Mobile applications are no longer an option for small businesses–they’re a necessity. Digital research firm comScore reports that nearly 40 percent of American mobile subscribers accessed downloaded apps in June. And, according to a consumer survey conducted earlier this year by MTV Networks, 91 percent of respondents said apps expose them to new things; 77 percent compared apps to personal assistants; and 83 percent of daily mobile app users reported believing they’re “addicted” to apps.
The fundamental appeal of branded, business-centric mobile applications is clear: Whatever your company does online can also be done on smartphones, which adds portability, location targeting and other cutting-edge technological enhancements to the mix. The potential of mobile apps extends far beyond marketing. Sure, companies can leverage applications to promote their products and services, reaching on-the-go consumers looking for compelling places to shop or grab lunch. But mobile apps can also support online purchase transactions, customer loyalty programs, turn-by-turn directions and social media interactions.
All fledgling businesses should factor mobile apps into their plans from the outset. Creating an app is the easy part. Knowing what you want the app to do–and which consumer segments you wish to reach–can pose a bigger challenge.
Here are five lessons all smartphone savants must learn:
1. Know what message you want to send. “Before you start working on your app, make sure you know what you’re selling, what you’re about and the look and feel you want, like your logo colors and font,” You also need to know what content you want to put in. You can integrate your app with your blog or your YouTube channel, but that only works if you have existing content.
2. Understand your audience. Mobile applications are where people are going to interact with their favorite brands, but you have to know what your customers are interested in. Apps allow for new kinds of user experiences and a different community feel than the web, which results in real engagement and commerce opportunities. Fans and users spend more money in apps compared to websites, and they come back more. But you have to drive loyalty, whether that’s by pushing messages or having visual content.
3. Clarify what you want your app to achieve. Whether or not an app is successful depends on the goal. Is it the total number of downloads, or how often people are coming back? How responsive are customers when offers are pushed out? How viral is your content? Or is it how many people are opting in and giving you their e-mail address?”
4. Forget about BlackBerry, Win-dows Phone and Palm. As of June, Android controlled 40.1 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, and Apple’s iOS captured 26.6 percent market share. Both are growing each month. Their rivals are fading fast. iPhone and Android are all that matters. Everything else is irrelevant. Entrepreneurs don’t have to think it’s one or the other. .
5. Fasten your seat belt. Small businesses can really take advantage of the perception that apps are only for large companies, Home Depot has an app, but people don’t expect Joe’s Hardware to have an app. It’s an impressive thing for any business to have, like a website was 20 years ago. It sets your company apart, and it puts you on the same playing field as the big boys.