It’s a question that nearly every business, no matter its size, can find itself asking these days: do we need a mobile app?
A lot of businesses certainly seem to think so. And, what with the sheer abundance of open-source smart frameworks that are available on the web today, creating your very own mobile app for your business has never been easier. Indeed, it can even be said that anyone with the determination, the focus, and the right mindset could conceivably build a pretty good app for their business.
It won’t necessarily be an easy task – coding requires great skill and intelligence – but there’s enough information out there on the web today, and enough frameworks and resources, that it is possible for practically anybody to develop a perfectly functioning, data-driven app for almost any platform.
But, just because you can, does that mean that you should?
Should you build your own app?
Firstly, programming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Although you will be able to get started with relative ease, this doesn’t actually mean that you’ll be able to produce something that you’re actually happy with enough to share with your followers – not without putting in an awful lot of time and effort anyway.
So, firstly, if you do decide to go down this road, then make sure you set yourself realistic ambitions, and be prepared to spend a good few months learning an entirely new language before being able to produce anything even remotely useful.
But, of course, your decision as to whether or not to build an app for your business might actually surround the hiring of a professional developer rather than trying to do it all yourself. And this comes with its own set of quandaries that will leave you scratching your head. Where do I find one? Which one should I use? What’s my budget? How long will it take? How much will it cost?
So, whether you’re considering to build an app for your business yourself, which will take considerable time and effort, or hire the services of a professional team – which could very well prove to be expensive – the decision as to whether or not to press ahead with either plan will always boil itself back down to the original conundrum: Do I really need an app for my business?
Well, that will all depend on a number of factors – not least your determination and enthusiasm to have one. So, before we get into the pros and cons of developing an app for your business, you need to take minute to sit down and do some serious thought as to whether your business really needs one in the first place.
Does an app make sense for my business?
This is the first question that you need to ask yourself. If you find that you are immediately erring on the side of the negative, then, really, you can safely stop reading this article here. Most businesses, whether small or large, can benefit from having their very own app, but that isn’t to say that they’re right for everyone.
So, in order to try and find the true answer to the above question, you need to be able to honestly answer ‘yes’ to the following ones.
1. Would it be of benefit for you to have the ability to reach your customers 24/7?
Well, this first question is quite easy, as practically all businesses would find this of use. Any new deals, promotions or giveaways can be sent out to all of your customers with push notifications. Any complaints or queries your customers have can be put to you directly via the app and you can respond instantaneously. It’s a no-brainer really. But…
2. Is it possible for you to create a fun and productive mobile experience around your brand?
This is an important question that you absolutely must be able to answer ‘yes’ to before taking the decision to develop your app. If you’re a small business that only sells products, then it’s quite likely that you might immediately jump to the conclusion that no, you can’t make something that will be fun and productive for the mobile. But, ask yourself – is there any way that you can introduce social elements to the app? How about special rewards and discounts that are exclusive to your app users? You might need to get a little creative, but that will only prove to be of all the more benefit to your app if you should go through with its development.
3. Could an app offer a unique benefit to your customers
A question that is often overlooked is that of whether a mobile or tablet app could offer some unique benefit to either your customers. In addition to the fact that apps offer the chance to get into your customers pockets, a huge benefit is the device that they’re on. Thinking about the features of that device can present some really interesting opportunities. Some of the unique features of mobile devices are:
- Interaction based your customers location..
- Near Field Communications and QR codes to simplify your customers shopping experiences.
- Using the devices camera to take quick and convenient photo’s.
- Using augmented reality techniques to improve perceived ownership.
The list of unique interaction opportunities goes on, and taking advantage of these could open some doors for your business.
4. Does mobile present a unique benefit to your staff or partners
One often overlooked area of opportunity in the world of apps is that of enabling the workforce and/or improving collaboration with partners. The de-facto thought process with apps is that of the consumer market with people downloading games and social media applications from the app store, but thats really the tip of the iceberg.
Mobile and tablet apps present an enormous opportunity for use internally and with external partners.
Modern mobile devices really do have a number of features that got offer new and more productive ways to do business:
- Ease of access: easier to carry and quicker to turn on and work with.
- Touch screen: more natural user interaction and other opportunities such as digital signatures.
- Always connected: mobile devices are almost always connected to the internet
- On-board camera: high quality images taken and stored quickly and easily
- Location data: geo-location data is almost always accessible
So its really worth considering whether you mobile could benefit your staff or partners, as it may not be something you’ve considered.
5. Will your business actually benefit from a mobile app?
You have to answer yes to this one with absolute certainty before you go about developing. Designing, developing and maintaining an app takes time, money and resources, and, if you don’t honestly believe that it will boost your business – i.e. improve your profits – then you’re just setting out to lose money, and that never makes sense from a business perspective.
Making the decision
In the end, answering this final question will come down to the type of business that you are running. If you are selling products, then yes, being able to reach your customers around the clock, and entice them to keep shopping with lots of offers and discounts might actually mean that an app will help you increase sales. However, if you’re some sort of consultation service, and your general marketing plan surrounds positioning yourself as a thought leader and building a community around your brand, then it may be harder for you to try and work out exactly what your return on investment (ROI) might be. Trying to determine exactly what success means for your app is at the crux of this question.
