Today it’s pretty much accepted that digital is the now and mobile is the future.
Most businesses have finally come to appreciate the need to be mobile-friendly online, with mobile optimised websites thankfully becoming the norm.
Likewise, social media marketing and content creation is no longer the luxury of the big (brand) dogs, but something more and more small businesses are reaping the rewards from investing in.
But with advertising costs becoming a necessary evil to communicate with your own fans across almost all social platforms, is the next obvious stage in business marketing evolution the native mobile app?
After conducting my own research, I asked the originally-local-but-now-global company Podium Apps to convince me…
Almost all mobile usage (90%) involves apps, according to the latest ComScore research.
Arguably one of the most useful and enjoyable innovations that accompanied the introduction of the smartphone into almost every hand in the first world, was the app.
I for one rely on apps to allow me to conduct my business anywhere in the globe, with just my smartphone.
From emails and networking to more specific applications like Trello and Facebook Pages manager… the list goes on!
As well as that I, like many other consumers, am using apps to take back control of my relationships with the brands I enjoy from taxi companies to retailers and food/drink establishments, because:
- We’re fed up allowing Facebook robots to decide what news is important to us
- We’re done missing time-bound promotions on Twitter’s endless timeline
- Brands know this and some are resorting back to old-school marketing tactics like email and SMS messaging in the hopes of ensuring their messages have substantial reach.
However, digital communications may have made consumers accustomed to intrusion, but it hasn’t yet made us immune to it.
So how do you find a brand channel you can control the reach of, getting your message in front of every possible customer, while ensuring those customers are people who want to hear from you and will welcome the conversations you’re having with them?
Well for an easy answer I had to look no further than Belfast eatery City Picnic. After a few years in the town centre they had a decent regular lunch time trade of around 150 customers, but their brand reach just wasn’t growing fast enough.
After working with Podium Apps to develop their platform and promoting downloads of the app with a free burger offer, this happened:
And their branded app continues to enable them to link social media marketing with direct marketing, re-engaging customers time and again.
Big Brands Benefitting From Apps
Kraft’s iFood Assistant app launched in 2008, reached the dizzying heights of second place on the iTunes’ Lifestyle apps section by providing recipes for any occasion and category while incorporating the ability to download the ingredients (many of them Kraft products) to a shopping cart.
Likewise, North Face’s Trailhead app helps customers - who are usually fans of the great outdoors - to locate both a North Face shop and their nearest hiking trails, wherever they are in the world. The news feed is also suitably incorporated into the user face so as to not feel like an outright advertisement.
Some brands are using technology to go a step further, delivering a unique and futuristic sales pitch into the hands of potential customers.
L’Oreal’s “Make-Up Genius” app employed a type of augmented reality and advanced facial mapping technology, already hugely popular in social media apps like Snapchat and photography apps like MSQRD.
The app turned smartphones into mirrors that allowed people to virtually try on make up products (watch the video here!)
IKEA’s 2014 app used the same technology to encourage furniture testing around customer homes as a modern take on their traditional Autumn catalogue, gaining them masses of global PR coverage as well as app downloads.
When Your Business Needs an App
Apps have become a central element to how we do so many basic things nowadays from communicating to exercising, from navigating to socialising, from banking to watching TV.
The important issue to consider before incorporating one into your digital marketing strategy however, is to ensure there are just as many, if not more, benefits to your customers rather than benefits to your business.
It’s one thing to encourage advocates, service users and consumers to download your app onto their device, but it’s quite another to keep them engaging with it over time.
And the functionality of apps goes further still, for companies looking to find a cost-effective way to communicate internally. When WhatsApp doesn’t cut it anymore, personalised brand-developed apps are the obvious next step.
The technology can allow for elements like quote systems for sales reps, locum cover for GP/pharmacies and even school communication with parents, for example.
Podium Apps understand only too well how to take a big concept and apply it to a small business.
They took their existing platform for the education sector and realised they could utilise it across a range of industries, giving companies high-end personalised functionality at a lower cost than developing software from scratch.
From cafes to restaurants, salons to schools, shops to sports clubs, even charities and churches.
Surprisingly, I came across Podium Apps through my networks in New Zealand and yet they have developed apps for so many well-known businesses in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.
They are also responsible for the very impressive Action Cancer app (yes, charities can benefit from apps too!)
I was impressed to learn their portfolio stretched much further afield to the impressive Beer Authority NYC bar, with apps for other New York establishments currently being built.
