Secrets to success: Should your brand have a mobile app?

Posted September 11, 2015 in , by

This may shock some marketers, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway. Your board and C-suite should not be driving your mobile app strategy. Just because they are pushing for a presence in the app stores, doesn’t mean that it makes sense for you or your customers.

<Insert gasp here>

That’s right. Mobile app success for your brand is about much more than just having a presence. And rushing into it is unlikely to yield the kind of results your higher-ups are hoping for.

Where’s the pressure coming from?

First, it’s important to understand where all this pressure is coming from. The executives driving your company are seeing things from a very big-picture point of view.

They know that the majority of your customers have smartphones.

Every business publication they read is constantly highlighting the latest mobile app success stories.

And, study after study says apps are dominating the mobile web.

According to Flurry Analytics, smartphone users spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes on their mobile devices with app usage accounting for 2 hours and 19 minutes of this time. A similar study by Nielson found that smartphone users spend 89 percent of their time in apps and just 11 percent using mobile web.


Apps Continue to Dominate


Monthly Usage of Apps

Those long stretches of time spent engaging with apps spells opportunity for building relationships with your customers. Your leadership team wants a piece of this pie. They are guessing that the responsive website you just launched might not be enough to hold the attention of your customers. They understand that getting into the app game could be a great bet for your brand, and they might be right.

But sometimes the drive to get in the game can lead to building an app that isn’t relevant. You need to change your mindset, as well as the mindset of your executives.

Mobile apps are content.

Think of your app as a big, expensive piece of content. The goal of any strong piece of content is not to sell, but to add value. That means the success of your mobile app is dependent upon its relevance to your customer’s lives. And relevance is all about adding value by filling an unmet need of your customers and doing it better than any other brand. Building a mobile strategy based on relevance allows you to hedge your bets on features and functionality that fall into one or more of the following categories:


Categories Separate


Repetitive needs:

This category of apps provides functionality that is used over and over again. Banking apps are repeatedly checked for account balances. Apps like My Fitness Pal allow users to repeatedly track their calorie intake. People repeatedly open weather apps and check the forecast. You get the idea.

Entertainment needs:

The entertainment category exists to help users pass time in an enjoyable way. Facebook’s app allows users to communicate with friends. Media apps like Brit & Co. or Wall Street Journal continuously push out interesting content. And, of course, there’s gaming. This category performs incredibly well and is known for holding the top spots in app stores.

Urgent needs:

Apps that satisfy urgent needs provide functionality for “right now.” Yelp and Google Maps are both great examples.

When mobile apps fill needs in more than one of the categories described above, they can increase their relevance exponentially.


Categories combines

 Here are a few examples:

  • Funny or Die Weather: Not only does the app satisfy its users repeated need for an accurate daily and weekly forecast, it also entertains them with laugh-out-loud “daily thoughts.”
  • Target Cartwheel: This app allows users to entertain themselves by browsing Target’s various collections and its weekly ad, plus it satisfies the repeated need of saving money through couponing.
  • ESPN App: This app does it all. It satisfies the urgent and repetitive needs of users wanting up-to-the-minute scores. It also provides entertainment through video highlights.

This theory can guide you in coming up with features and functionality that are relevant beyond the boardroom. Sit down with your team. Brainstorm some needs your brand might be able to fill in each category. Then, talk to some customers and share a few prototypes.

What if I don’t have time to talk to customers?

Do it anyway. Stop thinking about large research studies conducted by a third party and just get on the phone with ten people. Ask them some questions – they can identify their needs better than anyone else.

Besides, not actually talking to your customers is risky. How?

First, there’s ROI. If you fail to be relevant, you will have spent lots of dollars with very little engagement. Kahuna, a marketing automation company, recently released a report analyzing anonymous data from 39 million mobile customers. They found that 90 percent of app users will “fade” if brands don’t continuously engage them. And, chances are, you might not have a second opportunity.

Plus, you’ll risk low ratings and negative reviews – two things that impact where you show up in any app store search.

Maybe you don’t need an app.

No matter how badly your brand wants or “needs” an app, if you can’t identify why your customers need a mobile app from you, it’s time to slow down and consider the possibility that they might not.

Have you ever built an “unneeded” mobile app? If you had to do it over again, what would you have done differently?


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