mobile device user

It's no surprise that people now spend more time browsing the internet on their smartphones than on their desktops. All you have to do is look around any public place to see the proliferation of mobile devices.

Businesses simply cannot ignore mobile as a channel, a fact underscored by the reality that marketing teams are focusing more time and budget on mobile.

But to be effective, mobile marketing requires the involvement of technology and the cost may outweigh the benefit. How much should businesses invest in mobile?

No Investment = High Risk

Make no mistake: no business ignoring mobile today will still be around in five years.

Why do I say that? Look at your customers, employees, and friends. They all carry at least one mobile product at all times: their smartphone. If a business ignores mobile today, a competitor will soon enough come up with a mobile offering. Since everyone is on mobile, that competitor will quickly grab market share.

Remember what happened to Kodak, Yahoo and Nokia? They refused to adapt to mobile and the tide quickly turned on them. Denial is someone else’s opportunity. It happens faster than you think.

Minimal Investment = Be Mobile-Friendly

What’s the minimal investment you need to make in mobile? Three things:

  1. Make your website mobile-friendly (responsive). The cost is minimal but the benefit is significant. In fact, Google recently started to favor mobile-friendly websites in its search algorithm. In other words, not having a mobile-friendly website penalizes you on both mobile and desktop.
  2. Ensure your customer emails can be read on mobile. According to Experian, two out of three emails are opened on mobile. Businesses that want customers to read their emails need to format them in a format that’s readable on mobile.
  3. Optimize your mobile ads. On mobile, everything is measurable. For example, you know which ad resonates most with men between the ages of 35 and 44 in New York City? That’s pretty valuable if this group represents your target customers, right?

Recommended Add: Presence in a Top 10 App

Nine out of 10 people use smartphone apps instead of mobile websites so a website has significantly less reach than an app.

But by itself, that information can be misleading. Many businesses jump to the conclusion that they need to cram their website into an app. This is a mistake.

Remember the dot-com era, when companies hurried to build websites that mirrored their paper catalogs? If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the bare-bones site maps that looked like tables of contents.

Clicking links would open static web pages with lengthy product descriptions and no pictures. Visitors to the website couldn’t read reviews, go from one product to another to see what others had purchased or compare prices, let alone buy online.

So few customer came back and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that websites were new line items on already too fat IT budgets.

If companies build apps that look like crammed websites, they’ll be left wondering: Do the benefits really outweigh the cost?

Having an app strategy works in specific situations, but it’s not for everyone. Consider this: nine out of 10 minutes people spend on mobile is spent in the top 10 apps. And 50 percent of apps are never downloaded, not even once.

My recommendation is to maintain an active presence in the top 10 apps: social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, messaging platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp, and marketplaces like Amazon and Thumbtack.

All-in investment: Add Your Own Mobile App

So when does it make sense to have an app strategy?

An app strategy often requires an app for iPhone, for Android, often for tablets, smartwatch, etc. Each time, it’s a new product and a new team, so it can get complex and expensive.

There’s likely a business case for it if:

  1. Your products or services are high touch, e.g. your customers buy from you often, or what they buy requires lots of support. Customers who use your mobile app are significantly more loyal than those who use a website. So having an app may mean more personalized promotions, increased sales and more.
  2. Mobile enhances your current offering meaningfully. In the past, people who needed a cab had to spell out the pickup address. At the end of the ride, they paid cash. Today, passengers’ location is seamlessly detected and their payment information often stored. It’s as if they no longer pay! Here, apps provide competitive advantages.
  3. You can offer new products or services that could not exist without mobile. For example, an event management company can let attendees communicate easily from an app during a conference. In that case, a mobile app may mean new revenue streams.

Mobile offers businesses opportunities to reinvent themselves but they need to carefully assess the cost versus benefit.

Title image by Bruno Gomiero