Guide to Mobile Apps for Brands – Part 1

Does your brand need a mobile app? What should your branded mobile app be? These questions and more will be answered in the Guide to Branded Mobile Apps series. Research by Distimo from the latter half of 2011 shows that 91% of the top 100 brands have at least one app in the leading app stores (Apple, Android). That’s up from 51% in early 2010. Popular mobile apps can be a major coup for brands. However, it’s a costly investment, and research from Deloitte in 2011 revealed that 80% of major consumer and healthcare apps are downloaded fewer than 1,000 times.

mobile apps for brandsMobile Opportunities for Brands

Before you decide whether or not your brand needs a mobile app, you need to understand the various mobile opportunities available for brands to connect with consumers whenever and wherever they are via mobile devices. Apps might be the hot topic these days, but it might not be the best investment for your brand.

Mobile Website
These days, every website should be mobile-ready. A mobile website is developed to load quickly on mobile devices, making it easy to navigate to frequently-used features. It should also offer a link to access the full website. A mobile website operates within the mobile web browser. It’s much less expensive to develop than a mobile app and it’s easier to update on the fly.

Mobile App
Mobile apps operate outside of the mobile web browser. A successful mobile app offers some kind of added “brand utility” that users can’t get on the mobile website. That’s one of the reasons why brand gamification is so popular in mobile app development. However, games don’t usually deliver the ROI that brands want. A 2011 study by researchers at Indiana University and Murdoch University in Australia found that apps which provide information (e.g., product reviews, deals and discounts, cooking tips, and so on) are more effective in boosting user engagement than game- or entertainment-oriented applications. Mobile apps require longer development timelines than mobile websites (including development for multiple operating systems), larger monetary investments, and a budget to promote the app after it’s launched.

Hyrbrid App
A hybrid app is a cross between a mobile website and a mobile app. Users have to download the app to their mobile devices in order to access a variety of features that enable them to do tasks they’d normally do on the website in a quicker, more streamlined way. However, the app can’t do it all. Some of the content is embedded in a browser component. The Facebook mobile app is a good example of a hybrid app.

Do You Need a Branded Mobile App?

Now that you understand the primary ways that you can offer branded content and experiences to mobile consumers, it’s time to decide if you need a mobile app. The answer depends entirely on your long-term brand goals, your short-term brand priorities, and your customers. As Lou Dubois of Inc.com explains, “The best applications don’t just look good, they actually solve a problem or simplify life for a mobile consumer.”

With that in mind, here are three questions to ask to help make your decision:

  1. Can you create an app that offers added brand utility to consumers? Is there a real or perceived need for your app? If not, you should focus on a mobile website.
  2. Who are your customers and are they using a mobile device? If not, build a mobile website. The number of mobile device users is growing, but Pew Research reports that only 35% of American consumers have smartphones which enable them to download a mobile app.
  3. Do you have the time and money to develop and maintain a mobile app? Mobile app development takes much longer than mobile website development, and making changes to a mobile app in the future isn’t as easy as making changes on a mobile website. Furthermore, a mobile app needs to be developed for multiple operating systems while a single mobile website works on all devices.

A mobile app should accomplish two goals: it should be useful and interesting enough that people want to download it, and it should be useful and interesting enough that they want to use it again and again. An app that is never downloaded or an app that’s downloaded and used only once is useless to your brand. As Jeffrey Hughes, author of Android Apps Marketing: Secrets to Selling Your Android App and iPhone and iPad Apps Marketing: Secrets to Selling Your iPhone and iPad Apps, explains:

“The litmus test before you build that app is to ask if your app will meet a customer need on a frequent basis. The idea of building a branded app should be evaluated by all companies, but it should not be implemented by all companies. Unless there is a clear user need for your branded app and unless it will be used frequently, such as once a week, you are going to waste a lot of money in app development with poor results.

“Your goal as a marketer of any product is to evaluate all mediums to see which ones will work for your brand and products. The mobile phone can be a great extension to your brand if there’s the right fit. Make sure you determine if your brand is the right fit before you launch into what could be a costly development cycle with marginal results.”

Stay tuned for upcoming parts of the Guide to Mobile Apps for Brands series where you’ll learn about researching the market, developing a strategy for your branded mobile app, marketing your app, and measuring performance.

Image: Sean MacEntee

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius brings over 20-year of marketing and branding experience as Contributing Editor for the AYTM.com blog. She is the author of numerous books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com.