When Your Business Doesn’t Need an App
There are undoubtedly costs and resources involved in developing and then managing an app, although nowhere near what some companies are quoting to build apps from scratch or fob small businesses off with template products.
As Podium Apps will tell you - depending on the size and scale of what you want to do, your app could be more like £3,000 than the £30,000+ people often guestimate.
And so many small businesses are already pumping that kind of money into social media advertising or digital marketing support.
As with all marketing strategy development, it’s vital to think carefully about your existing and potential customer base.
How do they find you? Is it through search? Or social media?
Could a native app generate more sales leads for you than your mobile-optimized website?
The most important consideration, however, is actually a question you will know the answer to immediately: given the ongoing costs are minimal (for hosting) do you have the commitment and time resources to ensure an app is properly tested and then continually updated to keep customers engaged? Because that is the key to customer retention:
According to Apptentive, 90% of those who download an app will be gone in 6 months, mainly because of either bugs that don’t get fixed or because of lack of info updates/engagement
Top Tips For Brand App Development
I chatted to Ross Porter, one of the founders of Podium Apps, and asked him to explain the key reasons why the apps they develop work so well for the businesses they partner with:
- RETURN CUSTOM: The Podium Apps platform allows for a digital loyalty card - used with a simple scan of a QR code at the till using a mobile/tablet device (no need for high tech equipment or new cash registers). This allows businesses to run multiple loyalty schemes and offers. It’s a highly targeted and cost-effective form of direct marketing, without the junk folder pitfalls of email or the high-cost and intrusive nature of SMS messaging.
- ENGAGEMENT: Podium Apps’ system incorporates the ability to pull YouTube videos and other social media posts into your own in-app branded news feed. It then allows users to share that content back out of the app again to their own social channels. This social integration ensures customers don’t miss important messages, while also helping to increase likes and shares of your content. Engagement is improved further still through push notifications (either to everyone or to selected users) and within 20 seconds a branded message can appear on their screens. The app then determines where the person lands, either in the app or on a social media feed, once they click the message. Podium Apps also have an ordering system that is about to go live, allowing many small take-away businesses to utilise online ordering technology without the hefty price tag of the umbrella brands.
- ANALYTICS: In the digital and PR worlds we know how increasingly important data and measurement is to so many aspects of business marketing. With a Podium App, businesses can see figures for downloads and deletes, they can gather data like names and email addresses, they can monitor and pull meaning from the loyalty points system helping to deliver targeted and relevant promotions that will increase revenue. They can even analyse app usage like they would on a website, learning which parts are most popular and giving people more of what they want to keep them coming back. And then all of this data can be exported live to spreadsheets enabling a print out to show investors or a database to upload and target social media or Google ads to.
- SUPPORT: The missing piece of the puzzle for so many companies who buy off-the-rack apps or expensive one-off systems. Podium Apps take businesses through the back-end of the platform to ensure they can easily update content/promotions and pull out their own data as they need to. It’s purposely built to be easy to use and they know that continual engagement with customers through it is the ultimate key to bottom line benefits from an app, so this step is critical.
So, could app development be the key to your customer relationship management (CRM)?
Well, when was the last time your website was able to push a promotion to a customer’s smartphone as they walked passed your shop?
Biometrics, augmented reality, 3D gaming… new technologies are bringing new functionality to apps way before they reach the mainstream through HTML website coding.
And with Google Adwords adding the ability for developers to upload a list of existing app user emails to target ads to, apps could become an extremely useful data source for other tools in the digital marketing arsenal.
The fact remains that we, as inbound marketers, are still learning to fully utilise technology.
We’re still learning what people need, how they want to engage with brands and the optimum time, place and tactics to sell different things to every different type of consumer.
10 years ago many businesses didn’t have a website.
5 years ago, businesses were still questioning whether or not they “needed” a social media presence.
So perhaps the question is not “do you need an app?” but rather “can your business afford not to have one?”
Podium Apps are also currently helping Buddy Valastro from Cake Boss (easily one of the best shows on TV!) to plan and develop an app that he can personalise and populate, as the face of his business, which is in essence a local family bakery.
I’m excited to see where this company goes, but I’m more excited to learn that the digital marketing solution they have created is so accessible to the small businesses who I know need digital channels and can benefit massively from them.
*Although Podium Apps kindly agreed to be interviewed to contribute, I have not received payment for this post in money or kind and any endorsement is purely my own personal opinion.