There’s an app for that There sure is! At last count, in fact there’s around 350,000 apple apps on iTunes alone.  350,000!!  In the UK, smartphone users downloaded no less than 860m apps in 2010, 710m of those were free. 

A few weeks ago, Paul Johnston wrote about developing an optimal mobile experience and  noted that B2C companies must have a mobile strategy that includes both mobile web and mobile apps.  Today I will share some tips  to help you develop a mobile app that supports your product and or brand strategy.

Earlier this year, Localytics, an industry analyst wrote that 26% of apps downloaded in 2010 were discarded after one use.  Therefore for a new app, first impressions definitely count.  iMedia Connection wrote back in September how an initial failed app will result in brand damage.  Many businesses have fallen foul of an eager desire for mobile presence, without carefully considering whether the app they have developed actually meets customer needs and aligns with their brand strategy. 

Businesses need to plan carefully when executing their mobile strategy to ensure that the apps they offer will enhance their current customer proposition.  Crucially, this must be driven by customer needs and align with the corporate brand.  Here are four questions to guide you when making that decision:

1.       Why do you want to develop an app?

  • Is it to increase sales, sell a new product/service, retain customers, provide incentives to customers, to better understand customers through increased data, or help customers?  The answer to this will determine the kinds of apps that will help meet your needs.
  • Wagamama’s, the UK restaurant, has built an iPhone app to allow customers to order and pay for their takeaway dinner remotely – which I have taken advantage of as a consultant on more than one occasion!  Thus promoting further appeal to those customers short of time, or means to order their food via telephone or wait in the restaurant.

2.       What is the propensity of my target customer segments to use a smartphone?

  • Channel preference based segmentation models, like Experian True Touch, provides a framework that allows organisations to consider and understand whether their target customers will use mobile, and how.  Are they likely to be a mobile smartphone, or mobile tablet user? It’s important to understand your target customers needs and preferences when designing your mobile strategy.
  • If your customer base are ‘Experienced Netizens’ or ‘New Tech Novices’ then you must design a mobile app thatan Experienced Netizen would welcome.

3.       When do my customers primarily encounter touchpoints with my organisation?

  • Understanding the customer touchpoints throughout a multi-channel journey can help identify where a mobile app could facilitate an existing transaction, be it sales or service, or create an opportunity for a new transaction.
  •  US bank is tackling retail banking branch queues by moving one of the common transactions, cheque deposits, to an online service via the iPhone: customers can simply take a photo of their cheque and submit it via the mobile app – no reason to visit the bank at all.

4.       What benefits can I offer my customer on the move?

  • Understanding why a customer would require access on the move, i.e. when they are not using a laptop/desktop, is important to fully appreciate the drivers and needs of a mobile app.  App developers differ in terms of their view of the maximum number of clicks per app
  • The Sky+ app allows its existing customers to remote record any TV shows that they may have forgotten about when away from home – as well as checking out 7 day TV schedules to review their week ahead – perfect if you’re headed for a last minute trip away from home and don’t want to miss an episode of Coronation Street!

Taking time to answer each of these questions, as well as mapping out the interaction of these apps as part of the wider multi-channel customer journey, will ensure an appropriate and customer-driven set of mobile application requirements.  It will also help you understand what the core purpose of your app will be:

  1. Sell to me “mCommerce” – sales on the move, e.g. the Amazon app
  2. Service me: Access an existing account, manage your details, submit information and make changes, e.g. the Lovefilm app which lets you manage your DVD rentals list and account remotely
  3. Support me: Apps that act as tools to help the customer on the move, e.g. the XE currency app allows you to readily calculate currency conversions whilst away from home, constantly driving you to that app, reinforcing the brand
  4. Help me: Information rich apps that provide a one-way information flow to help a customer will a current need, e.g. the RAC Traffic app provides real-time traffic updates – useful if you’re stuck in gridlocked traffic and looking for a way out
  5. Distract me: Apps that provide entertainment, for entertainment’s sake – corporations may choose to use this to boost their brand profile, although this must be executed carefully to ensure that it doesn’t irritate and damage the brand.  A good example would be the now infamous Carling ‘iBeer’ app

Once you’re clear what kind of app you should develop, further consideration is required  to ensure that the end product is fit for purpose, flexible, usable and appropriate for the customer’s need, and of course at a price (or free!) that customers will pay.  Many analysts have provided guidance on the tips for a successful mobile strategy, Forrester have recently published a comprehensive list of how the leading players are planning their mobile application strategy.

And which platform should you develop your app for?  iOS, Android, BlackBerry..?  That’s a conversation for another post!