Smartphone applications can be powerful tools for engaging customers and building loyalty. But, if executed poorly, they can also do a lot of damage to your brand and turn previously passionate fans away from your business.
I get a lot of questions from small business owners as to whether or not they should be working on a mobile app to market their business instead of investing in traditional or online marketing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the answer is “no, you’ll be throwing your money away.”
It’s not your core business
Unless your core business is making software for smartphones, investing in developing a mobile app is probably a bad idea.
Granted, some big, non-software businesses are able to justify developing mobile apps. They have the resources to invest not only in the initial development of an application, but the ongoing support and maintenance – which can often cost more than building the app.
Small businesses normally can’t afford to do both and trying to do so pulls money and attention away from more effective forms of marketing and the overall business. Even if they’re able to launch a great app (which is much harder than most perceive it to be), all that initial effort goes to waste as problems crop up that the company can’t afford to fix.
Over time, their unmaintained app winds up a glitchy, broken mess – which impacts what their customers think of them.
Most small business apps aren’t useful
As mentioned above, developing a great app is much harder than most people realize. Even if you hire a skilled development company to build an app for your business, the core ideas behind the app have to be incredibly solid.
Most of the time, the ideas just aren’t there. I don’t know how many apps I’ve seen from small businesses that have just provided a map and phone number – information I could easily get by visiting the business’ website.
The idea for a lot of apps seems to stop at “I need it to market my business.” Great, but what else does it do? Does it make your customer’s life easier? Does it help them in some way?
If not, you don’t have an idea for an app. You may have an idea for a website or a billboard, but if all an app does is advertise your business, it’s more than likely going to drive potential customers away.
Think of how frustrated you are when you installed a piece of software on your computer or phone and it doesn’t do what you expected it to do. Think of how you felt about the company that was behind it. That’s how your customers are going to feel about you if your app doesn’t meet their expectations.
The chances of reaching your audience is very small
Even if your goals are modest and you only expect a few hundred downloads – you’re likely to be disappointed. It’s not uncommon for a business to spend thousands of dollars building an app and have only a handful of people download it – which might be a good thing if your app itself isn’t very good.
The popularity of apps in Apple and Google’s app stores is largely based on luck. Great apps can be entirely ignored while random, mediocre ones become wildly successful. It’s entirely possible that after you launch your app, you’re the only person who ever sees it again.
As a marketing investment, the risk and potential reward rarely make sense. If your goal is to use technology to market to your audience, what usually makes more sense is investing in a quality, mobile website and content to display your expertise and help customers find you.
If your site is easy to use and has the content a customer needs, they’ll have a much higher opinion of your business than if you pushed them to download a buggy app that doesn’t really do anything.
That’s not to say that apps are bad and websites are good. They just do different things. Apps can be used for marketing, but only as a secondary function – they have to do something else worthwhile first. Whereas, a website can be purely for marketing. It’s when businesses get those concepts confused and start chasing after buzzwords and trends that they run into trouble.