Photo Credit: “Social Media Apps”– Flickr/Jason Howie CC BY 2.0
Editorial Note: This post is the second installment of Biz Eye View, interviews with experts doing innovative work in their fields.
The future of mobile as a key channel in a firm’s marketing strategy is now; smartphone penetration approached two-thirds of the total US market by the end of 2013 according to comScore. A strong influence on mobile access to the Internet is the availability and use of apps. Data from Nielsen reveals that mobile app use dwarfs time spent on mobile web, with 89% of mobile users’ time spent online occurs engaged with apps. The number of apps available to consumers continues to grow, with the Apple App Store and Google Play each offering more than 850,000 apps for download.
Despite the growth in popularity of apps, developing an app hardly guarantees that users and customers will flock to you. In fact, one estimate of app consumption behavior is that one out of four apps downloaded is used once and never opened again. To get an expert perspective on the current state of mobile marketing and app development, I asked Dave McAllister, president of Metova, a Franklin, Tennessee- based application development shop, to provide his perspective on mobile strategy development and the role of apps in engaging customers. Metova develops custom mobile applications for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone platforms. McAllister, a 20-year IT professional, began molding Metova’s operations and providing strategic direction when he was hired as vice president in 2008. In 2012, he took over as president and has expanded the company from 30 to 50+ employees.
DR: What is the number one mistake companies make in their mobile marketing efforts?
DM: The biggest marketing mistake companies make is not having a clear message about their application’s purpose. Companies notice a trend in mobile device and app usage and want to be a part of that. It is important to understand what makes your application special. For instance, if you’re developing a social network app, why are people going to use it? What problem does your app solve for users? Why should they switch over from Facebook or Twitter?
Pinterest is a good example: it makes no attempt to replace the more general-purpose social networks. Pinterest identified a problem with existing social networks and focused solely on addressing that problem: it is difficult to discover new ideas. Their web and mobile apps are focused on giving people inspiration for projects. If you lack that level of clarity in your offering, you will have a hard time educating consumers on the benefits of using your app.
DR: In your view, what are essential elements to include in a brand’s mobile strategy?
DM: Once a company has a clear goal. it is important to choose Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure your success on mobile. KPIs are metrics that identify whether you’re getting closer to or farther from your goals. For instance, maybe the most important metric to your social network is the number of users, or the average size of a user’s network of connections. You would likely assume that a decrease in your user population indicates a problem. Once you see that information, you can dig into the data and make a decision on how to turn things around. Without identifying that the number of users is an indicator of project health, however, you may not notice that there is a problem until the opportunity to right the ship has passed.
So what questions should you ask to ensure that you are properly incorporating apps into your overall branding or marketing strategy? How do the apps contribute to your company’s success? Are certain types of users or user behaviors more important to you than others? Why is that? Can you tie metrics back to departmental or company goals? For instance, do you expect your mobile app to have an impact on brand recognition? If so, what does success look like to you (followers on Facebook, new subscriptions, etc.)?
Understanding your target audience is also incredibly important. Knowing user interests, needs, and pain points will help guide your decisions throughout the development process. Imagine you are making an application for grandparents to communicate with their grandchildren. Without considering your users, it may seem like a good idea to put those extra couple of buttons on the screen. It may not occur to you that in order to add more buttons, the buttons will need to be smaller. Will grandparents prefer to have more, smaller, buttons on a screen or have fewer, larger buttons that are easy to read?
DR: When a company is looking to outsource mobile app development, what criteria should be used to evaluate a prospective developer?
DM: Experience is important to consider. Experienced companies can offer valuable consulting and feedback during the development process. Time and money can be saved when the developer knows the quickest way to implement a feature or can suggest a more cost-effective route.
Communication is another factor to keep in mind. Having the proper tools and communication outlets to easily discuss needs, ideas, and problems can make or break a project.
Our most successful projects are those where we spent extra time with customers to flesh out design and discuss expectations and priorities at that start. Meeting once a week to review progress and next steps ensures the team never strays too far from the path. We allow customers direct access to their developers. This reduces the number of people a message needs to pass through, hence lowering the chances of miscommunication.
When there is an absence of clear communication, projects and relationships are stressed. Timelines break down, expectations go undeclared and unmet, and everyone involved becomes frustrated with the lack of clarity and slow progress.
A good mobile app development team is going to have tools in place to allow you to communicate your thoughts and needs effectively. A great team is going to prove they listen by regularly responding to those thoughts and needs, and deliver by having a solid process in place to ensure that your needs are met.
DR: Mobile is a rapidly evolving channel. What trends or developments offer the greatest promise for businesses to engage their audience in meaningful ways using mobile apps?
DM: The greatest leap forward we have from our mobile devices is the contextual information about users beyond traditional analytics. Knowing their location, what they’re doing with your app and when, and the ability to push notifications to them in real-time wherever they are fundamentally changes how we interact with users.
Context-aware computing – changing application behavior based upon actionable information such as location and personal preferences – is well-complemented by the concept of ubiquitous or pervasive computing. We live in a world where there are more Internet-connected devices than there are people. Visual displays have made their ways into every corner of our lives. Every single display is an opportunity to remind people about your business. It extends beyond smartphones: mobile means “any computer smaller than a desktop”, and nowadays that encompasses a lot of things. Wearables like Google Glass or the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Arduino-powered devices built by hobbyists, tablets, in-store and in-flight displays, and likely your living room television are all network-connected and capable of displaying compelling content.
Consider how many mobile applications make sense on a TV screen, either as a primary method of consumption or as a supplement to the core experience. Would you like to show off family photos, or see the latest movie trailers, or see real-time stats and player profiles while you’re watching a game? Or since I brought up the example of Pinterest, how would you like to get inspired via 70 glorious inches of 1080p screen real estate? The second screen experience is another hint of what the future holds: contextual information displayed to inform you while you are entertained.
Quality over quantity is another one of the most noticeable trends in mobile. It is better to have a simple application that does its job expertly than a complex one that works only so-so.
There are applications that have been on the market for long periods of time that are becoming too feature rich. For example, in Facebook, you can play games, post on walls, read articles and blogs, download new apps, etc. etc. There are actually applications trending whose only purpose is to curate, filter, and display this data. People are moving away from “I want an app that does it all” to “I want multiple apps that are specialized to fit each of my needs.”
Let’s go back to the Pinterest example. No one goes to Pinterest to keep up with their family and friends or schedule events or play a game. You go to Pinterest to share and find your inspiration. Pinterest does that beautifully. If it included every feature you found in Facebook, the quality of the core user experience would degrade. No one visits Facebook to get inspired.
The Mobile Future
What is your take on how mobile will change the way marketers reach and engage their customers? How do you avoid becoming part of the 25% of apps that is discarded after one use? What companies or brands are doing mobile well today? Share your thoughts on where mobile is headed.