Mobile Apps Aren’t Just for Big Companies Anymore

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Mobile apps frequently promote higher customer loyalty and user engagement levels than mobile websites do. You build a richer experience in a native app, and once users have downloaded it, you’ve captured their attention in an environment completely built around your brand experience.

Consider how those factors played out in the results of a recent study by mobile analytics firm Mobidia.

The company examined 50 top mobile-commerce apps and found that, on average, 52% of iOS monthly active users returned to those apps to shop at least one a week. The app users found value in the targeted experience and sought it out repeatedly. (Note that app users are naturally self-selecting and therefore often pre-disposed to be among the most loyal consumers of your brand.)

The Challenges for Small Companies

Unfortunately, though many popular big companies have demonstrated successful app strategies, smaller, resource-constrained organizations traditionally find doing so much more difficult.

Moreover, many companies don’t know where to begin. Or if they do get a mobile app off the ground, they don’t know how to maintain it in a way that drives increased usage, growing conversion rates, and an overall positive return on mobile investment.

Luckily, any company does have some ways that can match the success and momentum that the largest brands are enjoying today with mobile apps.

To keep up with the big brands, you should…

  • Implement an app-testing program that can be run and refined by your marketing team
  • Bridge the real and virtual worlds in your app so that the brand experience spans both domains
  • Personalize your mobile apps so that the user experience is both meaningful and compelling

Contrary to popular belief, none of those strategies requires a major in-house development team. With capable business and marketing leadership, and the right technology platforms, any company can apply those strategies for mobile app success.

Mobile App Testing Needs Marketers, Not Developers

Core app development requires very specialized software expertise. App testing and refinement, however, do not.

App-management technology now gives marketers the power to evaluate performance factors and guide the ongoing optimization process. Not only does that free up developer resources for new projects, but it also allows marketers to begin applying the same lessons understood for years on corporate websites to the mobile app world.

For example, A/B testing can determine which text in a call to action (CTA) ensures the highest conversion rates. Demographic experiments can determine whether different images evoke different responses from a variety of cohorts. And trials of different navigation paths in your app can provide important information on how users behave in a multitude of scenarios.

Facebook very aptly proved the value of app optimization when it unveiled details of its own A/B testing framework earlier this year. The social networking company has used the framework to test various elements, including the width of tab bars, the use of icons, and menu types, in its mobile app user interface. Facebook has said that “with the freedom to test, re-test, and evaluate the results, we’re looking forward to building better and better tests and user experiences.”

However, you don’t need the resources of Facebook to implement your own testing strategies. Though Facebook built its own framework, most organizations are better served by using existing technology platforms that already support sophisticated A/B testing.

In the past, using such tools would have required coding expertise. As with website design though, the technology has evolved so that now non-developers can run experiments and analyze test results.

Mobile Apps Extend Beyond the Little Screen

Apps transport users into a virtual world. Yet many of the most successful apps do so by also linking that virtual reality to something more tangible. Particularly in the retail space, companies are beginning to understand the value of connecting an app experience with activity in a brick-and-mortar store. Not only does it extend a retailer’s brand across multiple domains, but it also helps keep consumers from getting diverted while shopping in a store by a competing brand appearing on their smartphones.

Best Buy, for example, has shifted its loyalty program into an app that rewards customers for in-store check-ins. The basic functionality is nothing that couldn’t be accomplished previously with a physical loyalty card, but by putting the program into an app, customers have a reason to stay with Best Buy on their phones after they enter the store.

 

Starbucks has also mastered that cross-platform approach to customer loyalty campaigns. Many frequent Starbucks customers now rely on their mobile phones to complete purchases and accrue and redeem reward points.

In-store sensors that connect to mobile apps are another way to bridge the gap between the real and virtual worlds. Thanks to Apple’s introduction of the iBeacon feature in iOS 7, proximity-based technology is now widely available across consumer mobile devices. Marketers can use beacons to trigger messages within a mobile app whenever a user comes within range.

In early tests, brands like Timberland and Kenneth Cole have already achieved high response rates—up to 75%—from targeting communications to customers with beacon technology.

The advantage of having large brands test the waters with new technologies like iBeacon is that tools and techniques become better defined and more readily available, which in turn makes them more easily adopted by a wider set of companies.

Connecting the in-store and in-app experiences might have been difficult two years ago, but the enabling technologies are now well-established and available to all.

Personalization Means More Revenue

If there’s one thing successful companies have learned about marketing over many decades, it’s that the more you can make your brand resonate with the individual wants and needs of consumers, the more it’s likely to gain traction with a wider audience.

Historically, personalizing marketing efforts outside of direct-response campaigns was difficult, but the Internet changed that by allowing companies to collect detailed analytics on users and target marketing messages down to the individual.

The Internet solved myriad technology challenges around targeted marketing, but mobile devices have taken the potential for personalization even a step further. Portability means that mobile phones and tablets are more consistently close at hand, which, in turn, means they serve as more of an extension of self than desktops or even laptops ever could.

Mobile apps play into that phenomenon by offering an always-available resource that performs best when tuned to a user’s specific requirements.

For example, many companies offer to save consumers’ billing information in their apps, so that future purchases require fewer clicks and data input—a critical advantage on mobile devices where typing can be difficult. The faster process makes customers more likely to complete an impulse purchase and raises overall conversion rates.


 Beyond saving user data and preferences, however, mobile apps are also now serving up personalized information without requiring any effort on the part of consumers, and with the added benefit of location-based context. Whether that means delivering localized product recommendations, customized promotions, or service tips, companies like eBay—which is among the top three most popular mobile commerce players—have succeeded with their apps by investing resources in monitoring user behavior and then returning relevant, personalized content.

Once again, personalized app experiences used to be the realm of big companies with big development teams. However, technology has evolved to the point that any company can segment audiences and customize app delivery without delving into the underlying code base.

You don’t need to be a developer. You only need the right tools to apply long-held marketing knowledge to the brave new world of mobile apps.

* * *

Though larger organizations have greater resources available, they no longer have the upper hand where app optimization and mobile experience management are concerned.

Successful marketing strategies have proven themselves out, and app technology platforms are now well-established and available to a broad audience. You can keep up with the big brands in regards to mobile app performance.

More importantly, you have to keep up if you want to stay competitive in an increasingly mobile world.

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