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Do I Need a Mobile App?

In our previous post on mobile trends we took a look at the current environment in mobile technology. We hope it got you thinking (dreaming, dare we say?) about how mobile solutions could play into your own marketing and management strategies.

 With all the hype out there, you’re ready to develop a mobile website along with mobile apps for every device on the market, right? A few experts would say absolutely; that at the very least, you need a mobile site along with IOS and Android apps for your business. Well, we think the better plan is to develop a more personalized strategy based on your needs.

Far Reach has worked with several clients on some pretty fantastic mobile solutions.  But, what made these true “solutions” was how the final products provided convenience and value to customers in ways no other medium could. Before we answer the question “Do I Need a Mobile App?” let’s step back and first cover the basic differences between mobile apps and mobile sites:

Mobile Apps
  • Because they’re developed in the specific platform of the user’s device, they often function better than a mobile site.
  • The user accesses the app via an icon on their device’s screen—it’s easy to use regularly and your logo is permanently on their screen.
  • An app is able to take advantage of the device’s functions—camera, GPS, and push notifications.
  • Apps can be expensive to develop & you’ll likely need to develop them in multiple platforms.
  • There are hurdles to navigate in getting them distributed via an app store. (More on that in an upcoming post on mobile platforms.)
Mobile Sites
  • Development of one site can cover every platform.
  • Sites are cheaper to develop than apps.
  • Your mobile site is findable via online searches.
  • Because a mobile site is serving as 'all things to all devices' it may perform at a lesser level than a native app.
  • You lose some marketing benefits--distribution in app stores, as well as icon placement on user devices.
  • Mobile sites are less effective at taking advantage of the device’s functions--camera, GPS, push, etc.—than apps are.

 Given these differences and the trends we pointed out last time, these are the key areas that should drive your mobile strategy:

1. Function. If customers have mobile access to you, what is it they want to do?  Just as importantly, what do YOU want them to do?  We think there are two main function-related reasons to consider a mobile app instead of, or in conjunction with, a mobile site:
  • There are specific functions your customers engage in where one-click launch and streamlined performance will add a high level of convenience and value.   (Think online banking, online payment, special events, etc.) The Sturgis Falls app is a perfect example.  The main functions users needed on-site during the event—schedule, venue maps--were incorporated into lean iPhone, Android, and WP7 apps available at a single click.
  • Tapping into the mobile device’s functions (camera, gps, push) is the best way to give your customer the on-the-go service they need and/or provide you the ability to engage in targeted marketing.  (Think barcode scanning, social apps, location-aware marketing, etc.) Dwolla’s mobile payment app allows customers, with one click, a map of participating merchants based on their current location.  Super convenient for them, great marketing perk for the merchants.
2.) Your Target Market.  If the situations above don’t apply, it could still make sense to invest in a mobile app if this describes you:
  • You operate in an industry where technology adoption and trendsetting are valuable for your brand image.  Sometimes “cool” really does count.  An app can provide a means for your most die-hard customers to feel even more connected to your brand.
  • Your customer demographics dictate an app would be a good idea. You’ve done your research and know that a high percentage of your target market engages in heavy mobile app use.  There’s data out there on mobile app usage versus web browsing for the general population, but we always recommend finding out as much as you can about your own customers.
If none of these situations apply, a mobile site may be just fine for you. And given the incredible usage stats we shared in our last post, a good mobile site should probably be your minimum investment. Unless your standard site is riddled with Flash or other elements that could bog down mobile performance, optimizing for mobile users is likely an affordable option.

Keep in mind, too, that not everything on your website needs to be included in your mobile site. As with apps, the key is to keep it as simple as possible. You’ll want to carefully consider how people using a mobile device would use your site and forego any unnecessary content.

Whatever mobile path you decide to take, your efforts in this area must be well integrated into your overall marketing strategy and reflective of your brand. If you decide to go mobile, you should be using your other marketing media to drive customers to your mobile offerings and vice versa.

Remember all those “dumb” smartphone users we talked about in our last post?  Opportunities like that—scores of people with the means but not necessarily the know-how—dictate that you need a well-integrated strategy. If you believe mobile technology could ultimately help a broader number of people become more engaged customers, it’s your job to help them along that path regardless of where they are now.

Next time, we’ll talk platforms and how you decide where your focus should be.  In the meantime, are you considering mobile app development for your company?  We’d love to hear about the factors you’re weighing in that decision.