when opening  the package of my digital streaming device. Again, a manifestation of the experience over product trend -for example, termed as the Experience Economy by Pine-Gilmore. Or defined by Simon Sinek in his TED Talk as the "Start with the Why". The "Why" is more important than the "What" and the "How".  This is a tough task for the enterprise i.e. to make the experience matter more than the product, make it fun. I will point to the Super Bowl ads of today (incidentally) for inspiration - Think about the non-consumer companies that captured your attention by how they appealed to your sense of fun.

Other aspects of consumerization like simplicity & aesthetics found in our consumer app experiences that are well known as are the effects of consumer electronics in the workplace. I have not focused on these since much has been written about these effects and their impact on the enterprise such as this Forbes article by Darian Shirazi. Instead, I tried to take a forward looking view to emerging consumer behaviors that have not yet made it over to the enterprise.  Where the puck is going to be.......

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Mobile Factor - Just this week!

Photo Courtesy Dominik Syka

Given the MLK holiday, I got a chance to catch-up on some detail on the events in the technology space this past week. Nothing big that I missed during the course of the week while I was 'snacking' on news throughout the day and week on my smartphone. This time around in my reading, I tried to keep an eye out for what lessons can one learn from the past or for an undercurrent in the week's happenings.

Starting with the news medium itself, this WSJ article about the impact of the digital medium for magazines particularly the tablet. Given the over-exposure of revenue to advertising (75%) in the print medium  and declining advertising revenue, publishers are looking to the mobile digital medium - the tablet - to derive more customer subscription revenue. With leverage i.e. digital subscription pricing in some instances being twice that of its discounted print subscription cousin. While digital subscriptions are in the single digit percentages today, the impact of the tablet is quite evident.

Five years ago or so, when I was choosing between a Plasma-TV and LCD-TV set, I choose Plasma. Turns out, so did Panasonic. My bet was smaller but for Panasonic the bet turned out to be expensive.  Closure of its plasma-TV factory in the midst of LCD domination is described in this WSJ article. In the race between Plasma and LCD, LCD became the mainstream technology due to broader application in other products such as, yes, mobile phones.

Or the excitement in the LBO industry around the vested interested parties generated rumors of a Dell buyout. Dell struggles are strongly correlated to the computing shift from PCs to smartphones and tablets. PC account for half of Dell's revenue but in the 4th quarter of 2012, Dell's shipments fell 20.9% and PC related revenue declined by 19%. Other lessons from history? Competitive advantages have a limited shelf life - Rivals catch-up as in this case with Dell's direct sales model and supply chain efficiency. New adjacent lines of business need to align to your core competence as in this case printers/TVs did not align with Dell's made-to-order customization competence.

Can Intel be far behind in terms of the impact of the PC shift to smartphones and tablets? This past week saw Intel's fourth quarter profit fall by 27% while investors grumbled about its capital investment plans. A deeper look at the dynamics of the chip making industry has the mobile factor in spades.

And then, Commerce. The increased use of mobile devices by consumers to comparison shop while in brick and mortar stores was a key area of discussion at the National Retail Federation Conference this past week.  EBay's revenue growth of 18% in this latest quarter was attributed significantly to enhancements the company made to the mobile shopping experience.

The mobile factor and just this week!

What's ahead? A lot but look for this.... In all this fuss about Apple growth prospects or lack thereof especially as related to the iPhone 5. I believe that an understated feature of the iPhone 5 is LTE technology and the associated speed of data download. iPhone 5 shipments and usage will correlate to increased video consumption. The video industry and associated sectors will see an impact of increased consumption in the months that follow.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The fight is on for your entertainment dollars. What's the impact of the Web though?

Photo Courtesy Duncan 

It's the weekend of September 8-9, 2012 and I have had a chance to catch-up in some detail on technology news this past week. In addition, I had a chance to review my weekend entertainment choices. Despite my bias (of being in the consumer internet space), I thought the impact of the Web was an undercurrent in the expanding entertainment choices competing for our time and dollars. Consider the happenings just this past week....


Jay Leno took a 50% pay cut as part of the 20% belt-tightening at NBC's "The Tonight Show". Looking deeper into the market dynamics behind these austerity measures, most late-night shows on TV saw viewership shrink by 5% from the previous year. Not surprisingly, advertising dropped as well to the tune of more than 25% across Leno and Letterman's late night shows. Why? While cable-TV shows and the DVR viewer habit increasingly have had an impact, it's clear that viewers are voting with some of their time on Web programming and online channels.

TV Comedy of a different kind....Viacom's cable channels that include Nickelodeon and Comedy Central have seen viewership drop by 29% at Nickelodeon. To maintain ad revenue, Viacom is increasing the advertising time by over 9% over a year ago. This is a established yet controversial short term adjustment technique in this industry. The difference now though is the growing availability of internet video. Should viewers get impatient with ads, they can turn off their TV and turn to the web. For example, Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" can be watched commercial-free on Netflix.

