Everyone wants a mobile app. In fact with over 930,417  in the iOS App Stores alone, finding a company without a mobile app of some kind (web or native) is a rare occurrence regardless of what industry they are in.

On the surface just having an app sounds great, right? You just lay down a modest amount of money one time and get an app. You can use your brand name to get people to install your application, and then you can market to them via the palm of their hand whenever you want. If you’re a big brand, there is no doubt you will get a ton of downloads. But downloads are a vanity metric; it doesn’t measure success.

I’ve seen this happen more times than I care to count. A company pays for an app to be developed, and happy to just “have an app” they watch users download the app, use it, and other than bug fixes just leave it at that. From that point on the app is only used as a means to advertise. The issue with this mentality is that no one wants to download an ad. It doesn’t matter if you are Apple, Google or the small business down the street, people want usability, content, and something that truly impacts their lives.

Put simply, if your app does not add value to a person’s life or make it easier, even if someone downloads your app, odds are it will not be used more than once. If your app is not used, it does not build brand loyalty, generate ad money, nor help sales. Your app does not help your bottom line.

Imagine you are the CEO of Pepsi. You want to make sure that everyone knows about your new diet soda. Do you launch Pepsi TV? No! You find television networks and more specifically programs that can reach your relevant consumers. Why? Because even if you did launch your own TV network, it doesn’t mean people are going to watch it. Do not build an app just to get downloads; build something that people will actually use.

How to create a mobile strategy:

1) Set the direction: This means defining and redefining the vision.

  • What are the qualitative and quantitative business drivers? (e.g. Growth, profitability, brand enhancement, customer experience, employee experience, etc.)
  • Who is influencing your innovation? (customers, employees, distributors, suppliers, leadership, partners, resellers etc.)

2) Identify Opportunity: Identify Innovation “Hot Spots”

  • Where does your business provide the most value over your competition?
  • Is your company and industry best suited to a native app in the app stores or a mobile web app?
  • What is your competitive advantage?

3) Identification of use-cases and scenarios: How will customers want to use an app?

  • Think about what the user of the app really want’s, not just every feature they might desire.
  • Don’t just think about features. Think about the problems that need to be solved.
  • What types of devices and operating systems will your users be using the most?

4) Set your priorities: Organize the to-do list of what your app needs.

Keep your first version simple. You can add more features later based on user feedback. For now, base your “must-have” list on these points:

  • Users expectations
  • Level of innovation needed
  • Business benefit
  • Company/Organization technical readiness
  • Ease of implementation

5) Visualize the plan: Start to develop an app concept and experience.

Here is where many of even the best mobile strategies really start to go wrong. As you being the process of sketching out the first app UI concepts, and start to build that out to blueprints, then final designs… it is tempting to try to stick to a feature set. But don’t get sidetracked by this! Let the design and development of your app be driven by the user experience and do not be driven by your features wish-list. There are untold numbers of apps with feature lists a mile long, but at the end of the day, if the user does not enjoy using the app, they will find another one they like better.

Another important tip is this… how something looks is subjective, and there is no one right answer for that. Trying to get a consensus on design will lead to over spending on something everyone will never be in total agreement on anyway. How it feels to use an app — the experience of using it — this is where you want to ask everyone and their brother because a truly good experience when using a product depends on the feedback of many to get right.

6) Develop and Test: Getting an app into the store

The initial version of your app will need a LOT of testing, on as many devices and by as many people as you can find to test. There is no replacement for this.

7) Iterate, iterate, iterate: Now that users have your app… listen to their feedback

Now start to use analytics on app usage and feedback (both captured via the app store and direct from users) and plan your next moves. What features are your users clamoring for?

At this point here are 2 keys to remember:

  • You don’t need to implement every requested feature, just pick the top requests. Run through step 4 again.
  • No matter how well software is tested, users will always find bugs and issues. Even massive companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google who spend un-told amounts of time and money on testing have some bugs. So plan on releasing updates to fix these bugs.

Why doing it right matters

Building a mediocre app is just as bad as selling a product or offering a service that is sub-par. The power of mobile is that you can interact with a consumer at any moment. However, would you want someone buying your new cereal if it tasted bad? No! They would never buy it again. So why would you want them to download a mediocre mobile app?

Developing a mobile strategy is not something you want to rush, and it is not something you just do once and forget about it. It needs to be ongoing and well planned. So find the right partner who you can trust and who understands your company as well as it’s objectives. This will firmly set you on the course to a successful mobile strategy and a solid return on your investment.