American Marketer


3 keys for brands to sustain the mobile app strategy

October 27, 2014

Loni Stark is director of product and industry marketing at Adobe Loni Stark is director of product and industry marketing at Adobe


By Loni Stark

I had just landed in Portland, OR, and found myself waiting in yet another line. This one snaked around the corner in front of Voodoo Doughnut, a business built on a cult following for its unusual flavors such as Bacon Maple Bar.

While a small slice of humanity and I waited, we all, as is so common these days, incessantly stared at our mobile devices. We shared photos and status updates, texted our friends, read up on Yelp reviews, and checked out the menu of doughy goodness so we could preemptively decide if one or a dozen would suffice.

If Voodoo Doughnut’s motto is “The Magic is in the Hole!” then mobile’s magic is in the applications.

Appetite for that
This year, we as a nation spent more than half our digital time on mobile devices. And mobile consumers are spending three-to-four times longer in app sessions than browsing Web sites.

On average, app usage outpaces mobile Web visits by 100 minutes per month. App down-loads worldwide are poised to hit 300 bil¬lion by 2016.

That device in our pockets and purses is not merely plastic and glass – it is a portal into our new, ever-expanding digital world. In other words, our digital selves.

Yet for such a critical gateway into the psychosis of customers, many companies still struggle with their mobile app strategy.

Nearly two years ago, a survey found that the top obstacle to the adoption and success of mobile marketing programs is “a lack of strategy.” Little has changed.

Gartner research also recognized that many businesses are feeling the pressure to mobilize, but do not know where to begin.

David Tapper suggests that a successful mobile strategy begins with:

“... understanding a broad set of stakeholder (whether customer, employee, or consumer) needs and behaviors and in which areas (e.g., sales, marketing, customer support, ERP), for which devices (e.g., smartphones, smart tables, smart cars), and for which technologies (e.g., iOS, Android, Microsoft) to provide these users with mobile-enabled capabilities.”

With more than a million mobile apps now on Google Play and iTunes, Apple’s catchphrase “There’s an app for that” is truer than ever. Now the question has become, "Is there an audience for that?"

As app markets become crowded like the rest of the Internet, businesses need to focus on the most useful apps – those customers see as companions – as a means to build loyalty.

Just as any business can churn out donuts, anyone can make an app. The challenge, however, is to stand out, grab attention and relentlessly embrace your customers.

No business I know of denies the importance of mobile apps. Yet few fully leverage it as a primary customer connection.

Just having an app with your company’s logo on it is not a sustainable mobile app strategy, you need to be in it for the long haul.

Here are three key considerations to give stamina to your mobile app strategy:

1. Are you keeping your eye on the mobile target?
Focus on the needs of the mobile person, not the device.

Mobile devices, with their compact forms, can be conveniently taken anywhere. Mine follows me to the office, on business travel and on weekend adventures.

While mobile’s form factor makes it so omnipresent in our lives, it is also a dangerous distraction to organizations coming up with a mobile app strategy.

Focusing on screen size would be like an artist focusing solely on the dimensions of a canvas before she decides what she wants to convey to the audience. It is silly for an artist, and just as silly for any business.

Instead, mobile devices let an organization have a conversation with customers in places that no clunky desktop or laptop would ever be, such as in the line with me waiting for that epic doughnut.

There is so much rich context to be mined.

For example, my Starbucks app may want to tell me that a Starbucks is located a few blocks down and my usual order of a skinny latte goes well with the Portland Cream (the city’s official doughnut).

Or my bank could let me know all their ATMs within walking distance should I decide to invest in six dozen doughnuts without the guilty paper trail.

Spend more time thinking about the ways you can use mobile apps to gain greater customer context. It is only with this data insight that mobile apps can truly be a part of your customers’ “everyday.”

Be the brand that delights your customer with content and interactions that will matter to them. Then use data insights to tie the content back to your clear measurable business goals.

2. Are you trying to build sustained engagement from disposable apps?

Like rockets, single-use apps are expensive. Reuse is key.

While building a mobile app is not as expensive as launching a rocket, developing a good one is a significant investment for any business.

So why exactly do many organizations build them, pump a ton of marketing dollars into getting them downloaded, only to realize they never considered the costs of keeping the app current and fresh?

To get to the answer, consider this analogy.

One of the reasons space travel is still confined to a minuscule number is because rockets have traditionally been single-use vessels.

The major innovation folks such as Elon Musk are bringing to space travel is reuse. It turns out the cost of rocket fuel is insignificant compared to the cost of the entire space ship.

Imagine if you had to build a plane each time you wanted to fly to another city. Or rebuild your Web site every time you wanted to change a certain part of it. It is simply not a sustainable strategy.

Similarly, it does not make sense to launch your business with a mobile app that cannot be easily updated.

Companies such as Wyndham Hotels and Lowe’s are approaching mobile app development in a manner that enables marketers and business users to frequently and easily update apps, freeing developers and their budgets to focus on higher-value projects.

The failure to be agile after the launch of a mobile app prevents many organizations from evolving based on their customers’ changing preferences.

Building continuous innovation into the culture and processes of your organization can help you anticipate and prevent future roadblocks in customer engagement.

From the moment you conceive of an app or mobile site, before you even begin to build, ask yourself: How will we update the app when we need to? And to be clear, it is definitely a when, not an if.

3. Are you ready for the next mobile mega-trend?

Prepare for the world beyond mobile. Yes, your fridge will be talking to you one day.

Perhaps we can all claim that mobile caught us by surprise. How could technology born to occupy entire rooms or sit on a desk fit into our back pocket?

Further, who could claim to know the multitude of ways we rely on mobile devices today?

But history is now clearly established. And the now already includes innovations such as Nest thermostats and apps for your fridge. Ever on and ever collecting data, it is conceivable and inevitable that widespread apps on mobile devices is only the start.

MOBILE IS ONLY the beginning of a megatrend. Invest in a technology approach that will allow you to scale beyond mobile to include wearables and other next-gen devices.

While it may be quicker to just think about mobile in a silo, your strategy will be short-lived. Even now, some of the most interesting apps exist to aid real-world tasks (think Uber and Yelp).

Like those doughnuts, simply building a mobile app in a world that already includes millions of them is no longer a game changer.

Spend time thinking about how you can make it contextually relevant, never stale, and directly connected to the rest of your customer experience and marketing initiatives.

Voodoo does this by offering unique treats, such as vegan doughnuts and others smothered in Captain Crunch cereal. It also sends a pink doughnut truck around town, cater to weddings, and makes the ubiquitous doughnut run a memorable experience by covering its store with over-the-top decorations.

People go to Voodoo just for the fun of it, and gleefully describe their visit to friends. Can your customers say something amazing about your brand?

Loni Stark is director of product and industry marketing at Adobe, San Jose, CA. Reach her at