Pre-Development Archives - BuildFire

What is Value Stream Management?

Software delivery is a complex process. CTOs and CIOs across every business category have been tasked with creating more value with fewer resources. 

While aligning your IT initiatives with company goals and objectives might seem easy in theory, it’s difficult to achieve in practice.

That’s where value stream management comes into play. With value streams, you can focus on every aspect of the product development lifecycle—from idea through the final delivery. Understanding the core concepts of value stream management and applying them to your software development process will have significant benefits for your organization.

We created this resource as a beginner’s guide to value stream management. The information below will help you understand value stream management so you can apply it to your business.

Value Stream Management Defined: What is Value Stream Management?

Value stream management is a lean business methodology. The practice helps decision-makers identify the value of software development, delivery, and resources of a software project. Value stream management allows organizations to monitor the end-to-end life cycle of software development by prioritizing “value streams” as opposed to features and functionality.

What is a value stream?

In simple terms, a value stream makes complex procedures easily visible, allowing teams the opportunity to pivot if certain actions will deliver more value to the final product. In practice, value stream management makes it easier to align software projects with overall business initiatives. 

Without value stream management, software teams usually have different priorities than business executives. But value stream management allows everyone to take a step back to align goals and objectives across the entire organization for business outcomes.

To execute value stream management, all of the tools, people, processes, and dependencies of each must be evaluated. This gives business leaders, project managers, and executives complete visibility into how things work.

Value Stream Mapping: What is Value Stream Mapping and How Does it Work?

Now that you understand the core concepts of value stream management, it’s time to take this one step further and discuss value stream mapping (VSM).

The main purpose of value stream mapping is to identify waste and remove waste from your value streams. This concept can be traced back nearly 100 years to Toyota Motor Company’s production system. 

Today, value stream mapping can be applied to a wide range of use cases, including product development, healthcare, lean manufacturing, supply chain management, and of course, software development.

Here’s an example from Lucidchart that shows what value stream mapping might look like in DevOps.

Value stream mapping can be a bit complicated. But it’s an excellent way to help you identify waste in your process. In terms of software delivery, you can use the acronym “DOWNTIME” to help categorize different types of waste:

  • Defects — Bugs, errors, mistakes, and re-worked tasks
  • Overproduction — Unnecessary features, or anything else that’s more work than required
  • Waiting — Any delay associated with the software not moving through the queue
  • Non-Utilized Talent — Failing to use team members and staff who can improve your software development process
  • Transport — Waste associated with passing deliverables from one person or department to another (example: sending the software from developers to product testers and QAs)
  • Inventory — Work that’s partially completed
  • Motion — Waste associated with switching between tasks
  • Extra Processing — Reworking things like undocumented code or relearning steps in the process

When you’re going through the value-stream mapping process, it’s easy to write certain things off as “that’s just the way we’ve always done it.” The vast majority of software development processes contain lots of waste. Waste typically equals higher costs and less value, so eliminating waste is crucial to your success. 

Benefits of Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

VSM isn’t for everyone. It’s for leaders who want to maximize the value of software delivery. While it requires a bit of hard work, there are tons of benefits and advantages, including:

  • Identify pain points or bottlenecks in your DevOps process
  • Help eliminate bugs and defects from your software
  • Enhances end-to-end visibility of the product life cycle
  • Creates transparency across your software process
  • Empowers cross-functional collaboration between development teams and departments
  • Gives you the ability to identify opportunities to automate certain tasks
  • Adds context and clarity to your process with charts and visuals
  • Helps you prioritize results and KPIs

Ultimately, value stream mapping is the only way to maximize the outputs of your value streams. It ensures that your team is working at the highest level and provides you with the bandwidth required to deliver multiple software projects of high quality and maximum value. 

Applying Value Stream Management to Software Delivery and Mobile App Development

As previously mentioned, the roots of value stream management and value stream mapping can be traced back to vehicle production lines. There are a wide range of use cases for this lean business methodology. 

So I want to take a little more time to help you understand the concepts of value stream management software delivery—more specifically, mobile app development. 

The idea of value streams stems from delivering value to a customer and accommodating the customer needs. But in the case of software development, customers can be internal or external. If you’re creating mobile apps for customers as a white label reseller, then your customers are external. But if you’re creating an HR mobile app for employee communication within your organization, then your “customers” are internal.  

With value stream management, the “customer” is at the center of your decisions and process. This allows software teams to remain agile and do things differently on a project-to-project basis.

For example, some customers might want to provide more input throughout the software development process, adding critiques and feature requests along the way. 

Other stakeholders could just provide you with an end goal and let your software team run with the idea—just waiting for the final deliverable (like a mobile app).

Compared to product assembly lines, value stream management for software delivery improves the way teams manage workflows. DevOps allows agile teams to make changes multiple times per day, as opposed to taking weeks for a single update. 

VSM shortens end-to-end lead times. Certain changes or requests from stakeholders can be unpredictable. But with waste removed from your process, it’s much easier to provide continuous delivery and continuous improvements to software projects. 

Measuring Value Streams in Software Delivery

Enterprise value stream management is a holistic approach to mobile app development and software delivery. It applies the principles of agile and DevOps for the complete software delivery pipeline and maximum business value.

But all of this is based on the ability to identify waste and remove it from your software delivery process. This is impossible unless you’re evaluating and measuring actual metrics. 

Here’s an overview of what you can measure split into two categories—DevOps metrics and flow metrics:

DevOps Metrics

  • Deployment Frequency — How often code is delivered to production within the software team’s value stream.
  • Lead Time — How long it takes to get code up and running successfully in a value stream.
  • Mean Time to Repair — How long it takes to fix bugs, defects, unplanned outages, or other incidents that can impact end-users and stakeholders.
  • Change Fail Rate — Percentage of changes in production that result in service with lower value and the subsequent remediation required in a value stream.

