Are apps worth the time and resources they take to develop?

From consumers to marketing directors, mobile is the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. And it’s not difficult to see why - it’s estimated that by 2014, mobile devices will have overtaken PCs. Mobile devices are not only more portable – they’re more personal and customisable too. Living in people’s pockets, they provide the ultimate communications platform. With mobile comes a wealth of almost limitless opportunity for brands to get straight to the heart of consumers and ultimately increase brand engagement.

But is developing a mobile marketing strategy worth the time, effort and investment for companies? Does mobile live up to the hype? How much impact can a killer app make?The Drum caught up with leading agencies in the world of app development and mobile strategy, posing a series of questions to discover just what it is that’s got people talking, and why developing such a strategy might not be just prudent – but actually essential for the future of your brand.Ryan Hall, Joint Managing Director – Client Services & Experience Design, Nice AgencyApplications should form an important part of a brand’s communication and customer engagement strategy. Applications give users a close engagement point with brands and a direct channel to build a relationship. In addition applications themselves give users a feeling of ownership ,which cannot be underestimated. This channel is one of the best forms of direct marketing available today and certainly justifies the investment.Graeme Hastings, Creative Director, Science Creative LtdWith the smart phone market growing everyday, it’s a channel that can’t be ignored, and a great opportunity for businesses to connect with their market. Nearly one in three adults and almost half of all teenagers in the UK now use a smartphone, according to the telecoms regulator Ofcom.Apps can create a relationships with existing and potential customers that may not translate to sales in the short term but create a loyal customer base who value the product / service.Apps can be a revenue stream in themselves, for example several companies have made millions from very simple and cheaply priced games(typically 59p) that have mass appeal. Others find translation of their existing services a natural step for example satellite navigation firms have leveraged phones GPS functionality.The investment return therefore depends on the firms market area, if their customers are included in the ever growing number of people who use social media and mobile apps every single day and expect to be able to interact with the brands they use then, I believe, they cannot afford not to invest. In 1995 people were asking is it worthwhile to have a website? An easy way to think about this is if you now have a great and interactive website then you absolutely must ensure that all the features are migrated to the mobile and social environment. Otherwise all the online work you have already invested in will be missing a huge and growing audience. Mobile devices/users number in the billions as opposed to PC’s in the millions.Howard Simms, Operations Director, ApadmiIt depends on the nature of the brand and app. When the boundaries are pushed or a novel approach from a certain industry is taken it gets our attention; if it is mundane and lacking in purpose it is lost. Bjork has recently delved into the world of mobile apps as a route to delivering her latest album - is this the future for the music industry?Ste Brennan, Code ComputerloveThere is no doubt that the App Store is a tough place to make a living and discovery is a key challenge. But this is true of anything you build - be that a desktop/mobile website, Facebook app etc. "Build it and they will come" simply does not cut it. The success of any app needs to cover the four basics of driving awareness, deepening engagement, increasing monetisation and enhancing loyalty. So should you be building mobile websites over apps? Without a doubt mobile websites have advantages: they embrace the spirit of the web in that you can build once and "deploy" to many instantly. There are no ties to an app store eco-system. You can perform updates immediately and be more responsive to issues and user demands. Indeed, at Code Computerlove, we recommend that your website should be the first thing to look at as part of your mobile strategy.On the flip side, however, native apps do offer far greater opportunities that simply cannot be achieved with mobile websites. These can range from overall usability, to accessing features of the phone such as a camera, a notification system, compass and lower level hardware access, as well as providing convenient monetisation opportunites such as in app purchasing etc. Are apps worth the investment? It really depends on where an app sits in an overall digital marketing strategy. Building an app just to tick a box is obviously the wrong approach. How that app integrates with an overall platform and strategy and also whether it covers the four points for success outlined above is critical.Nigel Little, Managing Director, Distinctive DevelopmentsAs with any marketing your campaign has to stand out from the background noise of everything else your consumers are exposed to. Your app has to be more innovative, more eye-catching and more compelling than its competition. You also have to think of how the app fits into a wider campaign across different media in order to drive awareness of the whole campaign. Just developing a ‘me too’ app and hoping it reaches millions of consumers is not going to work. However, apps can be very powerful when used intelligently. The major advantage of an app, and games in particular, is that they engage people for a relatively long time; allowing brand values to be communicated and