Does Every Marketer Need to Build an App for Mobile?

Know Your Target Consumers: An App's a Long-Term Commitment

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In a world where consumers increasingly are storming the internet with queries, downloads and page views from their mobile devices, marketers need a mobile-optimized or mobile-specific website. If you don't want to take my word for it, check your organic web traffic. Odds are you'll see anywhere from 10% to 25% of traffic coming from mobile devices, whether you're intending to capture that audience or not. This percentage will continue to grow steadily.

The question of whether or not you need to build a mobile app is a little less clear cut. To decide, ask yourself these three questions:

Is my audience using apps?

About half of U.S. adults have a smartphone, and data show that 43% of those have apps on their phones. You can find users of all ages among those who have apps, but the demographics lean heavily to the 23-45 age group. Data show that about one-third of smartphone app users are Gen Y (ages 23-31), and another third are Gen X (ages 32-45). On average, smartphone app users' household incomes are about $12,000 more than the average for U.S. online adults.

Am I ready to build and manage an app?

Apps tend to work best when they're focused on customers who already are aware of and have an affinity for your brand. If your objectives are to enhance the brand experience or build loyalty, you're in good shape. If you want to use an app to raise brand awareness, you will need to raise awareness of the app itself. Don't forget: an app is a long-term strategy, not a campaign-based one. Make sure you're prepared to support and manage this asset over time. You might be thinking that your app will have a three-month flight time, but once that app is on a user's device it's there for good. Do you really want to serve your customers out-of -date content and services indefinitely?

How do I avoid failure?

First, set expectations. The widest possible audience you're targeting is 39% of American adults. That's nothing to sneeze at, but it's not even close to, say, the number of adults who regularly check their e-mail or use Google on any device. Set your download and usage goals responsibly.

Second, plan to buy media. Most users find apps within the app store, but you can't count on a consumer's ability to find any one app in those vast recesses. Just for kicks, go to your app store of choice and browse recommended and top apps in various categories. Note how many are apps from brands. Now you know why you shouldn't launch an app without a paid media budget to promote it.

Even if you've worked through all of these recommendations, one more gotcha exists: the contentious issue of who should "own" the app strategy. An argument can be made for a ton of players in your company, from marketing to IT, from e-commerce to customer service. My number-one piece of advice to you is this: drop the territorialism. Join forces with these stakeholders and work together to align your strategies, address inefficiencies and avoid bickering. This may be the hardest step of all, but it will do the most to make your apps successful and your customers satisfied.

Melissa Parrish is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research.
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