Since mid-2014, mindfulness apps have taken off: Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit, and more have raised big war chests, won Apple's coveted App of the Year award, and are building rock-solid subscription businesses. How do you productize something as abstract mindfulness though?
The best place to start is emotion. The best mindfulness products are selling a feeling to customers. An idealized version of themselves that feels confident, stress-free, and happy. It ends up being an easy buy for us as users because we all have experienced these things.
Who doesn’t want to feel more confident, stress-free, happy, and—mindful?
Some people think these apps are bordering on snake oil because they are productizing something that has been taught for free for centuries. And yet meditation isn’t something most people feel comfortable doing on their own initially.
It takes practice to sit quietly with your thoughts, letting them drift in and out, and focus on the breathe or something else. Mindfulness seems basically free.
So what differentiates these products?
Each app has a different approach to mindfulness centered around design and storytelling.
Every Headspace meditation session builds on top of one another to form a journey. Wonky animations and the British narrator, Andy, guide you from session to session. Calm offers a large number of a la carte sessions led by experienced practitioners and celebrities. (I highly recommend the Stephen Fry Sleep Story.)
As you progress, you feel more and more connected with the app. The abstract concept of mindfulness becomes more tangible and real because you can feel it.
Ultimately, the underlying mechanics of mindfulness apps aren’t that much different than social media products. There are hooks drawing you in (the desire to feel good or do something good for yourself), triggers that keep you engaged (streaks, like number of days in a row), and variable rewards that keep you coming back (the content of each session and unlocking new sessions).
If you want to productize something as abstract as mindfulness, you don't have to do anything out of the ordinary. Follow what works for other apps.