Mobile is becoming more mainstream, but one trend holds true--the barrier to entry for developing an app is much higher than opportunities on the web. While point-and-click solutions are available for launching a website, mobile app development is a completely different ball game. Not to mention, there are comparatively fewer engineers who are proficient developers in iOS and Android.
Currently, it's the developers who hold the cards. They are the gatekeepers for optimization and analytics within each app. Every decision requires a potentially heavy investment in engineering time and resources. Technical teams are still driving strategy.
But in the next few years, we're going to see a major change. Software development kits (SDKs) will be easier to implement. Non-technical teams will become more involved with product development, experimentation, and A/B testing. The paradigm shift will happen much more quickly than what we experienced with the web for two reasons: (1) in terms of worldwide consumer adoption, mobile is growing at a higher rate and (2) web-based technologies have paved the road for the evolution of mobile. Even though mobile is still ambiguous territory, today's less-technical product managers and marketers have a clear competitive advantage: they know what questions to ask when navigating this new terrain.
Question 1--What Kind of Experiences Do You Want to Create for Your Users that Are Relevant?
Starbucks customers will probably want a loyalty and rewards app. A music app? Not so much. The strongest value proposition that your team has is a business that is already in place. Mobile is another--albeit, immensely powerful channel--for reaching customer bases where they're already engaged and present. Rather than reinventing the wheel, think about creating a feedback loop for something that's experimental. This process will need to be leadership-driven from a cultural shift that happens from the top-down.
Question 2--What Are Your Highest-Potential Growth Channels--and Who Are the Team Members Who Will Help You Make the Most Out of Them?
When it comes to mobile app strategy, your customer base will be your strongest asset. The best way to drive growth is through existing channels including social, email, offline, direct mail, and retail. These marketing-first approaches will be strongest when integrated into your app's core user experience. You'll need a team that harnesses a strong balance of left-brained, right-brained, technical, and non-technical talent. Technology, alone, will be insufficient in determining your highest potential growth channels. While it's true that you'll need strong technical leadership on-board to achieve your aggressive goals, you'll also benefit from working with a team of empathizers and brand strategists.
Question 3--What Types of Experiments Can Help You Validate Your Team's Ideas?
And the end of the day, one thing is certain: intuition alone won't be enough to 'prove' whether your app idea is going to work. Multiple teams will be bringing great ideas to the table--but it's going to be impossible to implement every single one. That's where a company's testing culture comes in. Before committing resources to a particular product development initiative--or growth trajectory, run a series of small experiments on a cross-section of your user base. By starting small, you'll be able to quickly--and iteratively--figure out what works. The truth is ultimately in your user base and data--not your best judgment.
The mobile ecosystem is still very new--and it's this novelty that will be your company's competitive advantage in that it's up to you to define the landscape. Dive in with an open mind --rely on experimentation to be your guide.
Sean Oliver leads mobile product marketing at Optimizely. He previously led product marketing programs at LinkedIn and Microsoft, and currently lives in San Francisco.