increased retention of the marketing message than what can be achieved with other media.Simon Jones, Head of Online, IntermarketingMarketers need to be careful they don’t limit audiences by creating ‘hot new’ channels like apps that few people will use. There’s certainly a growing trend of download once, use once for apps, rendering them pointless with little or no return on investment for brands and business.Paul Rawlings, CEO, ScreenreachI think one of the main problems is that a lot of branded apps are no different to mobile websites. If you’re going to develop an app or use an app then you need to make sure it offers your consumer something that your other platforms don’t.When it comes to apps, there’s only really your imagination that can hold you back. It’s all about giving your consumer a richer, more fulfilling experience. We developed Screach as a way for brands to open up a conversation with their consumer that’s fun and interactive and lets you bring your ads to life through a Screach ‘experience’. The whole point of Screach is that you can use it to reward your consumer by offering them vouchers and coupons and you can profile your consumer, helping you to measure your ROI.Gemma Oversby, Head of Business Development, Storm IDIt is a while ago now but business owners will remember asking themselves the same question about getting a website. Their existing marketing was in place, at the time they could expect only modest traffic to their website, even fewer sales – was it worth it?Well on paper perhaps not initially: the cost to develop a site was disproportionately high, the returns questionable and hard to measure - but those that did attempt to compete in this area at the earliest opportunity began to accrue benefits that they could capitalise on during the great shift from print, TV, radio, etc to the web. That same great shift is in progress to mobile apps. Look at any of the many measures of mobile adoption and you would be nuts to ignore this channel. If you can’t see a huge immediate benefit then take the hit in the name of ‘getting involved’. It may not be exactly the right time for you, but it is the right place – so just get in and wait a little!Steve Peters, Code ComputerloveIf you look at the top 20 popular downloads this week, the market is roughly split into two parts:Firstly, games – Gaming apps are user to kill time on trains and generally pass the time. This week 13 of the top 20 free downloads (and even more in the paid top 20) are game-related. More again in the all time grossing list.Secondly, those that offer unique facility – apps that offer the user the ability to perform an action that can’t be achieved using a web-browser pretty much captures the rest of the top 20.Brands ‘owning’ a gaming idea is difficult – the investment risk is great and the user-relevance is lacking. Sponsorship opportunities within games (for example Bing sponsored Angry Birds in 2011) offers brands an opportunity to sponsor apps without the investment. This will be an emerging trend as marketers get savvy with targeting and mobile sponsorship as a branch of their marketing opportunity. It’s the second area then that offers the most opportunity to brand owners. At #3 in the top free apps this week O2 have just released their ‘Priority Moments’ app – offering customers exclusive vouchers and deals near them – supported by national TV activity. However (according to the user feedback) the deals are limited in number and have a low perceived value, their cinema offer isn’t a patch on Orange Wednesdays and it seems to crash on some phones. I guess there are some fundamentals that O2 need to revisit here – get the offer right and make sure its valuable and it works. Groupon (also in the top 20), kgb deals, vouchercloud and living social are all over this ‘cheep stuff’ space with a more rounded offer-set which makes it difficult for even the biggest brands to compete with competence. Other apps in the top 20 include a radio player, free music download app, Sky on the go app, ITV player and Facebook (of course). So – free (or very cheap) TV, radio and music on the go! Where does this leave the rest of the world’s brands? A few pointers:
  • Apps aren’t a magic bullet. For every useful app there are 1,000 poor ones – only 1% of all apps are used again after 30 days.
  • Ask yourself ‘does this app idea we have do something unique, useful and of a perceived value to my customers’. If it doesn’t – don’t do it.
  • Go to an app specialist and they’ll sell you an app. Get better, more strategic marketing advice that covers all of your digital footprint – otherwise you are in danger of ‘ticking the app box’
  • Explore mobile web opportunities first. The likelihood is you can probably do exactly what you want to do with a good mobile version of your site (or key functions from it). You can even give users an app icon to drop onto their phone so it looks and launches like an app. A good mobile site will work on all phones (not limited to particular devices) and you can take advantage of SEO and PPC techniques just as you can on your desktop site so you can market your service to the widest audience.
  • Make your app cross-device compatible. Adobe have been working really hard to allow developers to create one application that can sit across iOS, Android and Windows platforms – saving you time and money. This won’t always be possible, or the right thing to do – get some good advice from a platform-agnostic digital agency and include apps to your digital marketing strategy
To answer the question, the return on investment can be worth it – work on a top-line business case and treat it no differently to any other part of your marketing mix – just make sure you look at mobile web opportunities first.

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