Flow Metrics

  • Flow Item — Unit of work related to the business. These units can be features, defects, risks, or debts. 
  • Flow Time — Time it takes for flow items to go from “started” to “completed,” including active and wait times. Flow times can be used to determine when cycle times or time to values are increasing.
  • Flow Load — The amount of flow items that are in progress in a specific value stream. Flow loads monitor the overutilization and underutilization of value streams, both of which can cause a reduction in team productivity. 
  • Flow Efficiency — Ratio of active times vs. wait times of the total flow time. This metric can help you figure out if waste is increasing or decreasing in your process. 
  • Flow Distribution — Ratio of the flow items completed in a specific period of time. This metric helps identify the different types of work being completed during different time windows to see if those time frames align with desired business objectives.
  • Flow Velocity — Number of flow items completed in a specific time window. It determines whether or not value has accelerated. 

Ultimately, DevOps metrics must be incorporated into your process if you’re going to effectively measure the flow of value metrics. 

For those of you prioritizing end-to-end flow metrics, you need to use enterprise toolchains to accomplish this. These tools give you real-time visibility into your flow of work by capturing data, which automates tasks on your behalf. Trying to measure all of this manually in real-time is near impossible. But measuring value delivery is crucial for calculating return on investment.

How to Implement Value Stream Management: Steps For Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Before we dive into the steps for value stream mapping, let’s take a closer look at what value stream management consists of. At its core, the concept can be broken down into three main categories—planning, orchestration, and analytics.

  • Planning — Value stream management allows you to apply agile best practices across your entire organization for any software development project. This is crucial when you have teams working on multiple projects simultaneously with dependencies linked between different tasks, projects, and teams. 
  • Orchestration — Software development tools help you identify bottlenecks in your product pipeline. It makes it easier to standardize your process and unify teams across all departments. Orchestration encompasses compliance and task automation required to release software and mobile apps. 
  • Analytics — As previously mentioned, analytics are crucial in identifying the impact of value streams in real-time. You need to track lots of data and use that information to gather metrics, review reports, and more. 

Without getting too technical, here’s a general step-by-step approach to implementing value stream mapping (VSM) into your software development process.

Step #1 — Define the Processes in Your Value Stream

The first thing you need to do is clearly identify the stages in your value stream. You can use basic value stream management solutions or value stream management platforms to help you out with this. Even a simple Kanban board for project management makes it easy to identify the stages of your process (example: to-do, in progress, done).

In terms of value stream mapping, you’ll ultimately take those stages and divide them into subcategories. These subcategories will contain distinct processes that you’ll ultimately put into a visual value stream map. 

Step #2 — Indicate the Flow

After your steps and unique processes have been accurately added to a visual tool, it’s time to indicate your flows. This is as easy as using lines or arrows to explain the path of work items and functions throughout your software development process.

Step #3 — Gather Data and Add Timelines

Next, you need to collect the data associated with each step. Refer back to the metrics and KPIs we discussed earlier for this. You’ll want to measure things like how long it takes to complete each step and which resources are required for success. 

Add the data and benchmarks to your value stream map. For each process, add in a box with all of your resources, work time, and additional metrics for each stage. You’ll ultimately use this to create a project timeline for the process. 

This step goes beyond the hours or days required to complete an action. It must also encompass your lead times and cycle times for software delivery. 

Step #4 — Identify Lean Wastes

Once everything has been mapped through the first three steps, it’s time to go back and evaluate your process. Look for lean waste in your value stream. 

Refer back to the “DOWNTIME” acronym mentioned earlier in this guide for waste categories that are specific to software delivery. 

Step #5 — Finalize Your Value Stream Map

Now that all of the lean waste in your value streams have been identified, you’ll be able to finalize your map. Take all of the data and information you’ve gathered in the first four steps to create an ideal value stream—without all of the waste. 

Eliminating all of the waste at once might be unrealistic. So you might need to create several value stream maps to eliminate lean wastes in different stages on your path to an ideal value stream.

Conclusion

Value stream management isn’t always easy. But I hope this guide helped you understand the way it works in simple and non-technical terms.

Now that you have some basic knowledge of how value stream management and value stream mapping can be applied to software delivery, I encourage you to try it out. It’s a great way to improve your business strategy and add continuous integration and optimization to your software delivery process.

Follow the tips, tricks, best practices, and steps for value stream management that we covered in this guide.

Is It Worth It To Build A Mobile App For Your Business? [A Data Driven Answer]

As a business owner, it’s essential that you’re always making strides to take your company to the next level.

I can relate.

You wake up in the middle and think to yourself, “how can I make improvements?”

Whether it’s been on your mind for a while, or the thought just popped into your head recently, I’m assuming that you’re contemplating a mobile application – and that’s what brought you here.

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

As an expert in this industry who has experience building successful apps, I can help you make an informed decision.

Follow the trends.

For example, cloud apps are on the rise.

cloud apps

It’s estimated that by 2019, 90% of mobile data traffic will come from cloud apps.

If you’ve done some preliminary research about mobile apps, you might have found the information a little bit intimidating.

That’s OK.

It’s natural to have some reservations about something you’ve never done before.

Development takes time, effort, and money.

Depending on which route you decide to take in order to build your app, it can be very pricey, which may not be reasonable for every business.

However, there are some less expensive alternative methods for development for you to explore that will keep you within a reasonable budget.

But we’ll discuss those options in greater detail later.

So back to the question at hand here.

Is it worth it for you to build a mobile app for your business?

With apps growing in popularity, even in the small business world, I would lean towards yes.

small business

But there’s no definitive black and white answer to this question.

You’ll have to make that decision for yourself.

Here’s what I can do.

I’ll provide you with everything you need to know before you start building a mobile app.

You’ll get to learn new statistics and trends about the industry.

I’ll also provide you with real life examples of companies who had success from building an app for their business.

After reading this informative guide, you’ll be able to make an educated decision on whether or not it’s worth it for you to create a new app.

Continue reading “Is It Worth It To Build A Mobile App For Your Business? [A Data Driven Answer]”

4 Ways Your Business Can Benefit From Having a Mobile App

They’re in all of our pockets now, aren’t they?

I’m talking, of course, about mobile devices. And the core functionality of those devices (other than making phone calls, I’ve been told) is to run a whole host of applications that serve nearly every imaginable purpose.

