For the first time ever, mobile accounts for 65 percent of a person's time online. What's more: 85 percent of that time is spent in apps, not in a browser.

This massive shift away from the browser, which shows no sign of slowing, is the most compelling reason for companies of all stripes to put the mobile device at the forefront of their thinking. It's time to re-imagine how to deliver that mobile app experience.

But with the exception of gaming and social media, companies continue to struggle when creating that exceptional mobile immersion.

That's a real shame because people are obviously primed and ready for habitual mobile use--if you can crack the code. Here are three ways to be clever about it.

Inspire a habit.

Tracy Chapman sang, "Give me one reason to stay here and I'll turn right back around." Channeling that sentiment into your app design is the key to winning in mobile. Riding the app wave successfully means offering something that's habit-forming (in the best sense). But it's an uphill battle: the average app loses 77% of users in the first three days, and 90% in the first 30.

I'm in the travel business so here's an easy example: If travelers are given no obvious reason to come back frequently, they likely won't. Apps with an infrequent use case (think booking a flight or hotel) end up on screen 4 or 5 of a user's phone, and are quickly forgotten. The best apps are all built around habits: they suck us in with something something valuable, something fun, something useful or some combination of good qualities to keep us coming back on a regular basis. It's why social apps, games, news and weather dominate the home screens of most phones.

In travel, as is true for other industries, building habits requires beyond-the-booking thinking to provide the customer with reasons to stop by when researching, booking and while on the road. The more reasons people have to visit, the more likely they are to remember you, and the more likely you are to become an "essential app." That's also the case in other sectors like retail. Focus too narrowly on the sales funnel and risk being forgotten. But bring something fun in--like content from fashion influencers, if you're a boutique retailer--and all of a sudden, users will check in again.

Forge an emotional connection.

The best apps don't just create a habit, they appeal to emotion. Instagram offers us aspirational scenes of beauty, art and culture. Snapchat enables us to connect to friends and family, to keep in touch, and see the world through our friends' eyes. Travel should be easy in this respect; it is entirely and inherently emotional. It's exciting--whether it's a business trip to Tokyo to pitch Japanese investors or taking a journey to see the glaciers of Patagonia.

In fact, it's so meaningful that travel experiences are the ones we share more than any other on our social networks. Yet no one gets excited about logistics like booking a hotel or plane fare. Likewise, retail is a huge sector but retailers have struggled with consumer app adoption. Why? Transactions don't inspire us. There needs to be a connection forged between what you're offering and the experience it enables the user to have. That plane trip might be the first step in a honeymoon journey a couple will never forget--and that perfect watch could symbolize the gift a parent gives their new college graduate in congratulations. Own the experience and you will own the customer.

Build relationships.

Relationships start with connection--but in order to forge a bond that endures, you need to give more than you take. Unlike on the web, where it's easy to harvest users from search, users need to come back to you on their own in the world of apps. Strategists in mobile need to ask themselves, why would someone want to use this app more than once, twice or a few times a year?

Great content--useful, engaging, with compelling visuals--is one distinct, proven way to build that relationship with users. It's an area companies across multiple industries intuitively understand is important, but consistently under-invest in. Why? We're conversion obsessed, driving toward the short-term surety of a sale versus the long-term, more lucrative reward of a relationship. But in the mobile world, it is these emotionally rich interactions--getting inspired for my trip or getting practical advice when I need it--that form the foundation for enduring relationships with your brand. When a customer moves from a price-based, transactional relationship to an emotional connection, that is when long term, lasting, financially beneficial relationships are born. Just ask AirBnB.

That is what will begin to make the turnaround for players who rightly see mobile as the only path for the future.

Published on: Jan 12, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.