A Mobile App Is Not a Mobile Strategy
Posted on Harvard Business Review: November 21, 2011 3:35 PM
Everyone wants their own mobile application. In the last year, I have heard this consistently. In fact, mobile analytics firm Distimo claims 91 of the top 100 brands have their own mobile app (up from 51 just 18 months ago).
On the surface this sounds great, right? I can use my big brand name to get people to install my application, and then I can market to them via the palm of their hand whenever I want. If you’re a big brand, I have no doubt you will get a ton of downloads. But downloads are a vanity metric; they don’t measure success.
Most brands treat their mobile applications as an advertisement. No one wants to download an ad. I’ve seen it with grocery stores through my experience building a mobile grocery coupon company, Pushpins. They often underinvest in mobile and choose a form-fitted application—a cookie cutter white label that gets the job done but isn’t a great solution for their consumers—to quickly get their brand in the hands of shoppers. Then they think it’s enough.
Building a mobile strategy is more than just having your own application. It means working with third-party mobile apps, mobile ad networks, and using offline marketing to drive further use in mobile.
Here are four things to remember as you consider a mobile strategy—and some reasons why you should expand your mobile strategy past just your mobile app.
You don’t launch a television station so you can market your brand on television. Imagine you’re Dr. Pepper. You want to make sure that everyone knows about your new Dr. Pepper 10 soda. Do you launch Dr. Pepper TV? No! You find television networks and more specifically programs that can reach your relevant consumers. Why? Because even if you did launch your own TV network, it doesn’t mean people are going to watch it. Don’t build an app just to get downloads; build something people will actually use.
Building a mediocre app is just as bad as selling a mediocre product. The power of mobile is that you can interact with a consumer at any moment. However, would you want someone buying your new cereal if it tasted bad? No! They would never buy it again. So why would you want them to download a mediocre mobile app? If you are a billion dollar company, you shouldn’t only be investing $50,000 in mobile. It’s like airing a bad TV commercial; it will not end in the desired result.
It’s ok to give up a little bit of control. Control is tempting. I get it. Creating your own app lets you control the message, and you don’t have to worry about a third-party partner creating a bad experience for your customers. And yes, there are big brands that have made some amazing mobile applications. But just because you are big and have a brand name doesn’t mean that you need to control the customer experience. For instance, P&G sponsored third-party bathroom finder app called “Sit or Squat” to reach Charmin users. Can a toilet paper brand find anything more targeted than this? There are successful third-party mobile apps that can reach your users better than you can. Embrace them.
Building your own app is not the only way to reach your consumers. Some people are going to use your app, and others are going to want to use third-party ones. It’s like having a website. Just because you have your own destination doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use other channels to build relationships with your customers. United allows Expedia to sell tickets, even though you can book on United.com.
My advice is this: It’s ok to have your own app, but your entire mobile marketing strategy should not stop at building one. But if you are going to invest in your own app, make it something that you would want to use. No one wants to download an ad.
Take a deep breath and look at the broader picture. It’s ok to give up some control. Third-party apps are going to engage your consumers whether or not you are involved. Why not be a part of it?
This post is part of a series of blog posts by and about the new generation of purpose-driven leaders.
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