Mobile applications (“apps”) have generated considerable curiosity among marketers, mostly because of their high level of user engagement and the positive impact this presumably has on a user’s attitude toward the sponsoring brand. Many brands view apps as a golden opportunity to communicate directly with consumers and in a more purposeful and long-lasting fashion.

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When brands get it right, the returns can be huge. However, according to a study published by Deloitte, the problem appears to be that most brands are getting it wrong.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is happening.

Misplaced Goals

Many brands are new to mobile and view getting an app into the app store as “something to do” and a box to be checked-off. “We have a web site; we need an app, too.”

For larger organizations, executives from different departments have different ideas as to what they want a mobile app to do. Organizational politics rarely result in an optimal outcome, and usually lead to a dysfunctional mobile product. This jumble of ideas and objectives creates budgets for building apps, but a poor vision for the purpose and utilization of these apps.

Not Focusing on User Experience

In many cases, brands design mobile apps for the brand’s benefit and not the customer’s use. So, they came at it from the mindset of, “What is our end goal? What do we want to do? Okay, we want to get people to look at our product catalogs, so we are going to build an app that is really just a catalog of our products.” Okay, well, as a user, I might look at that once, but then I’m never going to use it again.

What a lot of companies fail to understand is with around 2.4 million apps across Google Play and iTunes alone (about 1.2 million titles in each venue), the user has a lot of choices for what they put on their phones, and their world does not revolve around your brand. The minute that you have issues with your app’s user experience, they will uninstall you in a heartbeat.

A Gartner study earlier this year estimated that because of the ever-growing number of apps, less than 0.01 percent of consumer apps by 2018 will be considered a financial success by their developers.

For brands, the data only accentuates the challenge of gaining an audience for their apps when people tend to stick with a core group of well-known apps tied to functions like social networking and search (the Facebook’s and Gmail’s of the world, for example).

Before investing in a mobile app, brands need to evaluate the merits of their idea using these key questions:

  • What problem does this app solve (that can’t be solved by a responsive website, mobile-optimized email campaign, etc.)?
  • Will it do what users want it to do in the context that they want to use it?
  • How is the brand integrated into the app?
  • Does the app deliver a compelling impact that is linked to the brand?

Brands that can’t answer these questions confidently should go back to the drawing board.

Marketing and IT are disconnected

Mobile is one giant collision course between IT and marketing. In many organizations, IT is traditionally the domain of technology and marketing is the arm in charge of the brand and human factors. Successful mobile apps navigate the human factors by using technology. Most organizations are completely unprepared for this challenge.

IT teams are not used to working at the intense “update every two weeks” Agile pace of mobile development. Some IT teams can take as many as two weeks just to draft functional specification and get approvals. Add into this equation that, in a lot of cases, new development is required in order to make data in existing systems accessible via a mobile app.

Unfortunately, the relationship between IT and marketing must be a happy one in order for a brand to succeed in mobile.  When these two teams are able to collaborate and have open dialogue, the opportunity for achieving success only increases.

Conclusion

Mobile apps present an exciting opportunity for brands to engage with consumers. However, the potential will be reached only by those who deliver added value to the personal relationship people have with their mobile devices.

Brands need to test and then retest (with actual users, if possible), to ensure that every version of their app delivers the best possible experience for consumers and the greatest return on investment for the brand. Focusing on the end-user and allowing them to dictate the experience, rather than forcing the experience upon them, will enable brands to experience greater adoption and utilization.

For long-term success, mobile apps cannot be treated as one-off projects that you “set and forget”. Mobile apps need to be consistently updated to keep consumers interested and to continue to “earning their keep” on the user’s mobile device.

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