Ready to Take the Next Step? A Mobile App Primer for Small Business - BuildFire
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Ready to Take the Next Step? A Mobile App Primer for Small Business

If you’re marketing for an SME, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “mobile first,” especially as it applies to your customer’s buying journey. After all, this is an era driven by mobile devices—according to a recent survey, 90 percent of shoppers actually used their smartphones in the store.

Customers love the convenience of shopping with their mobile devices, even in local brick-and-mortar stores. In fact:

  • 54 percent used their smartphones to compare prices.
  • 48 percent researched product features.
  • 42 percent checked online product reviews.

More importantly, however—

  • 76 percent said they’d be more likely to shop at a store with a loyalty rewards program, and
  • 57 percent said they’d be more likely to shop at a store if they got a push notification about a deal or promotion.

What this tells smart marketers is that, far from being a detriment, “showrooming” is actually a mobile behavior can leverage to their advantage. To stay competitive, brands need to see the mobile device as an extension of the shopping experience and develop a marketing strategy that captures its potential.

What does that mean, exactly, for the marketing director of an SME? For starters, it means remapping the customer buying journey with an emphasis on the behaviors of your target demographic, which in most cases leads decisively to a mobile first mentality—from your website to your marketing spend, and ultimately, a mobile app.

Mapping the Mobile Customer Journey

The path to purchase has undergone a seismic shift in the past decade or so. Take a look:




Go to the mall or supermarket

Identify a need

(personal, gift-giving, occasion)

Discover a need

(personal, gift-giving, occasion)

Check online reviews

and recommendations

Compare products in-store

or between stores in mall

Select a product or service

to purchase

Select a product or service

to buy

Compare merchants, prices online;

select supplier

Purchase in store

Make purchase,

either online or in person

Mobile is with the consumer every step of the way; it’s more about behavior than technology, and here is where a mobile-first marketing strategy really pays off:

  • It’s contextual—you are getting the right message to the right consumer at the right time in the decision-making process.
  • It’s constant—consumers have their devices with them all the time, a virtual bridge between the digital and physical world.
  • It’s personal—new technology lets marketers customize the experience at each point in the buying journey.

Does Your Small Business Really Need a Mobile App?

Image via

In a nutshell, most likely. Let’s look at another parallel between then and now: The year is 2000, just over a decade ago, and a web designer walks into a local bakery for a donut and coffee. He looks for the owner…

Web Designer: Hey, love your shop. Do you have a website? I can build one for you.

Owner: Nah, I don’t need all that fancy stuff.

Web Designer: Why not? How will people find your shop?

Owner: I have a sign, I advertise in the paper, I’m fine.

Web Designer: But how about online? How will new customers find you on the Internet?

Owner: The Internet? That’s for the big guys. I have my regular customers, I don’t need the Internet.

Sound familiar? The owner of 2000 couldn’t see into the future; he didn’t know what he didn’t know—especially about the way the Internet would change the world of commerce. And so it is with mobile apps.

The truth is, most small businesses will benefit from building a mobile app, especially with today’s cost-effective app-building platforms. Here’s why apps work, especially for small business:

  • Downloaded on a smartphone, your mobile app gives your brand constant visibility and increases brand recognition.
  • You have a direct communications channel with your customers; no spam folders to bypass.
  • Your app can be a value-added service, giving your customers a convenient, personalized buying experience.
  • Providing new ways for your customers to interact with your brand builds engagement.
  • Digitized rewards programs in your mobile app build customer loyalty.
  • Mobile apps help you stand out from your competition.

A mobile app may not be a necessity—yet—but given mobile’s increasing dominance, and its increasing role in the path to purchase, the time is right to explore your options.

Making the Mobile App Decision

Some SMEs believe that their mobile website accomplishes all of their mobile marketing goals; perhaps it does. But before you stop reading, let’s look at some ways a mobile app is far superior to a mobile website:

  1. Mobile apps offer better personalization, and personalization is a key driver of conversions.
  2. In-app and push notifications are a great alternative to email, with its low (and dropping) open and click-through rates.
  3. Apps integrate smartphone capabilities (phone, contact list, calendar, camera, GPS, for example) for a more personal, interactive, and interesting experience.
  4. Many mobile app features and functions work offline, and they work more quickly than mobile websites.
  5. A mobile app icon serves as a constant branding reminder on a user’s mobile phone—it’s a one-step link to your business.

In the end, developing an app often comes down to these questions:

  • What do your customers want? Mobile-dependent millennials, for example, keep about 35 apps on their devices and spend about 90 percent of their mobile time using them.
  • Can you afford it? This depends on the features you want and the path you take to develop your app. Thanks to today’s DIY app-building tools, even a small business can build and support a mobile app on a modest budget.
  • Will it help you achieve your marketing goals? For many SMEs, a mobile website and a mobile app work hand-in-glove to advance mobile marketing goals in a way neither option can achieve on its own.