So, deciding on whether or not building an app makes sense for your business is actually quite a tricky question to answer. But, to help you along the way to making this all-important business decision, we’ve put together a list of all the pros and cons that you must take into consideration before taking the plunge.
So, since it’s always best to start things off positively, let’s begin by taking a look at the pros list.
The Pros Of Developing an App For Your Business
- High Number of Smartphone Users: An extremely high percentage of people are using smartphone technology these days, and are indeed ‘app-savvy’. The question, then, that you have to ask yourself when considering if this is actually a pro point, is whether you are selling to the demographic that is using mobile apps?
- Marketplace Prominence: Apps are great for keeping your brand prominent in every marketplace – and that includes the app store.
- Improved Customer Engagement: There is much benefit to be had in terms of increasing customer retention and loyalty. Since your app will always be at hand and the first port of call for all of your users, they become an extremely effective gateway straight to and from your customers.
- Better Experience on Mobile: People tend to spend longer on apps than they do on mobile websites. This is largely down to the fact that your app will be designed to be completely mobile friendly, whereas even the most responsively designed website will always work, look and feel much more at home on the larger screen.
- Faster Load Times: Apps will normally load a lot faster than mobile sites, which means you have a better chance of reaching your customers before they get irritated with waiting and leave.
- Available Offline: You may even be able to set up your app so that it is available offline – at least the informative regions which aren’t concerned with transactions.
- Tailored User Experience: They can be tailored to have a very specific use for a very specific kind of user, i.e. customers, staff, dealers etc.
- More Intuitive: A well-designed app will be very easy to use. Indeed, it should really be intuitive, so there should be no real need to implement a mobile training course for your users.
- Easily Accessible: Any of your B2B sales leads who want to download your app will be able to do so very easily via the usual means – i.e. iTunes, Google Play, Amazon App Store etc.
- Analytics and Marketing: You will be able to use any data that is generated from the use of your app to help create even more targeted campaigns and lead generation initiatives in the future.
- Sometimes a Cost Saving Option: Compared to printing and production costs of catalogues and brochures etc., producing apps that are specifically intended to demonstrate your products and services makes economical sense. In this regard, you can also consider apps to be an environmentally friendly alternative to printing out reams and reams of literature.
The Cons Of Developing An App For Your Business
- Multiple Platforms: Mobile apps need to be developed separately so that they can used on each of the available platforms, i.e. iPhone, Android, Windows etc. This means that the costs of production can quickly mount up, as well as timeframes and resources. This can be alleviated somewhat by using a cross-platform framework such as Xamarin, but still impacts cost and time-frames.
- Consider Ongoing Maintenance: Mobile apps need to be continuously maintained and updated. Building an app in the first place is not the end of the story. Keeping it ship-shape will be a new and ongoing cost to your business.
- Development Complexity: Although an app will ultimately behave better than a mobile website and will be more user-friendly, they are not in fact as easy to build and optimize. Again, this will take a lot of time and a few rounds of beta testing to get right.
- Build Costs: Developing apps is expensive. The more functionality that you want your app to have, the more expensive it is going to be. You can use the calculator tool by Otreva to give yourself an idea of what you’re looking at. According to Otreva’s stats, the average app takes 2,946 hours and costs $220,950 to build.
- Making Sure it Delivers Value: If your app is simply just a smaller version of your website, then your customers will feel cheated – especially if you’re charging for use of your app. This could damage the perception and reputation of your brand, so you need to think about how you can give them something new.
Bringing it together
To summarise, whether or not to build an app for your business is not going to be an easy decision. Whether you build it yourself or hire in the services of some professionals, it’s going to take time and cost you money.
What you have to work out is firstly whether an app could deliver a real return on investment, and secondly is an the app the best way to do the job. These questions still hold up whether you’re looking to make an app for internal use, or as an external marketing tool.
A quick example
For example, you might be thinking about how to deliver a new product catalogue to your customers. Obviously the answers to these questions are really unique to your business, but I’ll take a shot!
Could an app deliver a real return on investment? Given that your customers could interact with your catalogue better it might encourage them to select your business over a competitor. Especially given the power of perceived ownership. Or maybe the purchase is something that is made quickly, and the convenience of an app could make it easier to choose your product.
Is an app the best way to do the job? It may be that you already have an online catalogue, or send out a printed catalogue, and that does the job just fine – in this case it might not be worth it. If you’re trying to develop a competitive edge by using video and ease of access, then maybe it is worth investigating some more.
When all’s said and done, there is of course a limit as to what you can get your website to do on a mobile browser, and by building an app you give yourself the opportunity to present and market yourself in a completely different way.
So, think hard, and only take on the building of an app for your business if you are 100% convinced that it is the right thing to do, will be beneficial to your organisation as a whole, and will generate for you a meaningful ROI.
What are your thoughts on building apps for businesses? Tell us about them in the comments below.