To Build or Not to Build (an App)?

Nov 23, 2011


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According to Pew Research Center, "50% of adult cell phone owners have apps on their phone." In other words, we have gone app crazy! What was once reserved for the early adopters, gaming companies, or social networks has now become the must-have tool for any business. You have a website, Facebook page, Foursquare deal, and now the time has come to decide... app or no app? In this episode of Content Throwdown! we will explore the pros and cons of building an app. So grab your marketing plan, put on your wrestling gear, and let's hit the mat!

First things first: What kind of apps are there?

Before we leap off the top rope, let's talk briefly about what kind of apps are out there and why you would want to build one. A quick look at the top sellers on iTunes and in the Android store gives us a good idea of what's popular in the marketplace. The majority of these popular apps fall into either entertainment or productivity categories. Under the entertainment category you will find games, social sharing, media consumption and media creation apps. In the productivity area there are business software, calculation & measurement, utilities, and navigation apps. Unless you are developing an app to sell as part of your business strategy, most companies develop a tool that will inform, educate, or market. It's important to be very clear from the beginning about what kind of app you are developing and why you are launching one.

To Build an App

If you have content that people want and need to access often, then you should build an app. It sounds simple but most organizations are still wrestling with what their audiences want, need and how often they want or need it. A good consumer facing example would be a catalog of products or services. Resources or tools that your customers use on a daily basis are a great way to provide those handy items under your brand. Most consumer apps built by companies are a chance to add to the customer experience, create better dialouge, and build your brand relationship. The Bonnaroo Music Festival iOS app, developed by Aloompa is a great example of a free end user tool. With maps of the grounds, schedules of events, and even a radio channel of the artists, Bonnaroo has provided everything a festival goer needs to interact with the event.

You may be catching on to one of the other benefits of apps: saving money on printing and distribution costs. The Infiniti 2011/12 Models Catalog for iPad developed by Bite Interactive is a slick and beautiful alternative to flooding dealers with catalogs. One of the comments on the review of the app laments the loss of the glossy car catalogs but ultimately praises this alternative as a much better experience for selecting a vehicle.

Not to Build an App

So, with all the benefits of apps what could the arguments be against building one? A common problem I have seen rearing its head in corporate America is a serious case of "keeping up with the Joneses." Just because your competitor has an app or you saw a cool presentation on how an app can revolutionize your business, does not mean you need one. First, if your customers don't want or need frequent updates from you, then don't flood them with info they don't need. Second, don't make a copy of your website and call it an app just because you can. The marketplace is flooded with "build your own app" tools or "turn your web page into an app for $300" services. These avenues can do double damage by cheapening your brand and not really providing any additional value to your customers.

So if you don't build an app there are several easy tips to providing a mobile solution to your end users. The simple answer is to provide a reminder to mobile users who visit your website that they can bookmark your content in their browser of choice. Both Android and iOS also allow you to create a shortcut link (that looks just like an app) which leads directly to your web page. Other options include providing your content through existing apps that provide customers the chance to create content for your business. Some of the best photos and videos of retail experiences on Yelp!, FourSquare, and Google Maps were created by end users.

And the winner is...

In this age of choice and interactive options to share our content the winner is... you! Whether you decide to build an app or not, the tools we have access to can help build our customer relationships regardless of your choice. Just remember to ask the questions: why are we doing this, what will our target audience get out of this and what is the best solution to serve our content? There's the bell, now let's pile drive that marketing plan!