Does your business need an app?
Although apps have been a part of pop culture and big business for nearly a decade now, smaller and smaller businesses are getting apps of their own. An app might be overkill for some and desperately overdue for others. How can you tell which description you fall under?
Apps have gone from a cutesy term that teenagers use to describe their iPhone games to a multi-plantform multi-billion dollar industry in barely a decade. They range from little more than a saved offline version of a website to specialized tools to keep security guards where they should be or read and evaluate medical readings from companion devices made just for them.
Anthony Kosner of Forbes Magazine likens the state of apps now to websites at the turn of the millenium: the larger companies already have them and people know how to use them, but most small to medium businesses don't yet need them. For most use cases, an app just doesn't appear necessary. Your clients know how to find your information on your website (which you've likely updated in the last few years) and your business might not be interenet oriented at all- what use does a beauty spa or auto dealership need from an app, and how could it possibly convince customers to go install an app on their phones and tablets?
The first benefit is different in execution for each type of business, but can be generalized as what's called a funnel- leading customers from a vague idea or search to your door. For example, a doctor's office could develop an app that had updates about the latest flu or cold going around, a contact form, and an appointment booking page, complete with integration into the user's calendar to create a reminder for the customer to come in on time.
Another possible way that apps can help your business involves using the capabilities of a phone or table that a website can't access; Daniel Cristo has a great explanation of some of the concrete and abstract benefits of an app with regards to marketing. For example, an online clothing store or local fashion boutique can allow customers to hold their phone up to a mirror and see what a piece of clothing might look on them. A restaurant that recognizes the power of pictures on the millenial generation can get many more selfies on restaurant reviews with an app than with a website, where uploading pictures is a much more involved process.
The most commonly beneficial aspect of having an app, though, is the direct marketing opportunities it offers. I know of a local small business that has seen return customers increase 12% in the six months since it started using an app to advertise app-only short-term sales on its services. Being able to alert customers (with their permission of course) of anything- appointment reminders, new product availability, and of course sales and coupons- is currently the most powerful benefit available to businesses looking to add an app to their marketing and customer relationship management processes.