Insatiable consumer demand continues to drive explosive growth in the mobile market, and presents a valuable channel for companies to engage with customers. Despite the benefits, many organizations are still hesitant to launch a mobile initiative. The mere thought of building their own mobile applications can be daunting, and can prevent companies from ever getting started. While there is no simple cookie-cutter approach to mobile, you can get a much clearer picture of what a mobile application can do for your company and your customers, and how to get started, by asking yourself the five questions below.
1. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you want to increase customer loyalty, decrease churn, generate new business, or elevate awareness? Define your goals and objectives up front to ensure that you use mobile to support your overall business objectives and that it’s equipped with the proper functionality and interfaces. Doing mobile because “That’s what everyone else is doing” or because “That’s what’s hot right now” is not a strong foundation for building a successful mobile strategy. You need to address legitimate customer issues or needs. For mobile to be the potent, engaging channel that it was designed to be, you need to build from the ground up, with a clear user end-goal in mind.
2. Are you meeting an unmet customer (or potential customer) need? If the answer is no, you need to re-visit and think on point #1 a little deeper. A key advantage to mobile is the ability to provide critical information and tools to users who are often on the go. What type of content, information or answers can you provide to customers away from the desktop world that would make your mobile application valuable?
Focus on the unique aspects a smartphone or tablet provides, like GPS or accelerometer, for instance. How can you leverage users’ locations or phone orientations to provide them with the information they need? The more value you can provide your customers, and the more it can be tailored towards mobile technologies and behaviors, the more they will use your application and look to your company and services. Mobile is one of, if not the, premiere loyalty channels for existing customers; so take advantage of it!
3. How will you ensure your mobile app does not go stale? All too often, there is such an emphasis on building and getting a mobile application live that companies forget to craft roadmaps or plans to keep it fresh and relevant going forward. A mobile application full of outdated information is of no use to your customers, nor is an application that fails to work with new operating system (OS) updates or devices. What plans do you have in place to ensure your app will always work with new devices and OSs, that content will be updated consistently, and all outdated or inaccurate information will be pulled from the app in a timely manner?
Mobile is not a tactic and should not be treated as such; it should be treated as a potent loyalty channel that will live on indefinitely.
4. How will your customers discover your mobile application? Another way a mobile app can go stale is if it fails to get in front of new users and eyeballs. The Field of Dreams homage of “If you build it, they will come” does not hold true in a mobile world with over half a million apps. App stores are not adequate customer discovery portals. If you want your app to be discovered, downloaded and used, there needs to be a degree of marketing to generate awareness, just as there is with any other promotional vertical.
First, look at utilizing your existing portals and assets. Add call-outs to your website, print, TV, and digital media. Utilize your email database to push messaging on the app’s availability and functionality to your customers. Then, look at creating awareness in the mobile space via mobile banners and interstitials with networks like AdMob or Millennial Media. Oftentimes, well over 50 percent of an application’s downloads will be generated through mobile promotion; so ensure that you set aside a portion of your mobile budget for this. As long as your mobile application is live, there should always be some sort of promotional activity behind it.
5. What is your plan for tablets? With smartphones already outnumbering PCs and TVs by at least a 3-to-1 ratio, it is clear that these devices are receiving an overwhelming amount of attention in the mobile space [endnote 1]. That being said, tablets, while making up only a fraction of the smartphone crowd, have shown to be much more engaging mobile technology. Over the 2011 holiday season alone, tablet ownership nearly doubled, from 10 percent of the U.S. public in December to 19 percent just one month later in January [endnote 2]!
While it is true many smartphone apps will work on a tablet, they often deliver a sub-par experience, as these apps were not truly created for tablets and look lackluster on a larger screen. Focusing on a specific tablet app as well as a smartphone app will provide some potent benefits for your company:
- The larger screen size allows for more content and tools. If you have content-heavy information or tools that would be of value to a mobile audience, tablets give you more flexibility and space to deliver solutions to your customers. Studies have shown most mobile users that have both a smartphone and a tablet default to the larger device whenever possible; so make sure you cater to this rapidly growing crowd [endnote 3].
- Greater visibility. By building a smartphone and a tablet-specific application, a company has at least two mobile applications, greatly increasing its mobile footprint. Even more importantly, a disproportionate number of mobile apps are smartphone-only, as many still feel that developing one app for both devices is an adequate approach. In fact, the mobile community has not been producing tablet apps fast enough to keep up with consumer demand, and as a result, a huge area of opportunity exists right now in the space. Those who create tablet-specific apps have far less competition to deal with, plus the increased screen size makes it easier to discover your application in respective app stores.
- Be an innovator. Few have planned for smartphones and tablets separately. A recent Gartner study revealed that by 2015, tablet sales will match 60 percent of the global PC sales market [endnote 4]. Tablets are quickly becoming the mobile device of choice as they bring desktop-like abilities and screen size to a mobile, on-the-go audience.
Being prepared for the flood of tablet users that will come in the upcoming months and years will help a company establish a solid mobile foundation and streamline its mobile offerings to customers in the space. Being one of the first in your industry to produce a tablet app, and to do it correctly, will help bolster your image and reputation as an innovator, which often leads to an increased degree of trust and loyalty from your customers.
It is worth noting that while many companies are looking to get into mobile, many lack the knowledge or manpower to do so internally and look to partnerships and outside vendors to help or fully build their application. If this is a route your company explores, make sure you assess prospective vendors on their development capabilities as well as their ability to provide strategic guidance. In an intensely competitive mobile space, simply having a presence is not enough anymore. An integral part of doing mobile properly is the ability to focus on the right content and tools, and developing an application accordingly.
Mobile is no longer an exploratory tactic for companies looking to test emerging waters. In just a few short years, mobile technologies (smartphones and tablets in particular) have completely re-defined how consumers use and rely on technology in their every day lives. Mobile has, in essence, become the consumer’s Swiss-Army Knife: no matter the situation or challenge, there is almost surely “an app for that.”
By asking yourself the five questions described above and answering them honestly, you will be well on your way to building an efficient, effective mobile foundation for your company.
Dan Burcaw is founder and CEO of Double Encore, based in Denver, Colo. Prior to Double Encore, Burcaw was a manager at Apple, Inc., where he supported corporate operations for the retail expansion. Burcaw also co-founded Terra Soft Solutions, Inc. (acquired by Fixstars) and Push IO Inc. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.