If you look at the many new apps coming out and think to yourself, "We could do that," it might be time to take the plunge. Apps are becoming a vital part of how businesses deliver goods and services to consumers, and that’s a trend that promises to continue.
“Apps are an increasingly essential part of smart business marketing. They provide small businesses with a way to engage customers beyond the corporate website or blog,” says mobile marketing expert Scott Hirsch, founder and CEO of Appsbar, a cost-free tool for developing professional and personalized apps.
By 2017, apps will earn more than $77 billion and be downloaded more than 268 billion times, according to Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company. Considering a sizable chunk of those downloads are likely to be driven by entrepreneurs, it makes sense to consider creating your own app.
But, where to start?
Is There Demand for Your App?
Whether you develop an app to sell or to drive traffic to your business, your first course of action is determining if there is a demand for your app.
“Speak with your customers and trusted associates and visit online marketplaces to determine if there is an existing app like what you have in mind,” Hirsch says. “If you find a similar app, note the following: how many downloads it has, how people use the app, and what they say about it in the comments. Are there any pitfalls or gaps in the existing apps that can be exploited? Take all these cues and more into consideration when determining whether you should pursue the development of your app.”
Considering the many excellent apps already available on the market, it’s important to come up with an idea that stands out from the rest, agrees Marjon Wemerman, PR and marketing manager for Anita Maternity. The company’s MUM2B Anita Maternity App, on iOS and Android, contains a diary where expectant moms can add text and pictures during their pregnancy and save and share them on social media. Women also receive weekly tips during the 40 weeks of gestation and for 10 weeks after the baby’s birth.
“There are many pregnancy apps that focus on the baby, so we developed an app that caters to pregnant women and helping them through pregnancy,” Wemerman says.
iOS or Android?
Choosing a mobile operating system will most likely be your first step in building an app. “What’s important to think about is who your audience is,” Hirsch says. “When you check your Web analytics, are there more visitors from Android or iOS devices? Talk to your customers. What are some of their favorite apps and why? Once you do some of your own market research, you’ll feel more comfortable making this important decision.”
You may also find that it makes sense to make your app available on both platforms.
Free or Paid?
Although it depends on your marketing budget, Hirsch suggests offering your app for free if at all possible. “There are plenty of avenues for monetizing your app, like in-app purchases and iAds/AdMob,” he says. “The most important element when launching your app will be engagement, and if you’re working with a limited marketing budget, it will be easier to engage users with a free app.”
How Should You Market Your App?
It’s not enough to simply create your app and make it available in the marketplace, says Balaji Sriraghavan, director of project development at RJT Compuquest. He has developed more than 80 apps for clients, as well as himself. “You must promote your app, or no one will know that it exists.”
Keep your finger on the pulse of how your app is being used and what your customers are saying about it. Respond to their comments and tweak the app as necessary.
“An app is just like any other marketing tool,” Wemerman says. “The creation of the app itself doesn’t increase product sales or exposure. You have to tell the audience that it’s there. Once they start to use it, it can be a great help to increase your brand name.”
Play by the Rules
Though it’s tempting, stacking the deck in your favor and making your app appear more popular than it truly is can have profoundly negative consequences.
“Never attempt to break Apple or Android’s rules and pay for downloads to inflate your numbers,” Hirsch warns. “This could lead to any number of damaging outcomes that do long-term harm to your brand’s reputation, including getting your app yanked from the marketplace.”
Follow the rules and respond to the needs of the market, and you’ll soon find yourself telling customers those six magic words: “We have an app for that.”
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