Small Business Mobile Apps: a Whim or a Must?
While tech savvy entrepreneurs from startups daydream about launching a new Instagram or WhatsApp, non-IT small businessmen get cold feet when offered to bet on mobile for the fear of high development stakes and a swarm of competitors on the market. And still, there are some great examples of the added value brought about by mobile applications for various businesses and it may be well worth it to give your ideas another try.
First of all, you should dismiss the outdated notion of a mobile app being just another channel to showcase your goodies and push promo notifications. Even email newsletters are no longer that. Rather try to envision your future application as a standalone service to complement and enrich your core business.
However, to come up with killer ideas for apps that tap into the needs and hearts of your customers, you first have to figure out what problems and challenges these people face: saving money, making the most of their free time, leading a healthy lifestyle or catching up on family time, etc.
You know your customers better than anybody else:
- they buy from your brand not only because they need another pair of jeans, but also because they believe that your jeans will make them look better;
- the regulars drop at your artisan bakery every morning not only because your coffee and croissants are special, but also because they crave to belong to the small community of the people they know.
Make sure that your underlying values (helping people to dress well or nurturing the local community feeling) consistently develop in the features of your mobile app.
Mobile features of small business ideas
Basically, all features fall into one of the two categories of revenue drivers: transactional and emotional. The former ones help to generate hard sales via mobile-based transactions. The latter appeal to less tangible, but still measurable and essential key performance indicators (KPI) such as increased brand loyalty or higher customer engagement.
A textbook example of a transactional feature is introducing the prepaid function and shifting a part of your sales there. That’s exactly what Starbucks did with 11 percent of their total sales. Speaking about the added value for customers, now they have an option to pay on the go, get served faster and not worry about having cash or payment cards on them. Even though Starbucks is definitely out of the SME league, their successful strategies are worth replicating. Depending on your business type, you can play around with reservations and ordering functionality, product customization and geolocation-based recommendations.
Emotional connection with your customers is harder to build, yet it has a more lasting effect. That’s what you need if you want to make your brand a lifestyle choice, rather than a dismissible commodity.
So allow your customers:
- personalize their space in the app
- create inspirational wishlists
- manage a calendar of relevant events
- make a shopping lists
- subscribe to an industry newsfeed
- receive relevant lifehacks and tips
- create collaboration space where they can interact with other users and do things together
- even doodle as long as it goes in line with your corporate mission, e.g. to nurture creativity or reduce the stress level
Startups don’t usually have resources to carry out complex market research on focus groups. And that’s where mobile apps can fill the gap with the demographic and behavioral data generated by users. Knowing why your customers choose your product will enable you to serve them more of what they like.
And don’t forget that an app is a two-way street: not only can you reach out to your customers, but also you can demonstrate that you care for their opinion and feedback. With feedback forms being aggressively overused elsewhere online, it’s important to keep your in-app interactions with clients easy, engaging and rewarding. The rewards may not only be material perks like discounts, but also include more meaningful ways of showing what impact the customer’s choice has had, for example, crowdsourcing a new design or choosing a venue for an event.
Incentive application ideas
The main battle that your mobile application will have to fight is, surprisingly, not the one against your competitors’ apps. Once you got a person to download and install your brainchild, you can safely assume that they are already aware of what you do.
From now on, you enter the struggle for their attention against the powerful social apps which according to stats consume up to 85% of the time we spend on our mobile devices. To make sure that your app is actually being used and not just passively lying there covering with dust, you should develop a system of incentives well in advance.
Typical triggers for startup applications may include loyalty programs in which users can gather and redeem rewards, unlock new levels, receive badges and so on. This adds an element of gamification to the user experience. If you want to take money out of the equation, you can introduce quizzes or social games which can all add to the fun and communication.
At the end of the day, the best promotion that no Google Adwords can get you is when a user of your app elbows a friend or a colleague with a “Hey, check it out! Cool, eh?”.
Technicalities & moneywise
Often startups, although aware of the benefits of the mobile channel, may face budget limitations to putting their creative ideas to life. However, where there is a will, there is always a way, and here is how to make custom mobile app development easier on your pocket.
For example, you may consider covering the invoice through crowdfunding – a hotshot practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people. These people may be your existing or future clients who will later enjoy using the sleek app and would perceive it as their personal achievement. Of course, to launch such a campaign your need to carefully consider your mission statement, present all the proposed features and align all your startup ideas with the values of your target audience.
Another deal breaker may be a choice of the kind of app you need: hybrid or native, which both have their pros.
Hybrid or cross-platform
- would normally cost you less
- easy to update as the content is stored online, not on the mobile device
- make the most of the functional possibilities
- better perform in the offline mode (crucial for businesses like adventure tourism)
With all this said, some elements of applications, however small, simply cannot be compromised upon. Don’t think you can get away with a sloppy design or stumbling user experience (UX). Take all the time you need to work with the designer and UX/UI expert to sketch and polish the user scenarios, adjust fonts and colors and thoroughly test your app on a large pool of devices. This is the best way to show your customers that you are not only after their wallet, but truly want them to enjoy using your product.
So, if you are a small company or a startup wondering when it would be the right time to put your business on mobile rails, the answer would probably be “Yesterday”. It takes impeccable design, meaningful functionality and inspiring incentives for an app to win a place in your customers’ gadgets and help you create a whole new dimension of communicating with them. However, the expense of hiring mobile application developers, be it a company or individuals, pays off in terms of increased engagement and more conversions.