The allure of having a fancy mobile application associated with your business can be strong. With the thousands of apps out on the market, you might feel like having an app is a requirement for any successful business. However, determining if your business really needs an app is important, as building one can require a significant investment of time and money.
So what’s the best way to determine if your business can benefit from an app? Start by asking yourself these questions.
1. What Will the App Do?
Examine the functionality of your app. What will be its purpose? How will it add value to my customers’ experience? Consider the apps you have loaded onto your smartphone. Chances are they fall into one of four categories:
- Food and Restaurants
- Social Networks
If your business type falls into the first two categories, it’s easy to see how an app can benefit your customers. Restaurant apps make it easy for users to find locations, review menus, place orders and make reservations. Retail apps are very convenient when looking for a specific product or comparing prices. They are also used to find offer codes and coupons. Social networking apps are perhaps some of the most popular and most used. Facebook, Yelp and everything in between are well-trafficked apps that work by reorganizing their respective data (e.g. usernames, posts, media, etc.) in a mobile-friendly package. Games are a whole other beast, but depending on your industry, a simple and engaging game could be a great marketing tool.
So what will your app do? Will it be a way for users to find out more about your locations and products? Will it be an interface for users to place orders or share their experiences? Whatever the app will do, make sure you have a clear understanding of its function and scope before you start making one. This is the most crucial aspect of all. If you’re unable to articulate or explain what your app will do, it’s a sign that you might not need one.
2. How Is Your Data Organized?
Aside from games, the most useful and downloaded apps organize important data in an easy and accessible way. With that in mind, you’ll need to understand how your available data (e.g. item numbers, prices, descriptions, etc.) might populate your app. If you’re storing your data in an open online database like Intuit QuickBase, designed specifically for business professionals, sharing of data will be easy. Since QuickBase is in the cloud and fully web-browser accessible, no additional work is needed to access the data as in the case of firewalls or special network configurations. Mobile apps can grab data from QuickBase through its easy-to-use integration interface.
3. Do You Have a Website That Provides Similar Functionality?
You’ve probably noticed that most apps have complementary websites. Major retailers, restaurant chains and social networks were first introduced to the web as conventional websites, and these sites are continuously maintained in conjunction to the app.
There’s a practical reason for this. The information needed to populate an app (e.g. prices, descriptions, etc.) comes from the same database that populates a company’s conventional website. The main differences between an app and its conventional website are largely determined by their respective user interfaces. Most conventional websites are designed to work with a keyboard and mouse on a large screen, which means a company can provide customers with more onscreen information. Mobile apps, on the other hand, feature smaller screens that people touch to navigate, which limits how much information can be presented to a customer. Mobile apps are also limited by network speeds, which are usually slower than landline connections.
With that being said, many sites are now “responsive,” meaning their layout adjusts according to what device is used to access the site. So a desktop user can access the same site as a mobile user, but the interface will be different and optimized for the different device. As such, if your company already has a website that’s mobile-friendly or responsive, an app might be redundant.
4. Are You Considering an App to Replace Your Website?
Many small businesses consider a mobile app as a cost-saving measure, using the app in place of a website. This perception, however, isn’t entirely accurate. Hiring developers to create, maintain and update your app requires a significant monetary commitment. It’s also important to remember that a mobile-friendly website can be used across multiple platforms, but a mobile app can only be used on the mobile platform it was written for. So an iOS app is inaccessible on an Android phone, and vice versa. This need to create apps for each mobile platform will increase both your time and money investment.
5. What’s Your Long-Term Mobile Strategy?
How will the mobile app fit in with your ongoing marketing efforts and mobile strategy? For some companies, an app is a short-term marketing tactic, not a long-term strategy; for these companies, an app is simply a small piece of a larger integrated marketing campaign. Other companies, like Uber and Netflix, live and die by their apps, as the apps serve as a primary connection between their services and their customers.
If you create an app, what value will it offer? And how will you communicate that value to your customers? On top of marketing, how will you address user concerns and functionality issues? What considerations must you make for the different mobile platforms? Will you charge for your app or offer it for free? Deciding to create an app is fine, but it cannot be viewed as the only piece of your mobile marketing strategy.
Mobile Website vs. Mobile App
As mentioned above, a mobile app might appear to be the flashier of the two options, but the benefits of a mobile or responsive website might be longer lasting. Here’s a quick list of pros for using a mobile site versus a mobile app.
Pros for a Mobile Website:
- With responsive design, your conventional website can double as a mobile site, allowing you to get the most out of your investment.
- A mobile website requires less long-term maintenance than a mobile app, therefore lowering the overall cost.
- It’s easier to drive traffic to a mobile website through mobile advertising than it is to drive app downloads.
- In order to target mobile users, apps have to be written and maintained for different platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.). All devices can access a single mobile website.
Pros for an App:
- If your current website wasn’t designed to be viewed on mobile screens, you may need to work on a complete redesign before its mobile-ready.
- Because of space and resource limitations, mobile websites sometimes offer compromised functionality, which could lead to slow speeds and frustrated users. Again, apps are made with these limitations in mind.
- Smartphone users spend more time using apps than the web. As of 2013, users spend an average of 30 hours per month with apps.
Depending on your industry, your brand and its offerings, an app can be great way to increase your web presence, capture a growing demographic and complement an integrated marketing campaign. However, they can also be redundant or superfluous, and you may just be throwing money away at something that’ll never gain traction. Before making a commitment, research your competitors and see if they have an app, how it functions and if it’s popular. If a larger competitor’s shying away from apps or failed to gain any traction, then an app is probably not a good idea for your company.