When Canadian pizza chain Pizza Pizza rolled out a mobile marketing strategy and accompanying mobile application in early 2011, they were already a few years behind the competition. In America, Domino’s Pizza had gained considerable press for their Pizza Tracker, which lets you see the progress of your order from the time you place it until it arrives at your door. So what did Pizza Pizza, who operates 600 chains in Ontario, do? They streamlined both ordering and delivery, and encouraged consumers to use the application via an incentive-based system. After an early April launch, they reported meeting the six-month performance metrics in six weeks and won a Webby Award (honoring innovation in web and mobile) as a smartphone-shopping tool.
“When we first sat down with Pizza Pizza, they knew very little about mobile apps, because what they really know is pizza,” says Melody Adhami, co-founder of Plastic Mobile, the Toronto-based mobile experience and design agency who created the application. “We wanted to offer a totally immersed mobile experience that didn’t require consumers to leave the app, and to showcase what was already delicious food.”
Success stories like Pizza Pizza, while inspirational for many small businesses, are rather rare in the mobile application world, despite the explosion in the space. Late May stats (and a cool infographic) released by BuySellAds.com state that worldwide app revenue is set to hit $15.1 billion by the end of 2011, a 200% increase over 2010, while July research from Deloitte LLP says that 45% of smartphone users download a new app at least once a week. In the same Deloitte research, however, they found that 80% of the apps they reviewed had less than 1,000 downloads. So while the Apple App Store hit 15 billion downloads last month, it still has over 425,000 apps and growing that you need to set your app apart from.
“An application is in many ways a piece of software,” Adhami adds. “And to that point, it needs to be only a piece of your overall mobile marketing and advertising strategy to be successful. You need to be different and innovative to be successful.”
Developing a smartphone application can also be costly, so you need to ensure you do it right the first time to get repeat engagement and downloads. In this guide, we’ll explore what questions to ask before deciding to design an app, keys to successfully creating one that appeals to your consumers, how to measure success and some standard costs to consider.
What Questions to Ask Before Designing an App
“The mobile consumer is on the move, and marketers will have to learn how and where their customers aggregate in this new digital landscape,” writes Chuck Martin, also known as “the mobile evangelist, in his new book The Third Screen: Marketing to Your Customers in a World Gone Mobile. “This new wave of digital mobility is leading to what we call the untethered consumer, who are freed from the constraints of awaiting a broadcast message or any form of traditional online communication from a company.”
As you review your overall mobile marketing strategy, it is important to remember that it’s more than just building an application. An app can be a great engagement medium, but it isn’t necessarily the right solution for each business type and each business need. You need to evaluate those issues, listen to what your customers want, and then as Michael Becker and John Arnold write in Mobile Marketing for Dummies, ask yourself these questions:
“Even if you think you have a great idea for an application, that’s such a small part of the equation,” says Professor Rahul Mangharam, the chair of Electric & Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, which has a Masters and Undergraduate program focused on developing businesses and applications. “Whether it’s a student or company, it’s easy to forget about what you’re really trying to achieve with the app because you become so focused on the actual look and feel. The best applications don’t just look good, they actually solve a problem or simplify life for the mobile consumer.”
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Keys to Designing a Useful App for Consumers
“A movie is like a full-course meal, surfing the web is lunch, and mobile is snacking—constantly, constantly snacking,” Martin writes in The Third Screen. “Mobile content consumption is continuous, with no beginning, middle or end.”
What types of apps tend to perform best? According to a study released in early July by Nielsen, among consumers willing to pay for an app, 93 percent would spend money on a game, 87 percent would buy an entertainment app, and 84 percent would purchase both a productivity app and a maps/navigation/search app. Therefore, the most successful apps tend to fall into these categories, As Adhimi states:
The key to creating a successful app certainly differs by business and goals, but at the end of the day, the goal is to appeal to the consumer in at least one of three ways (according to Martin):
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Setting Reasonable Goals for Your Application’s Success
Properly analyzing a mobile app’s success is really based on what sort of analytics you set up ahead of time. While measuring total number of downloads is a common way to measure success of an application, it doesn’t tell the whole story about whether people are actually finding and using your app. Particularly because some users may download your app, use it once and never come back if they have a bad experience. Additional metrics that make sense to measure are number of unique app users over a specific time period and an active user rate (number of users versus download rate).
You also need to measure engagement periods and loyalty, in terms of coming back to your app. The four ways to do that are:
There are plenty of mobile app analytics products out there, so when you decide on your developer to help with the app, talk to them about setting a measurement strategy.
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Measuring the Cost
As with most business functions, the decision to build an app or not comes down to cost. Whatever you do, don’t hire someone and train them in app development. The best approach is to talk with up to three different app developers about what you want and have them build out some cost estimates. The more complex you get, the more it will cost. App developers in the U.S. can charge upwards of $100 per hour, and an article from OS X Daily that the development cost range for “small apps” is $3,000 to $8,000 and that “more complex or recognized brand apps” can cost $50,000 to $150,000.
To get a real quote, talk to experienced app developers who have success stories in the space.
“Ask yourself why you need an app,” says Adhami. “There’s this app frenzy going on and everyone is excited, but figure out do you need it, and why do you need it? Is an app something you know would benefit your business from a cost or cost-savings perspective? If you ask the right business questions and the answer is yes, we need an app, then by all means go for it.”
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LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.