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The Snowflake Era

Alessio Symons

Alessio Symons

October 9, 2019

Making software products unique to all users, all of the time.

The snowflake generation is a term we’ve seen thrown at millennials. It refers to the idea that millennials are unable and unwilling to listen to opinions outside of their own bubble of thought without taking deeply personal offense as a result of their inflated sense of uniqueness. 

The validity of such a claim is a topic for another day, but the world that all of us—millenial or otherwise—now occupy is increasingly tailored to our unique wants and desires. It is the Snowflake Era, where what each of us sees is different from what everyone else sees. Long gone are the days of everyone sitting down at the same time to watch a show, listening to the same radio stations, or getting their news and information from a few trusted sources. We now have the power to define and curate the world we want to see.  

For product builders, this means we have to design for people’s need to see themselves reflected in the products they use. The software products that take up the most screen time are those that steer into the uniqueness of their users. At the end of 2018, Apple revealed that YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify were the three most used apps on iPhones. And even more revealing, that of the 60-90 apps that the average user has on their phone, 96% of users’ time is spent on just 10 of those, with 77% of that time on the top three apps. 

This means that despite the nearly 2.5 million apps available for iPhone users YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify are taking up 77% of device time. What each of these apps have in common is their unprecedented level of curation. YouTube feeds are purely recommended videos based on previous views, Instagram tailors ads and recommended pages based on likes and search history, and Spotify’s Discover Weekly is an ingenious way of introducing people to new artists and enabling them to approve or disapprove of the recommendation. 

Software product builders who ignore either personalization or the pre-eminence of the three leading apps will find themselves at best scrambling to occupy some of the 23% of the time users have left and at worst find themselves in the unused pile of apps that clog up users’ phones. Not designing for people’s unique needs and desires is the quickest way to irrelevance.

So, how do you build software products in the Snowflake Era that will be impactful to your users?

Option One: Create a New Personalized Experience

The three app-usage leaders, YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify, each occupy a different element of the phone/entertainment experience—videos, images, and music. So going head to head with them in these areas is an incredibly challenging prospect. Many of the fastest growing apps (e.g., Headspace) have carved out a new niche for users that doesn’t disrupt their digital behaviour, but instead adds a new dimension to it.

Thought starter: What are your five favourite things to do? And is there currently an impactful software product that services each of them?

Option Two: Become Part of Users’ Established Ecosystem

It is now common for a user to link all of their apps through the same email address or social media account. This means that these products and any others that enter into people’s established ecosystem of social behaviour gain an intimate view of their users’ lives. Creating products that heighten the experience of people’s favorite apps is a great platform to build other offerings on top of. 

Thought starter: Which two apps that you currently have on your phone could be linked together to create a personalized, value-add experience?

Option Three: Explore New Product Technologies

The final option is to invent entirely new opportunities from emerging product spaces. This can include option one or option two, whereby you either create a new experience or add a new opportunity into the middle of people’s lives. As VR, AR, and AI—as well as even more acronym-based tech—grow in popularity and drop in price, current software products will have to evolve to stay relevant. Investing in a foresight-based product strategy that positions you as a leader in spaces that don’t even exist yet could be the path to long-term success. As more immersive technologies evolve, designing unique experiences has the potential to impact the way people move through the real world, not just their digital ecosystem.

Thought starter: How could the products you use or build be improved if VR, AR, or AI were a key component of its makeup?

At Connected, our discovery phase is built to help our clients understand what unexplored or underserved product areas they can lead in. And it’s a capability that is becoming increasingly important. Because in the 2020s, software-powered products won’t be judged on their ability to create one great experience for all users; instead, they will be a success if they make every person—millennial or otherwise—feel like the product they use, the experience they have, and the ecosystem it is part of is designed for them as uniquely as a snowflake. Whether you’re building brand new products or evolving existing ones, ignoring the trend toward personalization could see your products melt into obscurity.

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