In its brief lifetime, the mobile app has evolved from a novelty item to an established business tool. Just a few years ago, early adopter brands were few and far between, but as consumers continue to go mobile, so do companies looking to maximize their market share and further engage their customers.
Just how mobile are consumers willing to go? A study by Harris Interactive (News - Alert) reveals that 76 percent of mobile app users believe brands and companies should have mobile apps to make interacting and shopping with them easier. Coupled with data from a Nielsen Mobile (News - Alert) Insights survey showing that 45 percent of mobile phone owners in the United States said their next device will be a smartphone, consumers have truly created the perfect storm for brands to take the plunge.
Taking the plunge does not mean creating an app just for the sake of it, putting it into the mobile space and hoping for the best. A brand’s app has to offer and deliver value, make it indispensible to users and an extension of the brand experience. Generating a high volume of initial downloads is great, but if the app is only used once, you have not created value or an experience consumers want to revisit. What you have created is an app one-hit wonder.
Earlier this year, Localytics, an app analytics firm based in Boston, released an interesting study on user retention. The study found that while smartphone and tablet owners were very willing to give apps a try, 26% of first-time users never went back to the same app again. On the flip side, if someone used a new app 10 times or more, the study found, they became very loyal customers.
In our experience, there are threekey strategies to creating an app that delivers ongoing value and loyal customers. These include assessing your mobile potential, having built-in utility that solves a problem, and ensuring a positive brand experience. Together, they provide a way to break out from the pack and build a winning app.
Asses your mobile potential
If your company is seeking to get into mobile, your first step should be to make a solid assessment of your mobile potential. This means taking into account any content currently being accessed by mobile users and its relevancy for people on mobile devices.
Tools such as Google Analytics and Omniture (News - Alert) can track browser types to help determine the type of devices where content is being accessed. If trends over time show an increase in the number of mobile clients accessing your content, you know you have a potential mobile audience.
Once you’ve established that people are in fact accessing your content via mobile devices, you need to determine what content is being sought out the most. Some questions to consider: Can your content be enhanced or contextualized via a mobile device? Would adding location data make your content more valuable? How you answer those questions will shed light on your need to create a mobile app, or alternatively, a mobile web presence.
We worked with a large telecommunications company, which prefers to remain unnamed, that got this right by developing a successful app based on a clear understanding of its customers and their needs. Knowing that their customers were using smartphones and accessing content on their mobile devices, they built a convenient, easy-to-use self-service application compatible with the platforms their customers use – iPhone, Android and BlackBerry (News - Alert).
The app allows customers to do what they would usually have to call in for such as check payment balances and change account options. This has not only resulted in a significant reduction in call center volume, which means significant savings to the company, but has also enhanced the customer experience.
What’s the utility?
Top mobile applications provide significant value by solving a problem or augmenting what people are already getting at a website. We get lots of requests, for example, from real estate firms, law firms and other professional service groups, asking, “What kind of mobile apps should I create?” We typically respond by asking, “How is your app any different than what’s out there already and what problem does it solve for your customers?” In our view, to succeed in this market, it’s essential that you avoid a “me-too” app and offer something innovative and useful.
Unfortunately, many organizations conclude that they need a mobile app without doing the upfront work of determining why they need to go mobile. In many cases, they treat mobile as another checkmark, instead of as a strategic channel to acquire users or enhance their offering. Not determining the utility or need gets you a gimmicky, one-hit wonder app that is downloaded once and never used again. Don’t fall into this category – it will only cost you time and money with no ROI.
An excellent example of an app with built-in utility is one created by the city of San Francisco to help drivers locate parking spaces. The iPhone (News - Alert) app, introduced in April 2011, uses wireless sensors embedded in streets and city garages to notify drivers within seconds that a spot has opened up. In a simple click it resolves an urban driver’s most agonizing everyday problem: finding an empty parking place. It also contributes to combating the city’s traffic congestion problem, as city officials claim drivers cruising for parking spots generate 30 percent of all downtown congestion.
Ensure a good brand experience
With any customer-facing app, it’s essential to ensure a positive experience. This is even more important in mobile because of its rating system, which follows an app wherever it goes.
Although some people might download a two-star app, a low rating is a public, negative reflection on your brand. While any company wants its app to receive a five-star rating, it’s nearly impossible to satisfy every user. Instead, you should focus on attaining the highest rating possible while obsessively listening to your customers. By listening, you continually improve your app based on customer feedback, leveraging metrics and analytics to drive product development.
One company that has done an excellent job at improving the brand experience is Score Media, arguably one of the top sports brands in mobile. Score Mobile got ahead of the curve by adopting mobile early in 2008 and creating a simple, yet powerful user experience with its app ScoreMobile. The application provides up-to-the-minute sports updates for all leagues – something sports fans can really appreciate. Garnering some 10,000 reviews and attaining a 4.5 star rating, it is the fifth most downloaded app of all time on BlackBerry App World. As further testament to its success, Score Media receives 70 to 80 emails a day with positive feedback on its app. Moreover, data from the app has been used to generate revenue by driving more traffic to Score Media’s website and TV network.
While mobile applications will be as different as the companies behind them, the successful ones share a common thread of being accessible, useful, adding value and serving as brand ambassadors.
Ultimately, a successful app that customers return to many times will be more than self-sustaining, becoming an ingrained part of your customers’ habits -- and better yet, a retention vehicle.
Now that you have a basic grasp of the elements that go into developing a mobile app strategy, it’s important to find an experienced partner to help you drive your idea from concept to completion. To that end, here is a helpful project manager’s checklist for third-party mobile app development, which you can access here.
By Ameet Shah, Managing Partner of Sales and Business Development with Five Mobile. Five Mobile is a leading provider of mobile products, solutions and services to tier one brands and enterprises in North America. Get the latest news and views on Five Mobile and the mobile industry by following @fivemobile on Twitter and visiting social.fivemobile.com.
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Edited by Stefanie Mosca