Do you have a strategy for mobile? In some ways, this seems like an odd question to be asking. Mobile is ubiquitous. We are bombarded with stats about people using mobile for pretty much everything; from browsing and shopping to fitness and banking. We engage with our mobiles more than perhaps any other device we own.
The evidence is clear:
- National smartphone penetration has grown from 52% in 2012 to 87% in 2018
- 95% of smartphones owners aged 16-75 used their device in the last day
- The average smartphone user has more than 80 apps on their phone and uses close to 40 of them per month (or between one-third and one-half of the apps on their phone per month, on average).
- 80% of app users engage with their apps 15 times a day
There exists a large number of organisations for which mobile is still an afterthought. Either because they are yet to realise it has become a first party customer engagement channel, or because they simply don’t know where to begin when they look at the plethora of half baked apps and failed experiments of the last decade.
You see mobile is now mature, but only just. It took us over 20 years to get from the days of the dotcom boom to where we are today. The web is now fundamental to the way businesses operate, market themselves and sell their goods and services.
By contrast, Apple’s app store first opened in 2008, nearly a decade after the web really started to establish itself as a platform for doing business. Organisations today will think nothing of investing millions in their online presence and e-commerce store. This may be less true of their mobile presence.
Now, as we approach the 2020’s, the early days of mobile are well and truly over. Mobile is not new anymore and the app vs web debate is largely dead. The truth is that today, we have two first-party, digital channels to reach and serve our customers. The way we use these channels may be different or they may be similar, but use them we must.
If you were sitting on the fence, dabbled with ‘apps’, or your past endeavours got only as far as ‘innovation projects', then yes, today you will need a strategy for mobile.
If your mobile landscape looks like this, you're not alone
Let’s try and paint a picture of where many organisations find themselves today. Maybe this sounds familiar?
Several years ago there was a real buzz around mobile and more specifically, apps. Marketing was shouting about the need for apps. Operations were looking to mobilise people with apps. Innovation departments were being drip-fed small change to ‘innovate' with apps. And IT departments were moving too slowly, or just kept saying no. This ultimately lead to a complete lack of strategy and governance and a bunch of different departments doing a bunch of different things, with a bunch of different vendors.
Fast forward to today. Most of the vendors have gone bust. You don't really know if any of the apps were successful. They were certainly unsupported and unloved, with little ongoing development or continued investment. IT has finally caught up and are trying to claw back some kind of control. You don't know what to do with the apps you have, and you don't know how to avoid the mistakes of the past. At the same time, you are aware that mobile is a real thing now, and moving even faster than before; the fear of being left behind is lurking in the collective consciousness of the organisation.
The cost of user acquisition on mobile is high. Getting a user into an app store to download your app is a fight for attention, but it is also a fight worth winning. A successful app has a little bit of screen estate on a device that follows your customer everywhere. It has the potential to be a genuine utility to serve their needs better and will always be there when they reach for it. Assuming you don't alienate them from overuse, you will be able to reach out to you customers with push notifications and direct them to relevant services and offers, at any point in time and in any place they go.
Lessons from the past: three things to avoid
Given the huge potential but the high cost of user acquisition we wanted to share some lessons from our own experience with clients when thinking about your mobile app strategy:
1. Don't create a myriad of different apps
There are valid reasons for having multiple mobile applications, but there are also many reasons to focus on a singular, high quality, mobile experience.
Generally speaking, people are used to searching and browsing the web. Pay per click advertising works reasonably well and there are established mechanisms to cross-promote your services and re-target your audience. In contrast, people primarily look to apps to allow them to achieve a goal or simplify a workflow
Sometimes the perceived convenience of accessing your content or service on mobile is enough to drive a user to the app store. Or you may have an additional service or experience that you can only offer your customers through a mobile app. Either way, the app store introduces a significant barrier to customer acquisition. It’s convenient for the user when they have identified a need and know what they are looking for, but it's not really a convenient place for an organisation or a brand to be found.
So when you do finally create that compelling offering that users have hunted down on the app store, or when you hit on that perfect user acquisition strategy that resulted in a significant number of new conversions, you need to maximise that success. Having finally got a little piece of that mobile real estate and an app that your customers will take everywhere with them there are two key things to remember:
- Don't dilute your service offering, or brand, and make them do it all again
- Invest in that app and make it sticky.
