Could a mobile app boost my business?
How to make sure your business’ mobile app makes sense for your company
One of the youngest members of my start-up company is iPhone obsessed and has been bending my ear about us creating an app to raise profile and generate a new line of revenue. I also have an iPhone and can see there may be benefit. My business is an online events booking engine, so it would certainly make sense. I’m looking for advice on where to go to source a good app developer, costs, what makes a strong and successful app, and how I can capitalise on it generally.
Raam Thakrar writes:
There are typically three reasons why you might want to build an app: to increase brand awareness, to acquire new customers, or to provide an improved service for existing customers.
Since your business is web-based and depends on being able to flexibly engage with consumers, building an iPhone app makes perfect sense. An app can make it much easier for your current and future customers to book events on the move. Unlike laptops and PCs, mobile phones normally tend to be within close proximity to their owner. This makes them a uniquely valuable platform for businesses and, since you are selling time-specific products such as event tickets, you can add value to your offerings by reminding customers of bookings via their phones. Whatever happens, you’ve got to make sure that you get a good return on investment for your mobile activity – something that too few people think about.
First of all you should talk to your customers – understand how many of your current customers have iPhones, Android phones etc, what they would really want from your app in terms of features – do they want to book events, or do they just want to be kept up-to-date? After this process is complete, you will need to build your product feature list. Remember to keep things simple – mobile screens are not very big, connectivity can be slow and the more features you pack in, the longer your development time will be. It’s true that iPhone apps have garnered huge media interest during the past two years and for good reason – Apple’s App Store has seen over seven billion downloads of over 300,000 applications by 60 million users. However, as ground-breaking as the platform is, the iPhone represents only about 25-30% of global mobile internet users. Therefore your business would need to adapt an iPhone app for other platforms like Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and Java, as well as a host of other app stores, in order to achieve maximum distribution. This process can be extremely labour intensive – I’d estimate that the cost of recreating an app on a new platform equates to around two thirds the time and expense of creating the original.
There is also the question of cost to consider. An app can cost anywhere from £1,000 to over £100,000. You need to balance your investment with the returns you hope to achieve. Be really careful here – not many people have made a successful return on mobile apps. App developers are in high demand, so costs can be high. Many are not as experienced as they claim to be, so choose carefully. Depending on your in-house time and expertise, you might want to consider getting a mobile agency to do this work for you – that way, you will be led through the whole process. Nevertheless, at the end of all this you’ll hopefully have an awesome iPhone app – soon your customers will be demanding apps for BlackBerry, Android, Nokia, Windows Phone…
An alternative route to market that businesses often overlook are mobile websites. Because these websites are accessed via browsers, they can be easily rolled out to any mobile platform. Companies can also remain in control of their value chain and distribution online (whereas apps are regulated heavily by app stores). Mobile websites are also better placed to take advantage of m-commerce, while handset native apps have been slow to take advantage of in-app payments. As your business needs to take online bookings, a mobile site could be the best choice – less sexy perhaps, but much more likely to deliver a long-term return on investment.
Top Tips for making your business go mobile:
- Understand which elements of your business translate to mobile
- Discover which handsets your customers are using and what they would really want from an app
- Try to develop an offering for every app store
- Try to sell extremely high-value products via m-commerce
Raam Thakrar is the chief executive officer of Touchnote