Businesses from all corners of the world, offering a ridiculous range of products, have begun migrating from the physical world of handing out leaflets, printing advertisements, and hanging billboards, to the mobile realm. And you should too.

Now, I know what you might be thinking:

Our business doesn’t need a mobile app to sell products to our loyal customers!

And maybe that’s been the case in the past. But if you want to prepare for the future and start seeing the massive benefits right out the gate, you’ll need a mobile app.

Not so easily convinced? Then here are 4 ways (and then some) that your business will reap the benefits of creating a mobile app for your customers.

1. Provide More Value to Your Customers

Business is all about reciprocation. You offer a product, the market opens their wallets with their demand, right?

Maybe you’ve sat down with your employees and tried to nail down the best way to encourage more of this wallet-opening engagement from your customers. You want to increase their interaction with your business to promote sales, of course, but you also want to provide a level of value for your customers that they can’t get anywhere else.

One way to do this is create a loyalty program within your app. It would work like this:

The more customers interact with your business and product, the more points they collect, which can in turn be used for great deals on the products they already know they want.

Starbucks uses their mobile app to their advantage by offering rewards exclusively to app subscribers, which then motivates customers to buy coffee (And other delicious snacks) from them. They’re even more ahead of the curve by allowing their users to pay directly from the app, speeding up the whole transaction process.

starbucks

If you already have a program like this in place – great. You can incorporate it into your mobile app, digitizing the entire process, making data on their purchases available to you instantly. If you don’t have one, get on it, fast.

And when your customers see their points adding up in real time (rather than having to send in points in the mail or wait until they can access your website to enter them manually), they’ll be impressed and more enticed to follow up on their purchases in the future.

Build a profitable mobile app in less time and at a lower cost than traditional solutions with BuildFire
GET STARTED WITH BUILDFIRE

 

2. Build a Stronger Brand

One of the most important things a mobile app offers to consumers is awareness of and communication with your brand. And through that regular interaction with your target market, you’re fostering trust.

The more your audience trusts you, the more likely they’ll be to listen to later sales pitches and even commit to your brand. With an app, you’ll demonstrate to your users why they should trust you by showing (rather than telling) what your brand stands for.

In the same way as distributing fridge magnets, calendars, and other random memorabilia with your company logo on it has served in the past both as advertisement and assistance, mobile apps strengthen your brand and educate your customers.

That’s why so many businesses across all the major sectors are developing strategies for mobile apps. Check out this data from the Red Hat Mobile Maturity Survey 2015:

industry

This is more than you can shake a stick at. Everyone is getting on board.

3. Connect Better with Customers

Customer service isn’t just about face to face communication between smiling sales associates and customers anymore.

Since 2.6 billion people now have high-powered mobile devices within arm’s reach at all times, the true game-changer in customer service is now mobile apps.

Why?

Firstly, your app won’t be merely a human being, subject to mood swings and poor performance.

And, through a solid mobile presence, you’ll always know you’re presenting to the customer the same face – an interface geared specifically to provide them with the best experience of studying and deciding whether they want to buy your product.

In fact, the vast majority of marketers see their apps as a means to primarily improve customer service.

mobile-presence

Without sounding creepy, your business is always with your customer. (Okay, maybe there’s no way around that one.)

But think about it. If a person hears about your app in the middle of the night and wants to get information ASAP, all they have to do is turn on their device and download your app. Later, when a thought pops into their head that they should buy your product, they can do it immediately, without having to wait for regular business hours when normal human beings are awake.

So, if customer service is one of your top priorities (like it should be), mobile apps are the answer to raising customer satisfaction across the board.

4. Boost Profits

When customer satisfaction increases, sales typically do too. In fact, according to SalesForce, 70 percent of buying experiences are influenced by how customers feel they’re being treated.

The more interested and pleased people become with your product and your business, the greater consumer demand will grow. And let me assure you, if you have a product your customers can’t wait to get their hands on, that demand is going to provide you with some serious returns.

That’s where the mobile app comes in like none other. But it’s important to keep costs low while you’re developing it.

Sure, you should have a website with a responsible design that can adapt to any of the various mobile devices there are now. This eliminates the necessity of having a frustrating, secondary “mobile” site to manage. But if you launch a mobile app in addition to your responsive website, you’ll boost sales while enhancing the customer experience.

According to Techcrunch.com, 35.4 percent of Black Friday sales last year were completed on mobile devices. That’s up from the 16 percent they were just a few years ago, according to 2012 IBM Holiday Benchmark Reports.

Dominos App

When Domino’s Pizza created a mobile app for ordering delivery or in-store pickup of their food, they saw an ecommerce rise of 28 percent in half-year pre-tax profits in the UK alone. And I know I’d rather use their app than actually call the store.

In fact, mobile devices now account for 52 percent of their online orders.

Are you seeing a trend here? If you aren’t using a mobile app that encourages more purchases while making it easier and more exciting for your customers to press the “buy” button, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of change from an ever-growing market.

Build a profitable mobile app in less time and at a lower cost than traditional solutions with BuildFire
GET STARTED WITH BUILDFIRE

 

Other Benefits of a Mobile App

If these points haven’t solidified in your brain the necessity of a mobile app, there are still more reasons to consider adopting a mobile app strategy to encourage more customer engagement and satisfaction.

  • Inform users of new products and offers
  • Stand out from the competition
  • Reach out to younger demographics
  • Sync users’ email and social media accounts

And if you structure it correctly, you can receive a ton of analytics on exactly how people interact with your app. These range from the average time a user spends looking at your app, to the amount of money you make from every purchase.

app

Another point to think about is location data. Apps are now, more than ever, providing their creators with location data on their users. If you were to apply this to your business, you could learn when and where people were purchasing your products most often, or which parts of the world are most interested in your business.

Once you finally decide to develop your app, it may simply start out as a portal to the same options you’ve made available on your company website. But it has room to evolve into so much more. Eventually, you might even rely on your app to inform you as to the new directions you can take your business to continue confidently into the future.

mobile-maturity

If your business were to continue operating without this functionality, you might be left in the dark on these data while your competition takes advantage of it to skyrocket their sales and expand their businesses.

