Saturday, September 5, 2015


Apps are great and everybody loves them.

There, that’s the script out of the way. Now let’s get real. A mobile marketing strategy that focuses on a proprietary app at the expense of everything else is unlikely to be very successful. Even if your business IS an app.

And yet misleading statistics prompt small business owners to chase a winning app design in the belief it will modernize their brand and wow new customers. Marketing budgets are thrown at it because someone said that 86% of mobile usage is spent on apps - which, though perhaps technically true, is not all that significant when you consider the vast majority of that time is spent on gaming, social media, utilities, YouTube and news, leaving just a small percentage of mobile screen time available for new apps to compete over.

It’s fair to say that a good app will be a positive boon to a business with a wide-ranging, cross-channel marketing strategy. But leading with an app - to the detriment of other mobile marketing tactics like text messaging and voice broadcast - is rarely the smart move. 

Worldwide app revenues are forecast to be worth $18.6 billion in 2017, but the biggest pieces of that pie will be snapped up by companies who already have a strong web presence and existing audiences. It’s the assets of a company that help market a new app, not the other way around. Look at Nordstrom - they have a number of useful mobile apps, but far from crowing about it on their homepage, you have to scroll right down to the bottom to find an innocuous link. Nordstrom is in the retail game, so why lead their marketing push with an app?

Optimistic SMBs will develop their app and get it placed in Apple and Android stores, hoping to attract downloads from casual keyword searches. Even with optimized titles, descriptions and tags, this is a half-strategy at best. Garnering positive reviews is key, because you can guarantee that, as downloads increase, there will be full-time negativists out to get you, just because. Unjust criticism is just part of the game, and the only way to counter negative reviews is by overwhelming them with genuine positive ones. Focus on encouraging happy customers to leave reviews. A couple of unfair, one-star reviews can cost you thousands of potential customers if they’re not offset by at least double the number of good reviews.

Finally, bear in mind that, in the app ecosystem, retention rates are flat out terrible, with most apps losing 90% of people who downloaded it within 6 months. Again, this problem is inherent in the app store model: a huge array of similar apps available at low-or-no-cost, with new additions constantly being added and extremely easy download and delete processes. Apps promote fickleness, so holding onto people who download yours is a high priority.

People will only return to your app if it has ongoing value for them. Ask yourself this tough question: would anyone really want to use this app more than 3 or 4 times? If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Invest in research so you can understand your core customer base inside out, and provide in-app surveys (incentivized, of course) to help you gather intelligence on habits and preferences. Two-way communication should be built in so you can stay in touch with your audience - the easier it is for them to level criticism directly to you, the less likely they are to trash your app on a review site.