There’s an App for That! But Should There Be?

Mobile computing is so dominant in today’s market, that mobile is the word on all forward thinking market executive’s tongue. But, how can the average business owner tap into the mobile market? Should they be worried about mobile at all? Let’s take the latter question first, should the small to medium business owner be concerned with mobile strategies at all?

The answer to that is the same as any other strategy, what is your target demographic? If your target demographic is senior citizens, then mobile may not be for you. However, if you are targeting younger audiences, especially ones with ample financial resources, then some sort of mobile strategy, could be a boon to your business.

I bet your head is already spinning, because you don’t know anything about being on the mobile scene or how to put your business on the mobile map.  Never fear, this blog is about some of the basics of mobile business strategy, to prepare you for the next step.  So let’s start off with a couple of terms you may have heard but not entirely understand.  First term, App.  App is short for application; it is a type of software that you install on whatever device you are using whether that is a desk top or a smart phone.  An app is a type of computer program; mobile apps are designed to consume fewer resources so that they run well on your smart phone or tablet which has less power than your desktop or your laptop.  Next we have mobile website.  The term seems self explanatory, but I would like to expand the idea a little bit.  A mobile website is a website designed to function on a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet.  Because the screens are smaller and the computing power is less many standard websites, are difficult to view on your mobile devices, so companies create a separate site that is less flashy and brings features that the mobile user would need (like getting directions or finding a location) to the forefront.  The third term I would like to introduce is a mobile optimized website.  This is a little bit different than a mobile website.  A mobile optimized website is a regular website that is designed to function on both desktop/laptop computers as well as mobile devices.  These sites are characterized by being designed to fit on smaller screens and having less that your computer has to download to render it viewable.  Each of these terms represents a strategy that you can employ in making your business accessible via the mobile web.  So which one should you choose?

Which mobile strategy you choose depends on a lot of factors, here are some questions you should ask at the beginning of your process:

  1.  What am I trying to do by offering my content in a mobile friendly way?   If your answer is simply to make it easier to find you, then your strategy is different than if you wanted to make specific tools available to your customers.
  2. Who am I trying to reach?  If you want something that has mass appeal, you need a broader strategy versus targeting a specific user group which would require a more focused approach.
  3. How much do I have to spend?  Some of these options are more expensive than others.  No matter how much you want to create the next Angry Birds, if you don’t have the money it isn’t going to happen.
  4. How am I going to make this happen?  Once you figure out where you are going you need to figure out how to make it happen.  This usually means that you are going to need some outside help, because let’s face it programming and web design are unlikely to be your core competency.

Now that you know some of the things you should be thinking about and why, let’s take a look at each strategy in depth and see how each one might meet your needs.

First up is the App.   If you are considering an app there are few things that you must consider.  First is that, an app is not one size fits all.  If you have customers who use many kinds of mobile devices, you will likely need to create separate applications for each common platform.  This can be costly and lead to inconsistent performance. However, if your customers are primarily Apple or Android users then, you can get away with creating a single app for the most commonly used platform.  The second thing to consider is what you want the app to do.  An app should be used to give your customers access to a specific functionality where ever they are.  For instance, my bank has an application that makes it easy to access my balance information from my phone.  This is an ideal situation for an app, because it allows my bank to create a more secure and functional way for me to do something that I regularly do on their standard website.  Another thing to consider is if an app will generate enough revenue to justify its cost.  Of the three options, developing an app is the most expensive way of reaching out into the mobile universe, because you are paying for someone to create a piece of software and make it available to the masses.   It gets even more expensive when you realize that it will require regular maintenance and upkeep.  If you have an idea that you believe will yield sufficient revenue to justify the costs, then an app is well worth it.  However, with all of the competition in the app marketplaces it can be hard to get there.

So maybe the app isn’t for you, how about a mobile website.  This is the way that many companies go because it allows them to provide a wide array of information in a mobile friendly format, while still maintaining their incredible rich media website for desktop users.  This is a great option if you have a lot of really important information on your website that you want to make available to the public, but still need a smaller version that will work well on mobile.  There are however, a few downsides.  First is that you have to select which content your mobile users will have access to.  This can be a hit and miss process in the best of circumstances.  Second is that it can be difficult to make sure that your mobile site is actually being delivered to the mobile devices.   In order to determine whether the computer you are using to access a website is mobile, servers use a technique called browser sniffing.  This technique makes a list of unique ids used by different mobile devices and when those devices send a request for information the server gives them the mobile specific information.   However, there are more of these unique ID’s than can be easily know by a server, so it can cause problems in making sure that mobile users are getting the mobile website.  For more information on how this works check out this article from Shine Magazine on the disadvantages of using a separate mobile website.    Also, for all of the work you do on your website, the work is double because you will have to also, maintain this second website.   And finally, you will have to pay a designer or someone on your staff to design a whole new website.

If a separate mobile site, doesn’t seem to be exactly what you are looking for there is always the option of redesigning your existing site so that it is easily viewable with mobile browsers along with the browsers used on desktop/laptops.  This can be anything from totally redesigning your website using responsive web design (a design concept that ensures that your website automatically rescales itself based on the users screen size and resolution) to making some relatively minor changes that make your website more friendly for mobile users.  These changes include making menus available on secondary pages, creating larger buttons, minimizing content with large download requirements, and avoiding the use of flash.   For more tips on how to optimize your existing site for mobile devices check out this blog.

Making information mobile is an increasingly important concept in our world.  For business owners, an early adoption of mobile strategies can make the difference between a head start on their competitors or getting left in the dust.  Even if you don’t have the money to do an all out mobile assault on your competitors, as you can see above there are ways to make yourself accessible in the mobile arena.  Each of the strategies above has their advantages and their pitfalls.  It is highly recommended that you seek the advice of a professional in the field of mobile design before you finalize a strategy.  A professional can help you assess your needs and craft a strategy that will maximize the return on your investment in mobile marketing.

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