I am regularly amazed at how well the Apple marketing machine works. It seems as though everywhere you turn these days, businesses are talking about how they either have, need, or want an iPhone app. And who wouldn’t? Apple has done a fantastic job of making applications the cool and hip thing to have. My advice to you – Be Careful! Smartphone apps are not the answer to everything mobile. A smartphone app needs to be part of a well thought out approach to an overall marketing strategy. Before outlaying the money and effort for a smartphone application make sure to consider these points:

  • How does a smartphone app fit into your overall mobile strategy?

When you do any marketing without a plan, you amplify the risk of not getting any return on your investment. A mobile strategy needs to have a plan. Are you developing a mobile app to increase brand awareness, increase sales, collect user data, provide a service, drive traffic to a website, or to just fit in? The goals of your mobile strategy will help determine if you should develop an app, define what kind of functionality you want in it, and identify how you will market it to consumers. Just as a well developed app can increase sales and improve your brand, a poorly designed app can do just as much damage to a brand if it is not part of a well thought out plan.

  •  What value does a smartphone app bring to the table?

After you have defined the goals for your app, you need to identify if an app is the right place to do it. An app takes time to develop and release to a store, and then people have to download it. You also need to spend effort to maintain the app, as functionality and usability of it will change as the handset manufacturer releases new models or updates old ones. It’s also possible you will need to modify the app if your marketing goals or brand image change. If you can provide the same functionality effectively over the mobile internet, it may be much cheaper to build and maintain and provide an overall better user experience. Plus, it’s possible you may have an easier time measuring the user interaction, controlling the interaction, and converting the users into customers using the mobile internet, or an SMS text application, rather than an app. Look at all your mobile options before just doing an app.

  • Should you focus exclusively on Apple, or look at RIM, Nokia and other stores?

An important key to any marketing campaign is targeting the proper demographics. Before assuming that you have to have an iPhone app, you need to figure out if your target demographic really is an iPhone user. As Devesh has pointed out earlier, RIM led the smartphone market in sales during Q1. Just because you think the iPhone is the greatest thing ever, it is possible that not all of your customers have one. Do your homework, and determine if you should also launch an app in the RIM, Android, or Nokia store instead of, or in addition to, the iTunes store. Keep in mind that Microsoft will be launching a store for Windows Mobile devices this fall as well.

  • How do you plan to promote the app?

So the iTunes store has more than 25,000 apps in it – how will users find the app you just released? Yes, you also need a strategy to promote it. Everyone always hears about how these apps get downloaded over 10,000 times a day – that is the exception, not the rule. Make sure you include a promotional campaign with your app, or you will spend a lot of effort on an app that no one will ever be able to find, let alone use.

 

In summary, be careful not to get drawn into the hype of the smartphone app. Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t ever develop an app, but before you spend the effort to create one, be sure to ask yourself how it fits into your mobile strategy, what value it brings to the table, and if you are willing to put in the time and effort to launch and support it. A great article that reinforces these points and provides some useful tips on what makes a compelling app can be found here.

Remember: Don’t be fooled by cool!

For all the users out there, what has your experience been with apps? Which apps are done well, which leave you wanting more, and which should have never been done? And if you have created an app for your business or website, has it generated the return you thought it would, and what would you have done differently?