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September 17, 2009

Go Mobile or Go Home: Now Is the Time for PR to Incorporate Mobile Apps into Client Campaigns

By Brendan Lim, Partner and Director of Mobile Development, Intridea; and Chris Selmer, Senior Partner and Director of Client Solutions, Intridea

Mobile applications, or apps, are the future of today's businesses and should be an important part of any PR or marketing professional's toolkit. Mobile apps are software designed specifically to run on mobile phones. Many people think of apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Google Android devices as simply fun and games. However, these applications can generate customer interest and brand loyalty, making a company stand out in the mobile market.

Just how prevalent are apps? A recent New York Times article reports that nearly half (48 percent) of mobile phone users shop for apps more than once a week. About the same number (49 percent) report using apps on their phone for more than 30 minutes a day. Additionally, each user downloads an average of 23.6 apps to his or her phone and uses an average of 6.8 apps every day. Clearly, the mobile app trend is taking off, and smart public relations and marketing professionals are capitalizing by creating apps that promote their company or clients' brand.

When you offer customers a useful app, you give them the opportunity to access services from anywhere or simply build a bond with your brand. For example, a pizza delivery chain could offer an app that enables customers to order pizza right from their phone. The app could use GPS technology to find an address or make payment using a saved credit card. If you were the only pizza delivery company with this app, you would definitely get a share of your competitors' loyal customers.

But apps don't have to be complex. For example, a large retail store could have an app that gives a detailed map of the store, so customers can easily find what they're looking for. Or an amusement park could have a map of the park with estimated wait times on each ride in real time. Companies may also develop small "viral" applications based on holidays or special events. Apps can be as simple or complex as you like, as long as they offer value to your customers.

Here are some points to keep in mind while planning an app for your client:

1. Your customers are always on the go. Consumers these days are busy and rely on their cell phones to stay connected. In fact, most people consider their cell phone to be their most important tool and couldn't imagine life without it. This makes the cell phone a very effective way to communicate with your customers and keep your brand at the forefront of their minds. If you don't have an app that keeps your customers engaged, you are potentially losing market share to those companies that do offer apps. Any company, large or small, can develop and benefit from a customer-focused app.

2. Know who your customers really are. With so many mobile platforms out there, you need to know which one the majority of your customers are on. Each platform has different app requirements and a different development framework. That's why you need to know your customers. For example, if your target market is business professionals, you'd likely want to create your app for the Blackberry. However, if your target market is general consumers, then the iPhone may be your best choice. Since developing an app will cost money, you want to create it for the platform that will reach the majority of your customers. Then, as your app grows in popularity and success, you can redesign it for other platforms.

3. An app can boost your bottom line. A well-designed app can boost your company's profits in two ways. First, when you engage your customers, create a bond with them or simply offer them a useful application, they will think of you whenever they have a need for your products or services. They will also refer others to you. You'll attain the coveted top-of-mind awareness with your customers, which will naturally result in more sales. Second, the app you offer can either be free or fee-based. Free apps tend to be promotional, novel or designed to support an existing app that already brings in revenue. Fee-based apps are generally more thoroughly developed and valuable. For many companies, a fee-based app can be a new revenue stream. In fact, some companies are built entirely around mobile apps.

4. Apps can be useful for marketing and promotions. You don't need to be a high-tech company to take advantage of mobile apps. Even companies that don't have a website can take advantage of an app's marketing and promotional potential. A simple app that acts as a digital coupon is an easy way to incentivize customers to make repeat visits to your store. Building targeted apps for special promotions, such as the launch of a new product or service, is another great way to expand your customer base to a new mobile market.

5. Seek out an experienced vendor. Creating an app can be a big undertaking for an organization without a technical background or experienced in-house developers. That said, there are qualified consulting firms that can help. It's best to find a vendor that has previously developed mobile apps on multiple platforms so you can eventually put your app on all cell phones. Ultimately, companies of any size in any industry can develop an app—it's just a matter of finding the right partner to walk you through it.

To recap, mobile apps are a great way to stay in contact with customers and build your brand. If you ignore this emerging business trend, you could potentially lose a lot of business, and your clients' brands may lose traction. Remember that today's consumers depend on their cell phones. Some people don't even have a home phone anymore—their cell phone is their connection to the world. Smart businesses are taking the steps to make sure they are part of that lifeline, and apps are a great way to cater to your mobile audience. Every marketing and public relations professional should strongly consider using mobile apps as part of their campaigns.

Brendan Lim is a partner and director of mobile development at Intridea. Chris Selmer is a senior partner and director of client solutions at Intridea, a full-service Web and mobile consulting firm that helps companies with design, development and strategy. Their team provides simple, intuitive solutions on everything from social and business collaboration to cloud computing to Web and mobile applications.

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