On a slightly different but TV related note, investors are buying small, struggling TV stations in major markets for the value of airwaves or spectrum. Two impacts of the internet playing out here. One, the strategic acquisition of airwaves are targeted towards addressing the bottomless demand for wireless broadband services. Two, competition from the Web is one of the primary reasons cited for the struggles and often demise of the small TV stations.


Turns out, the summer box office was less than spectacular with a movie "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" having an all time worst opening in 2000-plus theatres, attendance being the worst since 1993 in North America and overall a summer box office down 2.8% from last year. The speculation is many factors contributed to this decline including the Olympics, the economy, the Aurora, Colorado tragedy but no doubt, newer online channels and web programs had an impact.

In the movie streaming business, this past week, Amazon bolstered its movie streaming offering through a multiyear licensing deal with cable channel, Epix. This deal will bring a set of popular films like "Iron Man 2" and "The Hunger Games" from several major studios like Lions Gate Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, MGM Studios. How big is video-streaming? According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon subscribers have access to 25,000 TV shows and movies, Netflix about 50,000, Hulu more than 58,400. Is that enough entertainment for you?

(Streaming) Music

Apple is reportedly jumping into Radio and it looks like iTunes users will be able to create their own virtual 'radio stations' along the lines of the Pandora, Spotify etc. Regardless of the consolidation and competitive battles ahead, and the problem of the high music licensing costs, one thing is clear. Online music services are here to stay and serve as an increasingly valuable revenue source for record companies. And here is the challenge to terrestrial radio (traditional radio). If as reported, Apple is successful in negotiating past restrictions to online radio such as a current ban on playing a given song too frequently, online radio will become more of a direct competitor to terrestrial radio.


I am a big believer in the potential of the 'Second Screen' products/emerging segment. A decent explanation by wikipedia can be found here. In essence, we are increasingly watching TV with an accompanying 'second screen' device mostly a tablet or smartphone thus increasing our social engagement (Tweeting, FB posts etc.) and deeper consumption of the content - "What song was that?" "What location was that?" "What shoes is she wearing?" "I have to share this play with my buddies" etc. etc. This past thursday, MTV introduced a new type of multiplatform ad service called Reverb whereby a Pepsi commercial will appear simultaneously on TV, MTV's website, or an MTV mobile app. No escaping! While the "Second Screen" is largely a social media phenomenon, the increasing impact of the online world on the traditional media of TV is compelling.


A new e-book pricing landscape is on the way and if you are a consumer, it's the good kind. E-book price cuts from three leading publishers are only a month to three months away. How low are we talking about? One past indicator, Amazon had priced e-book best-sellers at $9.99 before 2010. Not an internet phenomenon per se but definitely e-commerce impact.

There you have it. All within the past week. What's ahead of us?

  • Second Screen Growth. More interaction with TV content through your tablet or smartphone by apps and more context-based advertising. Not just subtle product placements like Cameron Diaz's Christian Louboutin red-soled shoes in the movie "Bad Teacher" or Daniel Craig's Omega Seamaster watch in his James Bond portrayals. But increasingly, through your second screen, this is the model he/she is wearing in this scene and here is a pointer to merchants where you can get one of your own.
  • More lobbying and court-room drama. Expect players like Pandora and now a heavy-weight like Apple to aggressively seek assistance to solve the high royalty costs that are weighing on the net radio business model. 
  • The exclusivity of ESPN or HBO as a cable only offering will crack under market pressure. Alternate offerings will evolve for streaming services especially for the newer generation that grew up without ESPN. 
  • Entertainment coverage such as listings will evolve to include original web programs. For example, this friday's Wall Street Journal covered the 2012 fall season from a traditional media/entertainment standpoint i.e. theatre, movies, TV, Art, Books and Music. Some day soon - a listing of upcoming web offerings in articles such as the before-mentioned WSJ article.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Want to make your App Sticky? Look no further than yourself. Nine traits that drive app engagement.

Be engaging! This is often the stated criteria for apps. Easier said than done. Actually, if you are looking to build or grow a business, the bar is even higher. A few weeks ago, in my Twitter feed, I saw a reference to a Fast Company article that described John Lilly's "first filter" investment criteria. John Lilly is the former Mozilla CEO who joined the prominent VC firm Greylock in 2010. The article described his guiding principle as "Lately I obsess about whether a product can be one of the 20 icons on my iPhone homescreen," he says. "That's my essential question right now." 

Utility and relevance are the table stakes component of an app-based business model. If I look at the current list of Top 25 apps in my smartphone app store, beyond the game apps, SMS-alternative apps, organizer apps, flashlight app etc. are some of the top apps. Clearly, utility and relevance play a big role. But beyond the app providing utility to us, what drives us to return to our apps? Think about it. You are standing in the line at an amusement park ride, at the DMV etc., you are bored or even panicky about unexpected 'empty' downtime, so you pull out your mobile device... What top 2-3 apps do you visit? In this scenario, utility is not the factor in your choice. Stickiness is. Successful apps are sticky, they engage users and this engagement is deeply rooted in our traits. And by appealing to our inherent traits, apps can compel us to keep us coming back. Let's take a look at nine traits that drive app engagement.

