Why agencies fail at mobile development

Brands want a slice of the mobile market and set their sites on apps that will bring the cachet of being featured in the App Store. They turn to their agencies for help; their agencies, in turn, look to outsource that work to mobile developers. As brokers of the relationship between brands and developers, agencies can do a lot to improve the return on their campaigns and quality of the final products they bring to market.

Mobile apps (both web and native) can be the linchpin of creative and effective campaigns. But a brand’s mobile applications can and should also evolve beyond drivers of engagement and become meaningful revenue drivers. Unfortunately, the strategy behind the mobile component of a campaign is often not well thought out, if included at all, and apps wind up in the graveyard of the app store as a result. These zombie apps fail to reach the target audience, fail to deliver on the promise of a well-organized and integrated mobile product strategy, and risk creating negative brand impact.

This gap and failure exists for many reasons, the most important and glaring of which are that agencies don’t care, don’t understand mobile, or are afraid to speak up.

What Agencies Are Doing Wrong

Not Caring: In mobile development, agencies’ interests aren’t necessarily aligned with the clients’. Agencies focus on what generates the most revenue for the agency. In the case of mobile development, this often at odds with what’s best for the client because there’s really no money in the margins on mobile development. This shortsightedness on the long-term impact of an ROI-driven campaign inevitably catches up with agencies when the data comes back.

Thinking Mobile Is Just A Channel: Problems arise when agencies think mobile development is “not part of their core services.” That can often be true, which is the real issue. At minimum, every agency should have mobile expertise in house or at their disposal because there’s no escaping the role mobile plays in everything from a creative auto ad for TV to a branded content strategy. Typical agencies don’t align digital (mobile and social) well with their traditional media planning because they don’t have this skill in-house.

Absent that expertise, agencies run the risk of treating mobile as just another channel in which to execute the creative they are used to, as though a proficiency working with mobile ad units were the same as proficiency in mobile generally. In reality, those capacities are worlds apart.

Being Afraid to Say No: Brands don’t always understand mobile, and agencies aren’t particularly incentivized to enlighten them about their shortcomings. Agencies are so focused on doing what the brand wants to keep their money that they aren’t pushing the brands to focus on the right omnichannel strategies that align with today’s very mobile-first consumer lifestyle. If you’re too afraid to tell someone what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, you don’t deserve the check at the end of the month. This isn’t about making friends, it’s about driving revenue and value for partners at every stage of the process.

What Agencies Should Do

Educate the Brand: When it comes to mobile, agencies are the brokers between brands and consumers. That’s an important role. Agencies should do everything in their power to educate themselves and their clients about what works in mobile, and what doesn’t. That means bringing your mobile experts—whether in-house or contractors—into the creative process in its earliest stages. Effective campaigns are consistent throughout the content and consumer journey. If you’re too afraid to admit you don’t understand mobile either, then start saving your money and let your staff know that cuts are coming when your client puts the account back up for review. Addressing the knowledge gap isn’t up for debate, the method of doing so is.

Focus on the Client’s Best Interests: Brokering this relationship also means that agencies should understand the full scope of how mobile will impact a client’s bottom line. Agencies need to focus outside the lines of their core capabilities and look at the full consumer journey down to conversion.

Above all, agencies should be identifying the proper KPIs for success. Too often agencies jump on cool features, like QR codes or ibeacons, but they don’t take the time to understand how these technologies will impact customer actions and signals those consumer actions send.

Agencies should work closely with their brand clients to share insights on campaign goals and objectives, agreeing on what KPIs will define success in mobile.

Do Your Homework: Mobile is the primary and initial interaction for many campaigns. Establishing the proper plan from content to CTAs will drive significant lifts in performance. That means that agencies must stop thinking of mobile as just another channel. It is THE channel.

I love when I hear “it’s the year of mobile”. Sorry, but the year of mobile was a couple of years ago. And 2016 is the year of “Holy crap I wasn’t thinking and wasn’t prepared and now my business is threatened by those who are mobile first.” In other words, it’s no longer acceptable to treat mobile as virgin territory.

Several years in, there is now a concrete body of data on what works for mobile campaigns and what doesn’t (for starters the Mobile Marketing Association’s searchable repository of winning mobile campaigns). Agencies claiming that mobile is some new territory for experimentation need to check their egos and learn from the billions spent before.

Depending on your client’s needs, there is an agency that has failed and that has succeeded in almost an identical circumstance. Learn from them.

David Calabrese is CRO of STRV

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