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:

  • 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.

Image via SmartInsights

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.

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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.


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.