The Bottom Line

90 percent of companies plan to increase investment in mobile apps in 2016. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll be left behind your competitors.

presence

And no, a mobile app may not save your business, but it is a sure way of securing a strong presence in your industry. Instead of being some abstract concept of a brand your customers appreciate, that they imagine has a headquarters in some faraway city – you’ll be right in their pockets. Your logo will be placed on their mobile phone screens by default.

Just make sure you promote your app after it launches.

The convenience factor coupled with the undeniably cool element of new, rapidly evolving technology will place your business on the forefront of your industry. And hey, don’t you want to pull your device out of your pocket and play around on something you helped create?

Does your business have a mobile app? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below in the comments section!

 

Mobile Apps vs Mobile Sites: Which One Is Good For Business?

Trying to choose between a mobile app and a mobile site for your business?

That’s a problem of the wise. Businesses really need to go mobile—especially because the vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%.

Not taking advantage of this is just letting your competition get free reign.

So here we are. I know that getting an app or having a website built is not a simple undertaking, so I want to help you make the right decision.

In this post, I will try my best to help you make your decision by detailing what mobile apps and mobile sites do for businesses.

Which one is for you?

Before we go into the details, let’s just go over the reasons why you really need to be on mobile.

★ 40% of consumers have turned to a competitor after having an awful mobile experience

★ More people are searching on their phones year over year

★ 67% of consumers said mobile friendly sites make them more likely to buy a product or use a service

★ 50% of mobile searches lead to purchase

It’s simple. If you’re not on mobile, you’re losing customers. You’re losing money.

Google has emphasized the need for businesses to be present on mobile that it made adjustments to its search engine to accommodate the surge of mobile users. Mobile sites and mobile apps are taking center stage in that sites are expected to have a mobile counterpart be it with an app or with a site.

For small businesses, there are case studies left and right when it comes to both mobile websites and mobile apps.

Before we proceed, I need to tell you that in the end, you know your business better than anyone else. More importantly, you know your target and clients better than anyone. So I can only provide you with facts and recommendations. In the end, the decision is yours and no one else can really answer it for you with 100 percent sureness.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s try to look at what a mobile website and a mobile app can do for your business.

From there, you can decide.

Ready?

Mobile Website or Mobile App: What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with the similarities between the two. Both the mobile website and the mobile app:

  • are designed to be accessed by a mobile device such as smartphone or tablet
  • incorporate mobile-only features, such as click to call and geo-location mapping
  • have design elements scaled to look good and work properly on smaller mobile screens
  • enable social sharing with friends and followers
  • can be structured around e-commerce/m-commerce
  • facilitate certain mobile marketing functions

Before we move on to the differences between mobile websites and mobile apps, it’s important to point out a caveat: A responsive designed website is not the same as a mobile website.

For the purposes of this article, “mobile website” refers to separate URLs on either a mobile subdomain (m.mysite.com) or a separate mobile domain (mysite.mobi).

Now let’s look at the main differences between a mobile website and a mobile app. Unlike a mobile website, a mobile app:

  • resides on the mobile device; it must be downloaded and installed
  • usually has features and content that can be accessed without a Wi-Fi connection
  • interacts with, and often integrates, mobile device features such as the camera, contact list, calendar, etc.
  • offers a virtually on-demand communications channel between the business and the user

As a general rule, a mobile website should be the first step in your mobile marketing strategy, the bare minimum for businesses that must establish a mobile presence in a world increasingly dominated by mobile devices. A mobile app, on the other hand, complements the mobile website by helping users accomplish certain tasks much more easily than they could on the mobile website, and by advancing mobile marketing goals.

Mobile Websites

A mobile website is a mobile version of your desktop website. It is separate from your desktop site and is designed for exclusive mobile use. Mobile websites typically do not have as much content as desktop sites. It has limited pages and each page is optimized to match what people usually need when using mobile to access websites.

Why you need a mobile website

★ Mobile websites make your business reachable from any mobile device that has a browser. And now, all smartphones have browsers meaning your business will be accessible by 61 percent of the US population if you have a mobile site.

★ Mobile websites are an extension of your brand. If you have a desktop site, people will assume you have a mobile website. That means a lot because it’s been widely reported that more than half of users tend to have negative opinions of a brand when they can’t access it from their phones.

★ There are no downloads necessary. Just a browser and users can pop right into your site.

★ Mobile sites improve your search rankings, even for your desktop site. Search engines like Bing and Google openly declare that they favor sites that offer good mobile experience when ranking on the search page.

★ If your site is hosted on WordPress or Joomla and you don’t want to have a separate mobile site developed for your business because of cost, time and other reasons, it’s not difficult to make a mobile-friendly version of your site just by adding a component that makes it responsive.

“Responsive” is a word used to describe websites that are designed to be pretty, usable and viewable from any device.

Make your website mobile-friendly

On Tuesday, April 21st 2015, Google rolled out its ‘mobile-friendly’ algorithm update. With an increasing number of people conducting searches on mobile devices, Google has determined that in order to maximize user-experience on mobile, they need to prioritise mobile-friendly websites, ensuring that searchers are getting an optimal experience through search matches.

 

The announcement has sent many into a panic with some even dubbing the update ‘mobile-geddon’, fearing their Google referral traffic would fall away entirely if their website was not optimized for mobile users. And it’s true, as noted in Google’s official announcement:

 

If your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search.

 

If your site’s not optimized for mobile searchers, you’re likely to lose some of that Google traffic.

 

As part of their official announcement, Google offered two tests where users can check the mobile-friendliness of their websites. How much does it cost? They are free. In the first, you can test individual pages of your site to check their mobile compliance. It’s worth noting that

Google’s update is a ‘page-level’ change, not ‘site-level’ – so if ten of the pages on your site are not mobile-friendly, but the rest of them are, only those ten pages will be affected by this algorithm update (the update does not impact on desktop or tablet search rankings, only mobile searches).

 

The second test Google provides checks the mobile-friendliness of your entire site using Google Webmaster Tools. Based on the information provided in this report, you can update and optimise your pages accordingly, then either wait for Google to re-check your site and re-index your pages, or you can submit your site to Google to get them to re-check your content immediately. Even if you opt not to go down this route, it’s worth checking these reports out to see how much your site is likely to be affected by the change.

