There is a ton of attention on mobile apps right now with Apple’s iOS store and Android Play having over a million apps combined. It is reported that a smartphone user has over 80 apps on their smartphone.
Just as small businesses built websites so that they could be found online, business owners are now asking themselves if they should get an app made for themselves.
Here are some questions that you should ask yourself as both a business owner and a customer
Does your app have a reason why people will even download it?
Apps typically provide value to the user and they fall into either a utility or entertainment value proposition. What extra feature does your app provide? Note that if your app is solely about marketing, Apple will reject your apps which is about half of the audience that will download your app.
How am I going to get people to download the app?
Say you decided that you will make an app anyway. How do you actually let your customers know to download the app? Keep in mind that putting it in the store is like publishing a web site these days. Just by being in the store doesn't mean you will get any traffic.
Most apps that do well either gain attention via the following options:
1. Viral because it is cool and/or interesting
2. Buy a lot of advertisements
3. Gets featured on the Store by luck
4. Has a well recognized brand that people will download
What is your strategy?
Does your app have sustaining value?
After a user has downloaded an app, is there a reason why they will open it again? If you are providing new content, that is great but is the app the best way to do so? What about Twitter and Facebook which does not require users to download an app and can also drive viral traffic.
What is the budget for your app?
There are DIY app builders which you can buy and self design for just over a hundred dollars. But of course, what you get is un-inspiring because every other user on that platform has the same set of tools. If you are just looking for a simple mobile presence, then it is suitable for you.
However if you are looking for it to dramatically increase your business visibility, the odds are really stacked against you as your app provides no differentiation and no special reason as to why anyone would download your app.
On the other hand, to build something really special would require you to engage a developer and the going rate now is $100/hour. Wow! As a small business, would you want to spend that money for a unsure return?
So Apps are worthless?
Well not really. It depends but it is so rare. Here is an article about how well it worked: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704570704576275132869170342.html. Just be prepared to think really creatively and ensure that you have the proper budget behind your app to execute that vision.
But mobile is still an interesting channel because many of your customers are touting a smartphone and they expect you to be on their smartphone.
As a small business, worry less about the cool stuff you can do and leverage on the audience that other people have. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare are great ways to get in front of an audience albeit via another app. Not to mention the exploding segment where customers are searching on their mobile phones.
You should also have some idea of how these will lead to direct revenue. Offer discount coupons, Membership/loyalty programs to draw audiences into real customers.
There are many ways to skin a cat and the mobile channel has many ways in which you can get in front of customers. Apps are probably not the most efficent way to get to your customers. Instead focus on getting in front of customers via other mobile apps with traffic and convert them via mobile marketing mechanisms like coupons and lead generations. For more examples of mobile marketing, check out this showcase here.