The Case for Affordable, Effective Small Business Mobile Apps in 2012

After the first mobile marketing presentation I gave almost two years ago to a group of marketing professionals, their questions carried a theme of What-The-Heck-Is-Mobile Marketing? In fact, I started the presentation with this classic clip from an interview with Bill Gates by Albuquerque reporter Henry Birdseye. (The most telling comment comes around 1:18 if you want to skip ahead.)

The interview took place in 1977, when Gates still made his home in Albuquerque. When mobile marketing meant a billboard on the side of a bus. When portable phones meant extra-long cords that stretched into the next room. When kids still thought a pay phone came in a booth, not in a plastic wrapper near the convenience store checkout counter.

In just a little more than 30 years, technology has changed dramatically – and the advent of the smart phone and tablet has meant that what took 20 years to happen to computers has taken only a handful years to happen to smart mobile technology.

I was invited back recently to give another talk on mobile marketing to this same group of marketers, and the change in questions was most telling. Attendees wanted to know how, when, where and how much to get into mobile marketing – not if they should or why they should care.

Buzz Magazine, which focuses on news pertaining to small businesses, shared an article yesterday that offers up some statistics that make the case for mobile marketing in the form of mobile apps for small businesses. The biggest hindrance? Time to manage the app.

When we at APPCityLife started our Beta App Program a few months ago, we worked with our initial clients to discover the pain points, challenges, and processes needed too effectively use a mobile app for marketing and client retention. Here is what we’ve found:

AlluraDerm Mobile App Landing Page

Small business owners are busy. Yeah, that was a no-brainer, but the obligations and workload already placed on the independent business owner meant that most of our clients had little or not time to spend gathering images, writing copy or helping design the layout of their app. We learned that business owners wanted to briefly meet to share their ideas and goals for the app, and then they wanted us to do the rest. We enlisted a graphic artist to help create beautiful images, hired interns to scrape and code content from websites and brochures, and we did as much of the work independently as we could. This allowed us to build an app in a shorter amount of time and allowed the owner to focus on running their business.

Effective push notices make all the difference. In all of our beta apps which have been released, a marked increase in downloads and activity is directly tied to new notices being sent to users. And whether that notice was a special offer, a tidbit of news or an announcement really didn’t seem to matter – although activity was higher for notices which offered drawing for giveaways. Users opened the event app when a notice was sent about a time change just as often as they opened the app after receiving a notice about discounted merchandise. Based on our findings, we’ve adjusted our app program to include multiple notices each month for the small business owner to use to communicate with their users.

Cost matters. But quality matters more. The one consistent message we’ve received from all of our beta clients is that while their budgets are tight, having a high quality app which effectively represents their culture and overall marketing theme was vital. Owners didn’t want a templated app that looked like everyone else in their business. They wanted branding to be seamless. As a result, we created a series of processes to generate affordable apps with only slightly higher costs than the do-it-yourself templated app builders in the industry.

Aesthetics play an important part in an effective mobile app.

Small business owners are still really, really busy. Beyond not having time to help develop a mobile app, owners don’t have time to help maintain it, either. Although many business owners have created their own Facebook page, few have time to do more than the perfunctory updates. Most have expressed a desire to have an easy service which allows them to quickly send information they want added to an app and then trust that their provider will take care of it. To this end, APPCityLife includes in their app development a concierge service which emails clients regularly to ask about updates, changes or new notices for the mobile app.

Our Beta App Program will end fairly soon, and after our first few forays into the arena of small business mobile apps, we are more convinced than when we started that the most effective way for businesses to control their own marketing message and create client loyalty is by create a mobile app that not only goes where their clients go but keeps in touch with them regularly.

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About APPCityLife

APPCityLife connects people with cities through a complete end-to-end mobile and cloud platform where cities, developers, civic hackers, nonprofits, schools and enterprise can publish robust mobile apps with seamless Open Data integration. Our platform is powerful enough to support rapid prototyping for experienced coders and developers, but it is also easily accessible to those without any previous coding experience; we empower individuals to create solutions and build mobile apps which address challenges they see within their own community.
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