 

You could also consider building a mobile version of your existing website, though given the massive increase in mobile usage; it makes more sense in the long term to build a site that one mobile and desktop-friendly.

 

responsive design
Responsive Web Design

Mobile Apps

mobile app is a software application made specifically for use on smart phones and other small, wireless devices such as tablets and smart watches. They are developed entirely separately from your website.

In the beginning, apps were made to provide users with a similar experience to a website they can access on desktop. Today, apps are usually highly-specialized individual software that serves as part of a business’s mobile strategy.

Why you need a mobile app

★ US users spend more than two hours a day on their smartphones where 86 percent is spent on apps.

★ Apps can serve many functions. They can deliver general information like prices and events, they can facilitate booking, search, be a platform for personalized service, can have messengers, and much more. Perhaps the biggest advantage to having an app is that you give the user a complete experience when they’re inside your app.

★ It reinforces your brand or you can create a smaller branding subset through your app. You can use your app to market to a certain segment of your base and target.

For example, you own a bakery and baking supply shop, you can market to home cooks and stay at home moms through a specialized app that takes into consideration this particular customer segment when it comes to design, messaging and other brand components.

★Stand out from the competition. Let’s face it: Apps are the Jaguars of the business world. If you have an app, you’re already ahead of the competition both by giving customers another way to reach you and by having the addition cool factor of having an app. C’mon, apps are cool.

Apps
Mobile apps connect you to customers

★Cut through the noise of websites by providing an all around experience that is centered on your business. When you bring customers into your app, you connect with them without all the distractions of the wider web. Apps allow you to”stay close” with your customers.

Mobile Apps vs Mobile Websites: The Cons

Having an app and a mobile website will help your business, but what if just want to choose one? Here’s a rundown of the cons of each one.

Mobile Website Cons

If you have a desktop website, it’s pretty simple to setup a mobile site. If you had someone else or an agency develop your site, it shouldn’t take a lot cost and time-wise to setup a mobile site. That said, businesses should have mobile sites. For the purposes of comparison, here’s how they stack up against mobile apps.

★ No app store presence As a business, being visible on all marketing channels is useful.

★ No push notifications Push notifications are a delicate but amazing way to communicate with your audience. It can be highly targeted and is aligned with their interests.

★ No offline access Mobile websites need the internet to work.

★ A challenge to design If you’ve put mobile web design duties to someone who isn’t familiar with usability practices and performance benchmarks, your site can be useless and do more harm than good.

Mobile App Cons

The truth is that comparing mobile apps and mobile websites is like asking to choose between bread and butter. Bread is great, but it’s awesome with butter. Right? Since mobile websites are easier to get up, an mobile app need to have a strong argument for itself if you were to consider getting one set up.

★ Added setup This used to be a pretty strong con against mobile apps, but now with app building solutions like BuildFire, getting an app up and running isn’t really hard and definitely doesn’t take a long time. For a business, the app doesn’t have to be very elaborate at the start. The setup can be quick if you’ve planned ahead.

★Extra cost
It’s rare that a business wants to have a fully custom app developed for them. Whether for functions like booking, mobile commerce store or as a customer service channel, app builders are able to provide a drag and drop platform for a fraction of the price of custom apps. Builders can charge anywhere for $30 to $100 monthly, which saves you a lot in upfront costs and ongoing support.

★ It’s more work Mobile apps might be drag and drop but they’re not definitely going to operate themselves. Apps should be part of a larger mobile strategy and marketing strategy. You need to have someone who will spend time learning the ropes of app marketing so you can maximize your app and get a good return on your investment. It’s more work but it promises more returns.

What Are the Advantages of a Mobile App for Small Business?

Let’s start with the whole reason behind cultivating a mobile presence: You want a way to connect with and engage your customers when they are using a mobile device. Mobile devices, by their very nature, are more intimate and personal than their desktop or laptop counterparts—when’s the last time you took your computer to bed with you (or anywhere else for that matter)?

And that leads us to one of the most potent advantages a mobile app has over a mobile website:

Mobile apps provide a superior user experience.

A mobile app does much more than just repackage stale web content and streamline mobile web functionality; it takes the user experience to a whole new level by combining content, navigation, and integrated mobile device functionality in a way that optimizes the user’s relationship to his smartphone or tablet.

It is simply not possible for a mobile app to mimic the user experience a mobile app permits. Native apps engage the user beyond the capabilities of a display-only mobile website and provide a more personal, efficient, and responsive overall experience.

The superior user experience is one reason that mobile device users spend 86 percent of their time interacting with mobile apps compared to just 14 percent using mobile browsers.

Mobile apps give you a direct communication channel to your customers.

A mobile app resides on the user’s device, which means it’s always there, reminding them of your brand even when they aren’t actively engaging with it.

In addition, your app lets you put the information you most want your customers to have right at their fingertips, whether that’s information about products, prices, sales, promotions—whatever you want. When paired with push notifications, you are approaching a level of direct interaction mobile marketers dream about.

Mobile apps are better for customer engagement.

Increased customer engagement is partly a function of the superior user experience, but it’s also because mobile apps integrate so many different activities and capabilities. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • A customer uses a restaurant app to reserve a table for herself and three guests, export the reservation to iCal, email the confirmation to her friends using her address book, collect loyalty rewards points, set a reservation reminder, pull up step-by-step directions to the restaurant, take a selfie with her friends at dinner and share it on social media, post a review on Yelp!, redeem a digital coupon, and even pay for her meal.
  • A customer uses a home store’s e-commerce app to browse DIY projects, discuss ideas in the store’s social forum, use augmented reality to imagine the project in his own home, calculate the amount of materials he will need; order, pay for, and track shipment of his products, watch a step-by-step instructional video, and share photos of his completed project on his social networks.

Mobile apps have functionality even when they are offline.

This is a major advantage over mobile websites, since your customers can access information on your app even if they aren’t connected to the Internet. You can build menus, maps, product lists, podcasts, games, how-to libraries, guides, videos, reading lists—there’s no real limit to the offline information you can bake into your app.

