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Why jumping on the mobile bandwagon can hurt your brand

Anthony Franco
Why jumping on the mobile bandwagon can hurt your brand Anthony Franco

When organizations throw down the mobile gauntlet, there is usually a huge rush to get the app out the door. Too often, companies sidestep their own strategic planning and release programs that fail to address consumer needs -- or their own business needs, for that matter.

The simple truth is that a hurry-up mobile approach will hurt your brand.

A new Harris Interactive study conducted online in October finds the majority of mobile phone users who use applications choose to download apps based on recommendations and good user experience (UX). According to the study:

  • 66 percent of study participants have downloaded an app based on a review or recommendation.

  • 57 percent have recommended an app because of a positive experience.

  • 38 percent of users are unhappy with mobile applications from their favorite brands.

  • Only 18 percent of mobile app users consider whether the application is from a brand name company or organization when deciding whether to download an app.

  • 13 percent have avoided downloading applications from a brand name company or organization due to a previous bad experience with another app offered by that brand.

  • 69 percent agree that if a brand name mobile app is not useful, helpful, or easy to use it results in a negative reaction to the brand.

The study indicates that while good apps are likely to produce a loyal consumer following, bad apps can inflict lasting damage on a brand's reputation.

So, where do you start when building a successful application?

Quite often mobile marketers focus on the tactics of creating the application before they figure out what the user and business goals are. Mobile marketers tend to get far ahead of themselves, and they ask the wrong questions when planning to release an app. "How do we monetize the application?" "How do we make sure our application is findable?" "What is the right go-to-market strategy?" These are all important questions that need to be asked, but not until the why is defined.

Why is the simplest and most important question a marketer can ask.

Why build an application?

Why is the vision of the application and should be defined in clear, concise terms. This mission statement will unify your team and will help you to zero in on what to build and where to focus.  After you've established the vision for your app, use the following steps as a guide to help tailor your mobile marketing strategy:
Ask your customers what they want
Don't guess, know. Above all, mobile marketers must place user needs at the forefront of the mobile campaign; a little research goes a  long way. For any application, the right user research and design collaboration will drastically reduce maintenance costs and increase initial and sustained user adoption.

Understand that even your mom has a smartphone
It is not only important to ask why, but to also ask who. The community of late adopters is growing. An article on redOrbit.com indicates the fastest growing market of web -related services and devices are people over the age of 70.

Don't treat the mobile app market like the web of yesterday
An application initiative should not be treated the same as a microsite, email campaign, or television spot. Users look for utility from an application. Sometimes that utility is entertainment, but if you are not an entertainment company, don't try to entertain your consumers in an attempt to drive traffic. Do not create throw-away applications for the sole purpose of brand awareness. Driving traffic, find-ability, clicks, and impressions are typically the wrong metrics to use when measuring the success of a mobile application initiative.

Focus on the purpose of your business
Consumers are savvy to marketing tricks and are wary of applications that do not perform utilities directly related to your business. If you are a credit card company, you don't need to build a game. If you are a shipping company, you shouldn't build a social network. Stay true to brand and create apps that complement your business.

Design for mobile use cases only
Seventy-three  percent of mobile app users say they expect a company's mobile app to be easier to use than its website. If your website or customer portal boasts 50 potential actions, your mobile application should only feature 10.  Considering a "port" of all your website's features to a mobile application (or even a mobile website) is a waste of time, as consumers steer clear of overwhelmingly complex applications.

Learn that cross-channel is not just a buzzword
Don't make the mistake of creating yet another "skunkworks" initiative that further fragments your digital ecosystem. Take the time to think about the entire customer journey and map a mobile experience to the overall user experience.

Remember that every smartphone has a browser
Do you really need to build an application or can you simply design a smartphone-specific website? All new smartphones render HTML very well in their modern mobile browsers. If there is not a compelling reason to download an app, consumers won't bother.

Plan for frequent updates
Most successful applications capture their audience with a great experience followed by frequent updates and improvements. Consumers expect instant gratification; fans are built by rapid response to customer feedback.

Focus on outcomes
Focus on the things the user will accomplish with the application -- figure out the details of the features later.

Keep data in perspective
You need to care about the services and data that will drive your mobile application. Without a well architected application programming interface (API), a mobile application is just a Hollywood set. However, do not make the mistake of allowing your IT department to build your API layer before you understand user needs.

Be careful with "social"
Just because a mobile device is capable of social features doesn't mean your application needs to cater to social media. If there is a compelling reason for the user to be connected to Facebook through your app, then by all means, go with it. But it must be compelling enough for them to invite you.

Keeping all these best practices  in mind, a good user experience is, once again, the key component with mobile. It's the one digital opportunity for organizations to get customers to physically carry their brand.

Don't rush your mobile app. Focus on the experience. Design your app for your customer while keeping your business needs in mind. With mobile, brand recognition will only get you so far. If you implement with usability and user insights in mind, it will go everywhere.

Anthony Franco is president of EffectiveUI.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Christian Weichelt

2010, December 20

Anthony, I really enjoyed reading your article and learning about the Harris Interactive study that you mentioned. A lot of companies are going the way of the mobile app, which is a novel, yet unsustainable approach. Companies that have good web content management (WCM) platforms can actually manage all of their content and information, internally and externally, from one central location. The web content manager can then create personalized experiences based on touchpoint, nullifying the need to create specific apps for specific phones. Also, most WCM platforms have a preview function that allows the manager to view how the content would appear on a PC, Android, etc. This way of managing online content opens the information flow across an organization and also breaks down silos that would otherwise be created by specific developers hired to manage a single iPhone app.