A simple rule here would be to look at the brands you own and develop an application strategy around those brands. As an example, if you're an international travel hub, then your name may well be the only brand people associate with you. Undoubtedly, they will go hunting for e.g the 'Heathcliff Airport’ app, and expect to access the best mobile experiences and the best services through that app; it is far less likely they will download and invest in three different apps you may have developed for flight information, baggage tracking and loyalty services. Conversely, if you are a large tech company with well-known productivity brands for writing, publishing and financial planning, then you may well need an app for each of those brands/offerings. Ultimately the correct approach will be tied to the user's expectation of who or what they are primarily engaged with.
2. Get the right stakeholders on board
You need to consider mobile as a primary customer acquisition and engagement channel. Whatever strategy you put in place around mobile development, be that for B2B productivity/workforce apps or B2C customer experience apps, it should involve significant input from the whole business.
Senior stakeholders, project sponsors and budget holders all need to be involved to ensure the interests of the business are properly represented at all times. You should not outsource the responsibility of success to a single department. There will always be a budget and there is always a time-limited window in which the business needs to achieve a set number of goals. The budget holder will need to make a call at some point and should be involved from the outset and updated frequently.
Sales and marketing need to be there from the beginning and not simply wheeled in towards the end. It is important the brand is represented robustly from the outset. Marketing will need to input into the kind of analytics and feedback that is important to the business and this will need to be fed into the development process. They may also need to be educated and primed on marketing concerns very specific to mobile. How do the app stores work? How do we ensure a global presence? How do our customers find us? What signposting do we need to do to get people to download the app? How can we make effective use of push notifications? What additional tools do we need? How do we ensure GDPR compliance?
IT should always be involved. Your app may interact with any number of your internal business systems. IT needs to ensure the integrity of these systems and input into the integration and security requirements around them. They will understand some of the technical constraints and be able to articulate concerns around security and integration with the rest of the stakeholders. Some could directly impact the ambitions of these stakeholders. They are concerns that need to be heard and explored to ultimately ensure success.
3. Think beyond the initial investment
As with web, if not more so, you need to consider your app as a primary customer engagement channel. It should be a first-party platform through which you can reach, inspire, and grow value with your audience. To maximise the success of this channel it needs to be fed. You will need a marketing budget, development budget, support budget, a healthy roadmap, purposeful leadership and solid direction.
Many organisations that made an investment in the early days of mobile did so through innovation projects or as a ’tick box exercise’. Again, this is similar to peoples early experience of the web and probably made sense at the time. Many of these apps have since been left out to pasture. Suppliers may no longer exist, there may have been little or no budget set aside to maintain them and even less thought given to ongoing development.
Today, a modern app strategy needs to define the roadmap, determine the ongoing investment and estimate the expected return on that investment. Mobile devices, operating systems and technological advancements change significantly every single year and legacy technology used behind the scenes is frequently deprecated. The need for ongoing support on mobile far outweighs that of the web and organisations should cost this accordingly.
There can be hidden costs too. Your app is a platform, a channel and an investment. The cost of rebuilding this every two to three years is not something anyone should be seriously considering; this mindset is firmly stuck in an agency model from the past decade that has not done anyone any favours. If you outsource your mobile development then find a technology partner, invest in that partner and keep that partner invested in evolving your mobile capability. The hidden costs of on-boarding suppliers, growing domain knowledge and transferring application ownership are significant and should not be ignored.
Looking to the future
The mobile landscape has truly matured. The battles have been fought, lost and won. iOS and Android have become ubiquitous, now occupying a huge part of our daily lives. Just like the Windows and Linux battles of yesteryear, it turns out there is enough room in the market for walled gardens and open ecosystems to co-exist. Mobile and web work hand in hand, augmenting and complementing an organisations ability to reach out and engage with their audience.
The maturity of the platform now demands a maturity in approach. Technology is moving faster than ever. While mobile technology continues to develop at pace, organisations are, at the same time, moving their applications into the cloud.
This move to the cloud is tearing down the barriers to innovation and allowing enterprise to industrialise the process of modernisation. Intelligent cloud services are enabling artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice UX, image recognition, industrial IoT, data analytics; the list is large and continues to grow month by month.
Mature cross-platform tools and modern cloud services allow complex apps to be developed at pace without re-inventing the wheel. Modern web and mobile channels can share business logic, integrate with common backend systems and bring intelligent experiences to your customers, while at the same time delivering a richer, and more context-based, value and utility.
Successful organisations must ensure that their strategy for mobile is matured and aligned closely with those of web and cloud. As technology continues to move at pace, and as innovation is industrialised, organisations can no longer afford for mobile to be an afterthought.
Want to find out what makes a best in class mobile app? Download our free eBook the CIO's Guide to Mobile Apps now!