Hold the Phone! Why You May Not Need an App After All

Let’s face it, apps are sexy. They’re the little black dresses of the tech world.For a brand manager or marketer (or entrepreneur who encompasses the above), it’s tantalizingly appealing to be directly in front of your customers everywhere they go, at all intervals of their day. In fact, 40% of you are probably reading this on your phone right now (caught ya). The question is: How many of you needed an app to do so?

It’s easy to see the value that apps can bring to brands, but at the same time, it’s also easy to mistakenly use the channel as a means to solve marketing problems. While having your brand literally at your customers’ fingertips is an amazing opportunity, the road to get there is actually quite tedious and oftentimes under-scoped.

Research and insights firm Canalysis, which specializes in app analysis, estimated that “up to two-thirds of the apps in leading consumer app store catalogs receive fewer than 1,000 downloads in their first year, and a significant proportion of those get none at all.” This speaks to one issue too commonly overlooked—the marketing of the app itself. How will users find it? Are you in the app store? Good luck standing out from hundreds—or even thousands—of competitors. And how about the need for ongoing support post-launch so you can iterate and analyze how people actually use your app? Because it’s almost always different than how you intended.

With so many pitfalls on the road to app success, a helpful approach is to take a step back and first ask yourself if your brand really needs an app to begin with. Start by looking at the channels that are already open and available to you. Then consider whether there are communication opportunities you can capitalize on within them, or if you truly need to make the investment in an app to get closer to your users.

Not sure? Here are four questions to ask yourself as a litmus test before beginning app development:

1. Does the app have a good chance of increasing revenue or decreasing costs? Unless you’re Coke or Pepsi, whose objective is to drive strong brand engagement and loyalty—with a matching budget to support it—don’t build an app just to “boost engagement.” Define a clear path for that engagement to either increase revenues or reduce your operational costs. For example, if you’re selling a product, think about how you can link users back to the e-commerce platform in a relevant way. Or, for example, think about how you can enable more transparent shipping information to ease the burden off your call center, like FedEx’s app does.

2. Can your objective be accomplished on your website? Unless the function you’re compartmentalizing becomes more valuable as a standalone tool on someone’s mobile device, chances are your website is a perfectly good channel for it. You’ve already worked very hard to drive traffic to it, and people don’t have to take any extra steps to first lookup, download, and then learn how to use your new app. As long as your tool renders well on mobile, you may be good to go—and save thousands on the app you would have otherwise developed.

3. Does your target market want to have this tool on a mobile device? Not only is it important to recognize whether an app is valuable enough for you to create, it’s equally as important to be real about whether your users want a particular problem solved on their phone. Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes. Is it really helpful to have inspirational quotes pop up on your iPhone every morning? For some people the answer might be yes. For others, the answer might be a wall calendar or an email. Know which camp your target market sits in before investing.

4. Will there be long-term support in place to evolve the app? You should think of apps the same way savvy marketers think of social media. This is a long-term relationship you are building with your users. Once the app is downloaded, it will sit on a user’s phone until it proves un-useful, becomes burdensome (Ah! Stop sending me inspirational quotes!), or a similar app provides more value. It’s important to make sure you can support the evolution of the tool you create. Apps inherently provide real-time feedback on user behavior. Use it to your advantage.

With consumers looking at their phones more than 100 times in one day, there can be a great benefit to launching an app, and following through on it well. Just make sure that before you jump on board you know where you’re headed and have a plan to overcome the many challenges to adoption and ongoing success. Mobile applications can be a positive game changer for many—but a losing bet for many more.

Melanie Weinberger is director of business development at Launchpad.

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