Should There Be an App for that?
By J.D. Williams
With the advent of Mobile technology and the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, the mobile app has become a vital part of our lives. Many established businesses have sought to use mobile apps as a tool for marketing and branding. However, just because a technology is available, that does not automatically make it a good option for your business to pursue.
If you have ever used a smartphone or a tablet, then you have been exposed to apps. These small programs add new dimensions of functionality to your device, making it useful in a wider variety of scenarios. With the proper apps, it can make your phone useable as a camera, or a flashlight, or a GPS, while transforming your tablet into a television or a video game system. Through apps, businesses have been able to increase their brand awareness and customer loyalty. Restaurants can now have their patrons order food via an app, retailers can offer apps to help their customers keep track of rewards and special offers, and gas station apps can direct motorists to the nearest station that offers the cheapest fuel. Even a retailer can have a unique app that offers rewards, discounts, and specials for customers, or offer store locators, and gaming experiences like in-store scavenger hunts.
Benefits of having an app
The branding and exposure aspects of having an app for your business are enticing. According to Screemingtreemedia.com, over half of adult Americans utilize Mobile technology, and spend more time using their apps than they spend on mobile websites. This works well with reinforcing your branding efforts, and exposing your product or service to millions of eyes.
An app offers accessibility and ease of use that a regular website can’t, with the added bonus of keeping your brand at the forefront of people’s attention when they are away from their computers. This is important for increasing your customer retention and brand loyalty.
Having an app available also increases your presence and visibility at the app stores (iTunes, Google Play, Windows Marketplace, Amazon, etc.).
Apps have access to features and technology that websites don’t. Your app can make use of features that any smartphone or tablet offers, which can help make for a unique user experience.
An effective app can be a great compliment to – or replace altogether – your print-based marketing campaigns and transactions, saving you printing costs. It is also easier to gleam analytic data from App use than from any other media, which you can use to tailor your product, service or marketing to fit your ideal demographic and grow your consumer base.
Liabilities of having an app
With any option for your business, there are drawbacks, and launching an app is no exception. The biggest issues with having an app are the costs involved in creating and maintaining one. An App is most effective when it is available across multiple platforms, which means that your app must be developed for compatibility with more than one operating system, and can entail developing at least three separate versions of the same app.
Apps must also be maintained and updated, not only with new, fresh content to keep users engaged and attracting new users, but also to simply maintain functionality and compatibility with updates to the operating systems. Apps can be hard to optimize, and a great deal of investment must be made into creating a user experience that is unique from simply visiting a website.
What this all means is that there can be heavy costs in time, capital and manpower that must be invested into creating and maintaining a quality app. There are simple Do-It-Yourself app creators available, but those options most often offer a minimal user experience, and many are nothing more than a mobile website in the guise of an app. First impressions are very important with apps, and negative reviews can cripple your app, and by extension, your brand.
Things to consider before choosing
If you do decide that an app is the best option for your business, There are many other factors to decide before you dive into the process. The first question being what your app has to offer. Your app should offer a user experience that is separate from visiting your business’ website, and it is paramount to figure out what exactly you want your app to do.
After that, the question becomes whether you should have a hand-coded app, or utilize any of the app creation programs that are available. Keep in mind that this software comes in a variety of features, and complexity levels. Using the software may save you more money, time and testing than hand-coding, but you would be sacrificing the versatility, functionality and customizability of creating an app from scratch.
There is also the question of whether you want to make one app that works across all platforms and operating systems (iOs, Android and Windows), or whether it would be better to create separate “Native” versions of your app that are tailor made for each operating system. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages in either option, mostly concerning the costs of time and resources, as well as the variations in user experience.
Since most people with mobile technology have a multitude of apps on their devices, be sure to give your customers a reason to utilize your app on a regular basis. Offering a unique or useful function, or an engaging experience, is the key to keeping your users coming back.
Promotion is also important, so you must include marketing your app in your advertising budget. It may seem redundant that you are essentially advertising for an item that is used for advertising, but it is vital that your potential customers be aware that your app is available.
Finally, you must take into consideration the costs of maintaining and updating your app. Many apps require access to servers and/or cloud storage, which can incur monthly costs. There is also the issue of updating your app to stay compatible with the operating systems as they are updated. Keeping you app up to date, constantly testing for functionality, as well as possibly adding new features, must also be factored in.