Serendipity - We love desirable discoveries by accident. My personal examples are discovering long lost high school classmates through Facebook's " People You May Know" feature or getting back in touch with former colleagues through LinkedIn's "People You May Know' feature. Or the more exciting nature of discovery through Twitter's public conversations and hashtags. In reality, serendipity in apps is not really an accident. By sharing our address books, educational and employment information and in general declaring our interests, this sort of discovery is expected and only a matter of time. In this Tech Crunch articleHenry Nothhaft, Jr. provides a discussion of the dimensions of serendipity and argues that serendipity is not really accidental. But, again, even if anticipated, these desirable discoveries are fun and keep bringing us back.

Personalization - Me, me and more me.  Whether the Pandora model of providing the name of an artist, genre or song and enjoying the personalized radio station or actually the ability to set up multiple personalized stations. Or the recommendation engines that Amazon and Netflix offer such as It's "Your-Name-Here's Amazon". Or personalized news/content apps or declared preference-based news discovery apps. There is a reason why people love to hear the sound of their own name. Apps that target this gratification are sticky.

The effect of Social Proof. The obvious phenomenon of the social network and the outstanding success of engagement of social media apps is well understood. Instead, I will attempt to offer how an app can tap into emerging themes or consumer preferences derived from social influence. For example, there is increasing comfort with location services such as social check-in found in social media products like Foursquare, Facebook etc. As individuals, we are nervous about declaring our location because privacy and security considerations are in the back of our minds. However, since there is a trend in increasing user comfort around declaring location, I believe we are relying on social proof and are influenced by those we consider similar to ourselves. Tap into the trait of social influence to determine influence trends and drive app engagement.

Reputation Scores and Gamification.  Gamification here does not refer to apps of the enraged feathered animals variety. Rather it refers to the application of game design techniques and game mechanics to a non-game context such as in this case, business. If winning doesn't matter, why do they keep score? This quote is attributed to the football coaching legend, Vince Lombardi. We are inherently competitive in nature and the social effect draws out this trait even more. For example, apps like Klout generate engagement by providing changing social media impact scores, the encouragement to share these scores and a view into the scoreboard that includes people in our network. Like us on Facebook. Really? Engage users by having them participate, leverage their expertise, provide them reputation platforms for their achievements and make them the hero.

Aesthetics - Looks Matter. Apps that are visually appealing and a delight to use are sticky. Since beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, I won't cite a specific example. However, I will suggest that the evolution and competitive dynamics of map apps are a good example of how visual dimensions of realism, the excitement of viewing places/roads less traveled, delightful performance etc. can make the difference between active engagement and simple utility. Mapping apps are thus increasing engagement on top of the utility they already provide. 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Push notifications, intriguing updates, well timed digests bring users back. Even inactive users (termed lurkers) on Facebook will act on a birthday notification. If you learn through a LinkedIn digest that a colleague changed a job, you are tempted to go back to the product to learn more about her new company. Breaking News on Twitter is another example. The 2012 Olympics will be underway soon and real-time updates are what we will consume versus the primetime television based consumption patterns of the past. Give your users the opportunity to set preferences and you have an endorsed mechanism to engage with your users!

Our Stuff i.e. Data. Apps that provide utility by storing our data such as cloud apps are also naturally sticky.  At one level, social media apps are a rolodex and address books in the cloud. When we need to reach someone in our network, we are drawn to engage with our social media app. File sharing apps like Dropbox is another example of utility apps that drive engagement through providing a home for one of our key possessions i.e. our data. Provide your users with a 'locker' and they will come back to check in on their 'stuff'.

Scarcity - There is a human desirability associated with scarcity. As Groucho Marx said, "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member". Whether is an invitation only membership mechanism of Pinterest or a LinkedIn group that will have a maximum capacity/membership limit or providing early access to new releases for a sub-set of users. If it is scarce, we want it! By promoting the relative scarcity of elements of your app and business offering, you can enhance its desirability.

Sense of Community which often translates into the business model of crowdsourcing. Beyond the social connections of our private social circles of friends and colleagues, a bond that unites us is a sense of community based on shared interests and emotions. Find the community's common denominator. Build your business around concepts that people already care about emotionally. An app like Waze draws upon this sense of community to unite strangers with common interests. I also believe there is an undercurrent of anti-establishment/rebellious trait that drives people to contribute information on speed-traps to the community.

There you have it.  The above is not intended to be a top ten list. Nor is it intended to be a comprehensive list of all traits that drive app engagement. Rather, the traits I described above are influences that I am intrigued by and believe can be leveraged as marketing practices to drive higher app engagement.