Plan to offer a mobile app to connect with customers? Check out this expert advice first.
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The apparently insatiable appetite for mobile apps presents small and midsize businesses (SMBs) with a big opportunity to connect with prospects and customers. But it's far from an if-you-build-it-they-will-come proposition.
If you're developing an app for smartphones and tablets, your potential audience is certainly huge. The world will have downloaded 98 billion mobile apps by the end of 2015, according to a recent estimate by telecom researcher Berg Insight. So how will your app stand out?
I turned to Appsbar founder Scott Hirsch for his thoughts on what goes into a good app. Appsbar is a free Web-based tool that enables SMBs to create mobile apps with no development know-how and publish them on the major marketplaces. Since its April launch, the service has signed up 35,000 users and launched 5,000 apps. Here is his advice for SMBs taking the app plunge for the first time--a leap he said should generate organizational excitement rather than fear.
1. Give it away. Unless you're actually in the mobile development business, give your apps away for free. Treat them as a way to augment your business model rather than a business model itself.
"If you want to make the next Angry Birds or some unbelievable app that can coach a surgeon through brain surgery--absolutely, that should be charged for," Hirsch said in an interview. "If you're like most [companies] and you're just looking to enhance your business and get into this app revolution, you're better off not charging."
2. Think beyond marketing. Marketing might be the most obvious business case to offer an app, but it's far from the only one. Hirsch recommends SMBs consider functions such as market research, customer service, and customer relationship management (CRM), too. He also mentioned forms--as in mobile versions of the various forms that businesses use online or on paper--as a growing use case.
"Utilize it to its fullest," Hirsch said, adding that SMBs should consider their particular business and specific goals and then develop an app strategy that actually supports those goals.
3. Get the word out. Just like websites, apps don't just magically find an audience. They need to be marketed like any other customer-facing aspect of your business. This could be as simple as a sign in a physical retail location, links from an email or your website, or a mention at the end of a TV or radio spot.
"Apps are cool, apps are new, apps are fun," Hirsch said. "At this point, it's a very easy transition to get people to use your app--it's just a matter of letting them know it's available."
4. Include social sharing links. Hirsch considers including social sharing links--Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and the rest of the gang--to be table stakes for any worthwhile app, so much so that he almost forgot to mention this one because he already takes it as a given.
"You're making it a viral tool, and we've become a viral society," Hirsch said. "It's very important to have social sharing [in the app.]"
5. Deliver value. Even if it's free, the app needs to give the user a reason not just to download it but to actually use it. Those reasons will vary by business and industry--be creative. Some common examples include offering a discount or coupon. If you do choose to charge even a nominal price for your app, then the value bar is that much higher.
"Find somewhere in there where you, as a business owner who knows your customer, sees your customer will get some value," Hirsch. "It's just like any other business proposition: Give a customer value, and they'll appreciate it and come back."
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