Your mobile app can actually optimize and extend the assets in your mobile website.

Think of the mobile app as a natural way to curate all the native resources and data feeds (videos, news, social, etc.)  as well as specific pages from your mobile website and combine them with relevant external and/or third-party resources and capabilities.

Here’s how a “curated” mobile experience might look for a large farmer’s market:

The app would be loaded with information visitors would need at a glance, such as a map of vendor stalls, schedule of cooking and food prep demos, directions for parking and mass transportation, and a calendar of season produce availability in the region, and a newsletter signup form.

Embedded web pages from the mobile site might have detailed information on canning or pickling fruits and vegetables, nutritional information, and in-depth vendor descriptions and links to vendor websites, and route maps with links to public transportation systems.

 

Then app-only functionality could be layered in to enhance the user experience:

  • iBeacons to trigger alerts and messages as the visitors wandered through the market
  • Push notifications to notify users when a new vendor joins the market or new products are available, or to alert them to upcoming sales, promotions, and events
  • Integrated event calendar and registration for classes, demos, and seminars
  • GPS pathfinding to help them locate a particular stall or amenity quickly
  • An interactive shopping list to help customers plan their visit
  • Integrated electronic payment to streamline checkout
  • Integrated YouTube or Vimeo channels to give users access to a library of how-to videos and demos
  • Built-in loyalty program to incentivize return customers and simplify the process of redeeming awards
  • SMS text notification to alert a customer that an order is ready for pickup
  • In-app social networking to enable visitors to engage and interact with attendees while shopping.

This is just a small example of the ways a mobile app extends the usefulness of your mobile website and creates a more engaging, holistic, and useful experience for your customers.

So, which is good for business?

The answer: Both.

I’m trying really hard not to be biased here. I don’t like mobile browsers. But since the dawn of smart phones with huge screens, they’ve become more tolerable and usable.

I think since it’s easy to setup, all businesses should have at least a mobile website.

However, if you want to bring your business’s mobile presence on a whole new level, getting a mobile app is mandatory. Through your app, you can possibly open up a new revenue stream and bring better service to your customers.

In today’s mobile-driven world, the question for small businesses shouldn’t be whether you should build a mobile website or a mobile app; the better question is how you can integrate the two into a highly effective mobile presence that advances your marketing goals.

With a mobile website to expand your top of the funnel activities, such as awareness and education, and a mobile app to advance lower funnel goals (conversion, engagement, customer loyalty), your small business will be head and shoulders above the competition.

Since it’s not a lot to have one up, you should really think it over.

Make sure you have a mobile website setup, then review your options for having a mobile app running.

Got specific questions for your business? Happy to answer your questions in the comments below!

3 Successful Mobile Apps and What Your Business Can Learn From Them

With about 64% of Americans owning a smartphone of some kind, it’s a great time to build an app for your business.

But if you want to do that, you can’t just dive in head-first and expect instant success. It’s best to look at the strategies that have worked for other companies in the past and determine what you can learn from the way they launched, marketed, or designed their app.

So, let’s talk about some successful apps now, the strategies they used to succeed, and how you can apply those strategies to your own app.

1. Afterlight

If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably heard of Afterlight, a one-of-a-kind photo editing app that has gained lots of popularity for all of the options it offers users. According to data collected in December 2015, it has consistently ranked as one of the top 5 photo/video apps as far as downloads.

I’m not going to talk about the interface, the functionality, or even how awesome it can make your photos look. I’m going to talk about something else:

The app’s pricing.

Many apps are either free with in-app purchases or paid with no in-app purchases. But Afterlight is different. You’ve got to pay 99 cents to download it, and you also need to pay extra for certain photo filters.

But guess what?

The product is so good that people don’t mind the fees. They download the app and love it.

Don’t just take my word for it. Look up Afterlight in the app store, and you’ll see that it is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars with tons of positive customer reviews.

Because they have delivered a high-quality product that lots of people are interested in, Afterlight’s creators have found success charging for both the initial app download and in-app upgrades.

If you’re going to charge for your app too (whether you also offer in-app purchases or not), you’ve got to make sure it’s something people won’t regret paying for. Obviously, you should think that way any time you create an app, but you’ll find that paying customers have much higher expectations than customers who didn’t have to pay anything to download your app.

What I’m getting at is this:

If you offer your app for free and it doesn’t live up to peoples’ expectations, they’ll simply delete the app and go on with their day. However, if you anger paying customers by not delivering the value you’ve promised in your app description, you’ll likely end up with bad reviews.

They’ll feel ripped off and therefore more resentful towards you. And that’s not something you should take lightly since bad app reviews affect your app’s rankings.

Be honest with yourself about the value/quality of your app, and let your analysis guide the way you structure the app’s pricing. After all, picking the wrong way to price your app can make all the difference when it comes to your number of downloads and happy customers.

 

2. Snapchat

Snapchat is wildly popular among millennials – data from 2014 even shows that millennials use it more than they use Twitter.

Snapchat has consistently placed in the top 5 social apps in the United States. So, they must be doing something right.

…Right?

Of course. They’ve created an app like no other that appeals heavily to their target audience.

With all of their success, they could have kept their app the same. But they didn’t.

In fact, they recently made a pretty big change to the app, adding photo lenses that make it more fun to take selfies.

And the lenses have been a huge hit. Snapchat was smart to add them, no doubt.

Think about it. People primarily use Snapchat to take selfies, and these new lenses open up a whole new set of possibilities for selfies.

If you’re a Snapchat user, you know that the app started offering paid lenses shortly after featuring free ones. And now, they’re making even more money from their already-successful app – all because they weren’t afraid to make a strategic change.

So, why does this matter to you?

Well, it’s a good example of why you shouldn’t be afraid of change. Change is good as long as you’re smart about it, like Snapchat has been.

While you don’t want to make people pay for features that should really be free, try to think about what you can charge for. Ask yourself what else your app could offer that might improve its value even more in the eyes of your target audience, and offer it.

