Anyone who is keeping up with mobile marketing knows by now that the app is key. The app is a business’ way of keeping up with its customers. And it takes the marketing efforts of that company from an annoying pop-up ad to a potentially fun, customer-oriented experience.
Any business looking at the numbers could be sold on the idea of an app. In the first days of the app business, when Apple launched the store, the company saw two million downloads per day, making a million dollars a day. Clearly, no smaller business could hope to generate that kind of revenue, not initially. But the potential for that kind of earning power is enough to get any entrepreneur thinking.
It is easy to think, then, that all the company has to do is to make an app. Any kind of app will do. Maybe put a game in it, have it all tie back to the product being advertised, and call it a day. Put it up for sale in the app store of your choosing, then sit back and watch the profits roll in. Right?
Sure. If it was two years ago.
Jim Bruene wrote an article for Net Banker back in August of 2008. This was one month after apps initially hit the market, when the future was yet unclear. Apple had just added a Finance category, to compile the most popular banking applications on the market at that point. What he found was that, out of the top twenty applications at the time, only four of them had a user rating above 4.0, on a five-point scale. Three apps had scores below 3.0, including two of the most popular ones.
What did these apps offer to their users? Not very much. Some of them were tip calculators. Others were for things like calculating loan payments, expense/check registers, and personal finance. Not particularly advanced, as Bruene noted, and yet these were the most popular.
It would be easy to read this and conclude that this whole app business is easier than it sounds. Nothing could be further from the truth. This research was done in the earliest days of the app phenomenon, and that was two years ago. The game has changed rather drastically since then. Such simple applications were popular then, quite probably, because there was nothing else available. Bank of America’s app was little more than a landing page on the mobile phone screen, and yet it was the third most popular app at that point.
That just does not work anymore. Applications not only have to exist for a business, but they have to provide a real and tangible benefit to the consumer.
Here is an example: Ron Callari, writing for Inventor Spot, wrote about how hotels are finally getting into the business of apps. This industry – the hospitality industry – has a much bigger stake in the business of whether or not its apps succeed, because it is a non-essential business. That is, hotels are a business that can fail whilst the country continues on its way.
Hotels, as commercial businesses, thrive on drawing in customers. Callari noted the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin application, which features maps, photos, videos, even restaurants. The Omni hotel chain allows users to check into the loyalty rewards programs, check the daily offers, and even check-in to a room whilst traveling. The Choice Hotels chain has a similar service going on for all 5800 of its hotels.
This could go on at length. But there is a key difference that needs to be noted. Whereas, in the beginning, apps could be unbearably simple and still expect success, it is simply no longer true. These apps, being done by relative newcomers to the business, are well-done, providing real service to their users.
That is the key characteristic. Nobody wants to spend money on something that offers no value.
Another example: Geico apps. This is another example of what a business has to gain by doing apps right. Geico apps allow users to pay their bills and check their insurance rates. Users can even get help for those times when they lock themselves out of their cars. There is also the Accident Helper feature, which lets consumers store photos of the accident scene for records and claims, and Roadside Service for nearby gas stations and towing services. Also, it serves as a quick contact point between the users and Geico when necessary.
They even have videos of the gecko, the cavemen, everything.
Let it be clear – the market has gone to work on applications. It is no longer enough just to have the things for a business and be available. Applications now have to add a significant value to their users. They have to do something that makes it not a waste of time to have them. In other words, it has to be a real and proper application.
What about the local laundromat, for instance? Should there even be an app for that? Of course there should! And it should be more than just a landing page on a mobile phone! A laundromat owner who wants to make an app for his business needs to think about what exactly would be useful to his clientele.
Would games be good for him? Possibly, but probably not. This is a laundromat, after all. Something much more useful would be to give quotes for dry-cleaning bills, a list of services, the ability to set appointments, the address of the store, etc.
Small business owners need to remember, no matter what, that the app is not what gives value to the customer. What gives the app its value is its ability to be properly utilized so as to serve the consumer in whatever way is viable for the business.
So, if you run a business, retailing your products through other businesses, have an app that shows off your products. Give a list of your shipping dates, and to which stores the products will be shipped.
In short: let your app be whatever it has to be to benefit the consumer. If it is properly done, an app can be a great source of revenue for your business.