Three things in life are certain:
An online marketing client is asking questions about a mobile app
Apps are all the rage these days, and that’s rarely more obvious than when we talk to our clients about their digital needs.
But the fact is: apps are kind of like kale.
Everybody will tell you kale’s amazing for you. They’ll extol its benefits in exhaustive and convincing detail. But when you rush to Whole Foods, buy a few bushels, and cook them up — all you get is a bitter mouthful of plant matter vaguely reminiscent of burying your face in garden mulch.
And that’s when you realize: kale may be amazing, but it just isn’t for you.
Apps are the same way. You’ve heard they’re the holy grail of digital marketing, but it's not for everyone. Many business owners may not have the discernment to determine if a business mobile app is the right fit for you, but that's what we are here for, to provide a little guidance on whether a mobile app or a different type of online marketing may be right for you.
So what is an app, anyway?
I asked Google “what is an app?” and here’s what I got back:
“A self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfill a particular purpose; an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device.”
The operative word phrase here is to fulfill a particular purpose.
An app lives or dies by its purpose. You could say the same of a website, but in general, a website exists to fulfill a different purpose.
An app needs to achieve a purpose that a website cannot achieve. And there are really only two scenarios when an app can do that.
The 2 reasons you might need an app
There are two major criteria that justify investing in an app. You need to meet at least one for the app to have any level of relevance or desirability, and they both hinge on purpose.
1. The company building the app has considerable brand recognition
Take Pepsi, for example. They have an app called Pepsi Pass that lets people “access exclusive rewards” when they buy Pepsi products.
We should notice two things about this app:
The app serves a purpose: that of rewarding customers for buying the company’s product (i.e., expressing brand loyalty). It works because people care enough about Pepsi enough to want such rewards.
The app is also not a mobile version of the website. The first cardinal sin of app development is creating an app that mostly just duplicates the company website in app form. What’s the point?
Remember how we said that apps and websites serve different purposes? This is a case in point: If people want to learn about Pepsi, they’ll find Pepsi’s website in their mobile browser, not download an app.
It’s all about stages in a process — someone who’s just discovering a brand doesn’t want their app. They want to learn about the brand first, then, maybe, they’ll decide they care enough to get the app.
2. The company’s product/service is the app
Snapchat’s key function (sending and receiving disappearing photos and videos) only works on their app. An app is the ideal platform for Snapchat because the app is quite literally their entire business. It makes sense as a mobile app because it takes advantage of core features of a phone: a camera with video capabilities, plus quick and easy access.
This is perhaps the best example of how app-centered companies can be successful. The app not only has a purpose, it is the purpose of the business.
Have you ever been to Snapchat's website? Me neither. It serves its own purpose: to get people to download the app.
Why an app could be the wrong decision
Too often, people interpret the earth-shattering success of Snapchat and Uber as proof that, “Apps are in. We should get one.”
Okay, sure — but only if your idea fits one or (ideally) both of the criteria above.
Most smartphone users only use 6-10 apps per week. Statistically speaking, yours is probably not one of them. Here's what they are using (and downloading):
Take a look at the apps people actually use regularly. The key themes are:
Original, must-have functionality
These aren’t just mobile versions of websites.
If your client thinks their app has the opportunity to break into the top 6-10 apps for the average user, then maybe it has a ton of potential. If not, invest in responsive web design instead.
Next time you're considering a mobile app that doesn't meet the above mentioned requirement of brand recognition and must-have functionality, consider these calculators.
The top 1% of monetized apps generate 94% of the App Store’s revenue.
I won’t belabor this point, but it only reinforces what we have already outlined: Apps need to have a strong purpose and a key functionality to be worthwhile and widely embraced.
Why responsive web design could also be a solution
Just in case you've heard the following... we sure have:
“I need an app so my clients can find my website and buy my products from their cell phones.”
You and I both know that what the client is looking for here is a responsive website. He just doesn’t know it. (And as a branding agency, part of our job is to help our clients learn about their options, and the right solutions to their problems.)
People search for businesses on their mobile browsers, not the App Store
For the purpose of this post, and since my Barber is currently closed, I decided to do a quick search on my app store.
So I opened up my Samsung Note (don't worry, it's not the 7) Google App Store, typed in “Barber shops Dallas” and got a great list of shops near me. I ended up having a great experience and will definitely go back.
Just kidding. That would never happen.
Here’s what you get when you search for “Barber shops Dallas” on the Google App Store:
This may be obvious to a digital marketer, but it may not be so to the general public. The App Store is simply not a search engine for service providers. People looking for new apps go to the App Store. People looking for a new barber will consult Google.
DS&P and SEO vs. apps
Limiting a company’s mobile exposure to an app can have disastrous effects on the company’s visibility online. If your company is considering developing an app, it must be to further solidify your already existing online presence, or because the app is achieving a very specific goal or task for your customers or team members.
Google actually does index some app content, but a high-quality, responsive website that provides the same level of user experience on all devices and gets all of its content indexed could also be an option.
Skipping a responsive website in favor of an app sacrifices crucial tools that help ensure a company gets found online..
I understand all this but I still need an app
No problem. We are a mobile app development agency with a team of U.S. based, motivated developers, digital marketing experts, and exciting creative designers. At the heart of our business is an inexorable commitment to quality, measured performance and customer service. If building an app is your objective, at DS&P we create positive change. Fill out the form below and one of our representatives will follow up with your inquiry. Look forward to hearing from you.