3. Mylo

This app isn’t available for the general public to download yet, so I can’t talk about how successful it has been in the past or how many people have downloaded it.

But what I will say is this: the creator of Mylo, Daniel Eckler, clearly understands how to successfully build anticipation for an app before it’s released.

He published a blog post on Medium (“The 21 Best-designed Apps of 2015”) and smartly included Mylo as one of the featured apps without making the post feel like a sales pitch.

Now, everyone who reads that post will learn about the Mylo app, helping it gain visibility among people who are interested in well-designed apps.

On top of that, Daniel has created an awesome landing page to help build anticipation for his app.

He’s trying to capture email addresses to let people know when the app will be available to them. Again, smart.

In general, the landing page’s excellent design and enticing copy makes it memorable and effective. When you scroll through it, you immediately get a sense of what that app does, who it’s for, and why it’s useful.

As if that wasn’t enough to convince people to give the app a try, there’s also a video on the landing page that shows exactly how someone might use the app.

So clearly, the creator of Mylo understands marketing and the importance of giving his target audience lots of information about the app before it’s launched.

And the proof is in the numbers.

Okay – so now I know that over 35K people are already interested in this app. Pretty impressive.

And the email encourages inviting friends to sign up for Mylo. This is another smart move that’ll result in even more people excitedly awaiting the app’s launch.

What I’m getting at is this:

If you want to launch your app successfully, you’ve got to aggressively market it and build anticipation among your ideal customers.

Here are a few ways you can build some serious buzz for your app:

  • Start building relationships with popular bloggers and editors of publications (go after the ones who publish content that appeals to your target audience) that might be willing to feature a review of your app. Keep in mind that you’ll need to do this far before your app’s launch so you have plenty of time to make genuine connections and get something published. (You can learn how to craft a good pitch by reading this blog post.)
  • Post your app on PreApps. When you post your app in this online community, you can start building an email list and getting the feedback you need from your audience to launch the most successful app possible.
  • Create a landing page. If you do this, make sure your page clearly states what your app does, who it’s for, and how it’s used (just like the Mylo landing page). And don’t forget to use your landing page to capture email addresses – that way, you can stay in touch with your audience and let them know when your app is launched.

Follow these tips, and you can improve your chances of having an eager audience who can’t wait to get their hands on your app when it launches.

The way you handle your app’s marketing, development, or launch can mean the difference between huge success and total failure.

Don’t let that scare you away from making your own app though – just let it make you a bit more cautious about how you approach the entire process. Using a solid strategy will help ensure that you see a good return on your investment.

Which of these tips will you plan to use when developing your company’s mobile app? Share in the comments section!

 

Yes, Your Small Business Needs a Mobile App

If you’re in charge of marketing for an SME, you’re probably at least considering whether or not your business needs a mobile app. With something like 1.4 million apps each in Google Play and the App Store, you might also be thinking the market is saturated, so why bother?

Or maybe you already invested time and resources into building an amazing mobile website, so your customers are covered when they want info on the go about your business. On the surface, it makes sense. But ask yourself these questions:

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  • How often does a customer take a picture of your product with your website and share it on their social sites?
  • Does your website tell you when a valued customer walks in your door?
  • Can your website give special perks and discounts to customers with high social influence?
  • Will your website push coupons and incentives to customers when they are within a certain radius of your store?
  • Does your website customize the shopping experience for regular visitors?

These are just a few examples of the inherent marketing value your mobile app offers over a mobile website. And with in-app capabilities such as biometrics, geolocation, sensors, and cameras, the possibilities are virtually endless. Still wondering if your small business needs a mobile app? Then consider the role of the smartphone.

Mobile Is King

If you’re in business, you know that mobile is where the action’s at today—just look at the stats. Since 2008, the average smartphone user has gone from spending just a few minutes a day on his device to spending nearly three hours each day consuming mobile digital media. In 2014, mobile use topped desktop use for the first time, and that trend is only growing year over year.

Image via SmartInsights

Even more important: About 90 percent of those three hours each day is spent interacting with apps on the mobile device—just over 10 percent is spent on mobile websites.

If you’re banking on your mobile website to capture your customers’ attention, you might want to think again.

Need more proof? In November 2013, Google released research mapping the path to purchase for mobile customers across nine verticals, including restaurants, travel, fashion, health, automotive, and home and garden. The results were surprising: Only 48 percent of users began their journey using mobile search, far below the percentage using search on a desktop.

In fact, nearly three in 10 consumers began their path to purchase on a branded mobile app. Consumers showed a preference to research products where branded apps existed—a promising finding for businesses planning to launch an app. Location marketing firm xAD found that:

  • 42% of smartphone users who browse products on the go plan to make a purchase within an hour.
  • 69% of these on-the-go users will convert in the store.

In addition, the number of customers who “showroom,” or research products on their smartphone while in the store, has quadrupled since 2013.

The key takeaways for mobile marketers are:

  • Consumers are more dependent than ever on their mobile devices as they move along the path to purchase.
  • Consumers expect information on demand—and proximity is the key to conversion; geolocation services enable businesses to anticipate and meet their customers’ needs.
  • Mobile marketing is the key to capitalizing on impulse shopping by delivering a highly personalized shopping experience.

But I Have a Mobile Website, Why Do I Need a Mobile App?

This is a common question for SMEs with limited resources and budgets. The great thing is that mobile marketing with websites and apps is not an either/or proposition; in fact, a mobile website and native app work hand in hand to accomplish your marketing objectives and advance your revenue goals. Here’s a look at the functionality and advantages of both mobile websites and a mobile apps.

Mobile Website Mobile App
Marketing Objective Attracting new customers Creating loyal customers
Mechanism of Use Open a browser, enter website URL Tap an icon on smartphone screen
User Interaction Customer visits, completes an activity, exits. Open, two-way and ongoing; push notifications enable on-demand communication
Marketing Advantage More responsive to search queries (in most cases) Engagement, loyalty, and ease of use. App “lives” on user’s device.

Businesses who limit their mobile presence to a responsive website risk the “buy and bye” scenario: A customer finds you on mobile search, shops or even makes a purchase, and disappears, perhaps forever.On the other hand, businesses who focus solely on marketing via a mobile app might miss out on finding new customers all together.

