This article first appeared as guest post on the Marketo Blog.
If you’re thinking about creating a mobile app for your business or your brand, you aren’t alone. In today’s connected world, we use smartphones and tablets in all aspects of our lives: at home, at work, when shopping, and more. Creating a mobile app is a unique opportunity to communicate with your audience in a personalized, relevant, and interactive manner. And if current trends in mobile continue, mobile will soon be the preferred communication channel for your customers, partners, employees, and prospects.
What Should My App Do?
An app is not just a website on a smaller screen. A powerful app provides value to the user – it’s a tool, like a Swiss army knife.
Take, for example, an app from automobile manufacturer Kia, which aids prospects in their decision process when buying a car. Using the app, potential buyers can compare car models at home, make a wish list of car options on the go, and use the app in the showroom to discuss their requirements with the sales rep.
Regardless of what industry you are in, start by brainstorming how you want to interact with your audience on their smartphones. (Note: Brainstorm sessions at a tropical resort work particularly well if you have the budget… For the rest of us, a meeting room will do.)
Which Platforms and Devices Will My App Support?
Think about which platforms you will support. The most popular platforms today are Apple iOS, Android and Windows phone 8. Each platform has a large user base of smartphones and tablets, and each platform has its own app store where you can publish your app and make it available to your audience.
While it’s possible to develop a single “cross-platform” app, in many cases your app will have to be developed separately for each platform. This is especially true if you want to use built-in features of the device such as the camera (e.g. when you want your app users to take pictures, or when you want to provide a QR code scanner in your app).
And yes, that could mean double or three times the cost. So again, think carefully about how many versions of your app you will publish.
Next, you’ll need to think about smartphones versus tablets. Do you want to create a smartphone app, or a tablet app, or both? Smartphone apps are primarily used “on the go”, while tablet apps are optimal for relaxed, magazine-style usage on the couch at home. If you want a single app, with a design which is optimized for both smartphoneand tablet screen sizes, this will have only a modest impact on your budget. However, you may decide that because these devices are used in different contexts, you’d like to include completely different features in your tablet app and your smartphone app. If this is the case, your budget may double.
Which Features Will My App Include?
I like to think about three types of features that can be combined in your mobile marketing app: content,interactions and transactions.
Content features can include anything from news articles to opening hours of shops, product catalogs, photo albums, video, price lists, location of showrooms, manuals and so on.
Interactions are my favorite. These make your app interactive, and can be tailored around your specific business and audience. Here are a few ways to include interactions in your app:
- Wizards: Consider adding a “wizard”, which is a feature that walks users through a particular process. Your wizards might help users make a decision about a purchase, help them find the right service, or help them compare product features.
- Calculation tools: Your app could include a tool to calculate the total price of a product, service, or project. You might also want to include some kind of planning tool – for example, if your company sells furniture, the app might let users input their house’s dimensions and calculate how that furniture will fit.
- Forms: Use forms in your app so people can ask questions, request more info or report a problem.
- Other tools: The sky is the limit when it comes to making your app valuable. If you’re in the fashion or retail industry, you might offer a virtual fitting room using the camera of the phone; if you’re in the health and wellness industry, you could create an interactive personal trainer. In the example below, Belgian mineral water company Spa created a “wake up” game to help users get out of bed.
And finally you can include transactions in your app, such as mobile purchases (mCommerce), mobile bookings or reservations. For example, here’s an app created by Nespresso to help customers order their products:
While content is relatively easy to add inside an app, creating interaction is more complex and hence more expensive. Handling full transactions inside an app is even more complex and will require backend integrations. For that, bring in the IT team! These are the guys that you’ll need on your side for a successful backend integration.
Making Your App Relevant and Personal
When it comes to apps being used on a mobile device, keep in mind that today’s consumer is “always connected”. This means app creators should take the location and context of the user into account. SoLoMo and PeCoLo are two helpful abbreviations to keep in mind:
- SoLoMo = your app needs to be social, local, and mobile
- PeCoLo = your app must be personal, context-aware, and location-aware
In other words, how can your app provide value while your user is at home, on the road, shopping, working, or spending some time with friends and family? For example, you can provide a “navigation feature” in your retail app, which shows your closest shop or showroom (in relation to the current location of the user). An optimal navigation feature should also include the distance, the driving or walking time and the time left for shopping before the shop closes.
Push Notifications, Geofences and iBeacons
This is where the real fun happens. When people have installed your app, you can send them push notifications, even if you don’t have an email address or phone number from them. Push notifications are a great way to keep your audience engaged!
Of course, push notifications work best when they are relevant to the user. In the same way that irrelevant emails lead to mass “unsubscribes“, irrelevant push notifications will inspire users to disable your push notifications. You can make your messages relevant by personalizing them, based on the user’s interest that you captured inside the app. For example, if you’ve created a retail app, and a user has been checking out a certain product, you could send her a push notification offering a discount on that product.
In order to make your push notifications “location aware”, your app can be linked to one or more “geofences” or iBeacons. Geofences are outdoor locations that can trigger a notification to the user, and iBeacons use Bluetooth to provide the same functionality indoor. A retailer can use geofences to increase foot traffic with so called “near store targeting”. This means the user will receive a push notification when she is close to a store. iBeacons can be used inside the store, to point out a nearby promotion or product when a user is shopping.
As you brainstorm ideas for your new mobile app, here are some useful tool to help you design your ideal functionality and features:
- The Mobile App Canvas – a free “offline” brainstorm tool that provides guidance in the brainstorm and concept phase of a mobile app. This helps teams consider all aspects related to their mobile presence, including target audience, app features, social media integration, location targeting, the customer journey, and more.
- How much does it cost to make an app? – an online wizard to quickly estimate the development budget of a mobile app, based on desired features
- 40 Beautifully Designed Mobile Apps With Excellent UI Experience in Mind – examples of well-designed mobile apps in terms of look & feel and usability that can provide inspiration to you
Questions about creating a mobile app for your marketing? Drop them in the comments below!