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March 23, 2011

Sure, Apps Are the Latest, Greatest Messaging Vehicles — But Does Your Firm or Client Really Need One?

In a newly released ATandT Small Business Technology Poll, which surveyed 2,246 small business owners and IT managers, a full third of small businesses say they couldn't survive without their mobile apps (or that it would be a major challenge). Three-fourths said they use mobile apps for their business and 38 percent said they are totally dependent on them. Does our insatiable appetite for apps mean you or your clients need one too?

By David M. Mastovich, President, MASSolutions

Smartphones now account for 27% of the mobile phone market led by nearly 50 million iPhone or Android users worldwide. Those seemingly smart consumers want to be able to communicate, buy and enjoy, whatever they want, whenever they want. As a result, more than 400,000 mobile applications, or "apps," have been developed in the last three years.

So do you or your clients need a mobile app right now? The most used mobile apps are for playing games, catching up on news, sports and weather, social networking and listening to music. But there are a number of successful business apps too.

When it comes to food, apps are a natural fit. In its first three months, the Domino's Pizza app generated more than $2 million in orders. The app made it easy and fast to order and engaged customers with opportunities to win prizes. Restaurants can feature menus and allow users to make reservations. Other apps help people find restaurants and some even show photos of dishes people have uploaded.

Nike Training Club is targeted at women and designed to be a full-body training app with workouts and drills focusing on strength, cardio and core training. Local fitness centers post the workout of the day to motivate members. Health and fitness club "finder apps" help travelers locate a gym and get a workout in while on the road.

Entertainment, music, books, magazines, and even birthday, anniversary and holiday gift shopping are increasingly done via mobile. It's estimated that the value of digital and physical goods people will buy with their mobile phones will reach $200 billion globally by 2012. Amazon's app compares prices from local retailers for over a million products sold on Amazon.com.

These examples and other success stories show how apps can help companies achieve the following:

  • Brand: Many of the "first-to-app" companies were those with famous brands like Nike, Coke and Domino's. Apple pretty much created the app space. As a result, there's a cutting edge or coolness factor associated with having an app. If your company creates an app and markets it via multiple channels, the opportunity exists to enhance your brand.
  • Please: Consumers want convenience. You can make or keep customers happy by making their lives easier. If they can learn about and buy from your company quickly and easily, you can please them. When you provide them with valuable, timely information, you keep them happy and your company (and app) becomes a part of their routine.
  • Connect: Think in terms of those Health and Fitness apps. The user has an ongoing, positive connection with the company. You have an opportunity to achieve regular marketing touches in a non-marketing manner through feel-good connections.
  • Track and Optimize: When customers use your app, you have information to track and trend. Plus, your mobile app helps with Search Engine Marketing in that your company name is online one more time.

But before you jump on the mobile app bandwagon, you still need to consider your options.

Today's smart phones have capabilities nearly to the level of desktops and support both regular websites and mobile versions. As a result, you might be able to achieve your goals in a more cost effective way by creating a mobile version of your website.

Some companies require more capabilities for mobile than their regular website offers. In those instances, a mobile app and the cost associated with it make sense. But for many others, simply developing the mobile version of the website will suffice or be even better than the app. For example, Wikipedia's mobile site is tailored to fit the size of the screen it is viewed on and seems more user friendly than the app.

If you have weighed the benefits vs. the overhead costs of developing the app and decided it is time to move forward, remember to make it about them — your current and potential customers:

  • Begin by identifying the "who" as in who is the target market for the app and why they would use or need it.
  • Provide fresh, updated content that adds value for users. The more time sensitive, the better. Announce specials and provide new information.
  • Remember it is about convenience for them. Make their lives easier and become part of their routine as much as possible. Build an app for each mobile phone platform so it is available for anyone that wants to use it.
  • Make sure the app does something and isn't just a mobile website. Otherwise, why make the bigger investment?
  • Get the word out about the app. Tell current and potential customers about it and give them a compelling reason to use it. Utilize multiple mediums like e-mail, text, Twitter, your website and others to reach them.

Your business may or may not need a mobile app today. But you definitely need to analyze the opportunity and enhance your mobile presence now and in the future.

David M. Mastovich, MBA is President of MASSolutions, Inc. With a core philosophy of integrated marketing, MASSolutions focuses on improving the bottom line for clients through creative selling, messaging and PR solutions. In his recent book, "Get Where You Want To Go: How to Achieve Personal and Professional Growth Through Marketing, Selling and Story Telling," Mastovich offers strategies to improve sales and generate new customers; management and leadership approaches; and creative marketing, PR and communications ideas.

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