The most successful marketers use their mobile website to attract new customers and convince them to download their app— generating an opportunity for profitable, ongoing relationships by creating engagement, building loyalty, expanding social reach, and delivering highly personalized shopping experiences.

How Small Businesses Are Using Mobile Apps

Pretty much everyone with a smartphone has branded apps from major retailers and chains residing on it, but you’d be surprised at how many SMEs are getting into the app market, too. Clutch, an app development research company, did some recent research into how small businesses are using apps to achieve their goals.

Highlights from the study—

  • About 15% of small businesses had created a native app by late 2015.
  • Of those, one third were developed in 2014.
  • 18% of SMBs plan to create or launch an app next year.

SMBs listed the following top reasons for creating an app:

  1. Improve customer service (76%)
  2. Increase sales (37%)
  3. Compete with other businesses (35%)

And finally, SMBs found their mobile apps were most useful for:

  • using push notifications to engage nearby customers
  • rewarding loyal clients and customers with perks and points
  • in-app order entry and payments, streamlining commerce and freeing up staff

You’ve heard the adage that it’s far cheaper to keep the customers you have than to acquire new ones? Your small business app goes a long way toward achieving that goal.

Planning a Small Business Mobile App

Once you’ve decided an app is the right step for your business, it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of planning your app. Depending on the size of your organization, the usual first step is to appoint an app team—a group of stakeholders that represents the major business functions in your organization. For most, this means a representative from the C-suite, your marketing department head, and someone from IT who understands the development and support process.

Your app team’s first step is to make a list of what you want your app to accomplish. These usually fall into one of three categories: Acquisition, engagement, and conversion. Once you’ve defined your objectives, consider the features your app needs to achieve them.

Some of the most popular app features today include:

  • Push Notifications

This is one of the most valuable app features since it enables timely, relevant, on-demand communication (that won’t get caught in a SPAM filter). Combined with location-based messaging, push notifications can provide a uniquely personalized experience.

  • Geolocation and Map Integration

Know exactly where your customers are and give them detailed directions on how to find you. Take advantage of location-based coupons or incentives or notify staff when a VIP customer enters your store.

  • Mobile Shopping/Mobile Payments

This is a must-have feature for most mobile apps—make it as easy as possible for your customers to shop for and purchase your products and services.

  • Integrated Loyalty Program

Manage your loyalty program through your mobile app so customers can easily acquire, monitor, and redeem their points using the mobile device.

  • Social Integration

Integrate all your social media platforms and make it easy for your customers to connect and engage with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

  • One-Touch Contact

This should be obvious, but remember to include all your contact information: one-click calling, emailing, and social connect. Why not add step-by-step directions with a single tap?

  • Virtual Reality

Ever wanted to show a client how she’d look in a new hairstyle? Or maybe convince a customer that black leather sofa would look great in his living room? For certain businesses, these interactive features are a huge marketing tool and way to build engagement.

  • Smart Sync and Smart Updates

Automatically push updates and sync content across all your digital channels with your mobile app.

After you’ve mapped out what you want your app to do and the features you want to include, it’s time to answer key questions, such as:

  • What platform will you use for your app? Google Analytics will give you insight into what devices your customers use.
  • What is your timeline for launch? Are there special events, such as the opening of a new branch or introduction of a new product or service, that would dovetail with the app launch?
  • What is your app budget? Include both development, support, and marketing costs in your planning.
  • How will you build and support your app? Most small businesses can build full-featured, attractive apps using a platform like BuildFire, but some prefer to hire out app development. 

The answers to these questions will guide your app development roadmap and decision-making going forward.

Marketing Your Mobile App on a Small Business Budget

Launching your mobile app is just the first step; getting your customers and potential customers to download and use it takes just as much work. Marketing your app on a small business budget requires a creative approach that maximizes the tools you have.

Your first step is to build a landing page—that may evolve into a website over time—to promote your app. You’ll need this for app discoverability and SEO on mobile search after launch. Be sure your mobile website and social profiles link to your app landing page, and showcase your app’s most unique and useful features with compelling screenshots and video demos. Build it out with user ratings and reviews as your app gets more visibility.

Tap into your existing customer base and offer them an incentive to download your app; a free sample, discount coupon, or handful of loyalty points are all attractive offers. Don’t forget to ask your users to rate your app, too, since this affects ASO and discoverability.

Reach out to social influencers and ask them to review your app. This yields powerful benefits in terms of exposure, traffic, and backlinks that improve your search results. Remember that ASO and SEO work hand-in-glove with mobile app discovery; don’t just rely on app store searches to get your app in front of your customers.

Pay attention to best practices for app store optimization, too:

  • Do keyword research and come up with a snappy title.
  • Design an eye-catching icon.
  • Include compelling screenshots.
  • Write a top-notch description.
  • Work on getting good ratings.

Marketing your app is an ongoing process, but one that pays off over time in return on investment.

The Road to ROI

No matter how you develop and support your app, you’ll always have an eye toward recouping your costs—and measuring the impact of your investment on your overall marketing strategy. Every business is different, but these are KPIs you’ll definitely want to track to gauge your success in reaching users, retaining users, and creating paying customers.

Reaching Users

  • Number of downloads
  • Number of active users (users who have opened the app in a predetermined time interval)
  • New user growth rate

Retaining Users

  • Number of sessions per user
  • Length of session
  • Session interval
  • Number of permissions granted (access to location, photo library, etc)
  • Churn rate (total number of customers divided by uninstalls for a predetermined time interval)

Creating Paying Customers

  • Average revenue per user
  • Transactions per customer
  • Customer lifetime value

Measuring these KPIs gives you the information you need to financially validate your decision to create an app. It also helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your overall mobile marketing strategy and pinpoint areas to build on loyalty and engagement to generate even greater returns.

While small businesses have been somewhat hesitant in the past to jump into the mobile app market, today’s highly mobile consumers make competing in the mobile realm a necessity for businesses of every size. Having a mobile website is a great first start, but a mobile app gives you the edge in creating a highly engaged and loyal customer base.