Must-Have Features for Your Mobile App

Every business has unique goals and objectives, but there are some mobile app features that have universal appeal. When you’re brainstorming your app, don’t forget these features in your list of must-haves:

  • Local context. This is extremely important for SMEs with brick-and-mortar shops, since customers are much more likely to visit a store when they get an alert or notification. Local context is also key to personalizing the app experience.
  • Smart push notifications. Push notifications based on the user’s behavior or circumstance, and transactional notifications, provide unique value to your customers and let you more selectively target your communications.
  • Social integration. Extend the reach of your social media and mobile marketing by integrating these capabilities in your mobile app.
  • Offline capabilities. One advantage of apps over mobile websites is their ability to work without Wi-Fi. Give customers access to important content even in offline mode.

Planning Your Mobile App

Once you’ve made the decision to build a mobile app, it’s time to assemble your app team and begin spelling out your plans. It’s a good idea to include executive management, sales and marketing, and IT in your app team; you can balance your needs and wants against your in-house capacity and budget. Here’s a simple 8-step plan to get you started:

  1. Write down what you want your app to accomplish. A food truck owner, for example, may want to let customers know where he’ll be and provide directions, view the day’s menu, place an order, and accumulate loyalty points.
  2. Check out successful apps for other businesses in your market niche and list the features and elements you like.
  3. Establish your budget and timeline; decide what you can accomplish in-house and what you’ll contract out.
  4. Sketch out your app and map out its navigation. There are several free online wireframing and mockup tools available to help you create an interactive prototype you can test and refine until you’re happy with the way your app looks and functions.
  5. Create your app marketing plan (covered in detail in the next section).
  6. Decide how what you’ll need on the backend and whether you’ll build it in-house or use a cloud-based backend service (BaaS) platform.
  7. Complete the actual coding to build the app. If you’ve hired an app developer, you’ll want to set milestones for deliverables. If you’re using an app-building platform, this is where you’ll actually start putting your designs together into a functional app.
  8. Test your completed app and make sure every feature works in real-world scenarios. Work out any technical glitches and navigational dead-ends. Submit your app to the appropriate app stores.
  9. Release your app and start tracking your success.

Marketing Your Mobile App

Your amazing app won’t make a return on investment—let alone achieve your marketing goals—if no one knows it exists or how to find it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking marketing is an afterthought or a once-and-done activity. Your marketing department should be involved in app promotion from day one.

Your first marketing tasks include choosing a name for your app, designing a logo, and doing keyword research. You’ll need keywords for app store optimization (ASO) and SEO, both of which work together for app discoverability and getting people to download your app. Remember, not all apps will be an extension of your business name: Chamin, for example, has an app named “Sit or Squat” lets people rate public restrooms, share their reviews, and find the cleanest facilities nearby.

It’s important to add a landing page to your website announcing your app; include a subscription form so you can run an email campaign prior to launch. As your app is built, add screenshots and a video promo to generate excitement. Include links and app store logos once you’ve released your app, and include a section for ratings and reviews.

Leverage all of your marketing channels to get people interested in your new app. Add progress reports to your company blog, promote your app’s features and release date on your social media channels, and send out an email blast. You may even want to reach out to social media influencers to enlist their help in promoting your app.

Once you release your app, pull out the stops promoting it. Announce it with signage in your stores, banners on your website, and across all your digital channels. Offer people an incentive to download your app—a one-time discount, free trial, or bundle of loyalty points are all attractive options.

It’s also important to reward and engage people once they’ve downloaded your app; don’t be the app users open once and never touch again. Use push notifications to share relevant content and work your social media channels to keep people engaged.

Most importantly, don’t assume that your customers will download your app just because you created one. Your app has to provide a unique value or service to your customers, entertain or excite them, and give them a personalized experience. If you accomplish that, your marketing efforts will be much more successful.

Launch Day KPIs

Of course you’ll want to track the number of downloads, but that figure gives you just a glimpse into performance. The sad truth is that almost a fourth of all downloaded apps are only opened once, so your first priority should be engagement and retention. In order to get there, you need to know the Ws of usage and adjust your strategies accordingly.

  • Who is downloading your app? What do you know about demographics of your users? When you know who your audience is, you can better target them with relevant offers and content.
  • What device are they using? Drill down to a granular level, beyond just tablet or smartphone, so you can tailor your updates and features to the device’s specs.
  • Where and when are they using it? We know that smartphone users “showroom” when they shop, which suggests they want quick access to info and solutions to problems. Is your app delivering the answers they need?


For SMEs today, taking the plunge into the world of mobile app development is a much easier decision than in years past; new app-building tools, better insight into mobile behavior and mobile marketing, and a clear path to ROI means nearly every small business can benefit from having a mobile app. What’s holding you back from taking the next step?


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Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.

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