How Businesses Are Using Mobile Applications to Grow Market Share
“There’s an app for that.” This catchy tagline, now trademarked by Apple, first appeared in iPhone advertising in early 2009, and has since become a staple in pop culture, with parodies appearing everywhere from YouTube to Sesame Street. But mobile applications – or apps – are no joke in the world of business. According to CNET.com, ABI Research says developers and other stakeholders generated $8.5 billion on mobile apps in 2011, and revenue from mobile apps is expected to soar to $46 billion by 2016.
While many people associate mobile apps with popular games like Angry Birds or useful widgets such as a weather forecast or calendar, increasingly businesses are entering the app world. On the Apple AppStore alone, there are 5,632 apps flagged as business apps and the number is climbing. Earlier this year, online travel company Orbitz raised its earnings outlook, and a recent CNBC article attributes its anticipated growth to its new “Hotels by Orbitz” app that allows customers to book a hotel in “three taps.”
But developing a custom mobile app isn’t cheap. Depending on the complexity of the project, it can run from several thousand dollars to $200,000 and take months to develop and launch. So why are so many businesses making the investment in time and resources? In this column we take a closer look at several local businesses that have made the commitment to a mobile app to find out.
Banking On Satisfied Customers
One of the industries that has been an early adopter of mobile technology is banking, and local financial institutions are no exception. To be competitive, these community banks need to offer the same convenience as the big national players, and they do. M&T Bank offers a Mobile for Business app that allows customers to check account balances, view recent transactions, transfer funds and pay bills, as well as finding the nearest ATM or branch. Freedom Federal Credit Union offers a My Freedom Android app so that customers can conduct most banking transactions via smartphone. APG Federal Credit Union also offers downloadable mobile applications for consumer and business customers using smartphones. “We developed our Mobile Banking solution to offer the latest technology – applied in the most secure ways – to our members,” says Gayle Stark, vice president of marketing for APGFCU.
Shopping Around for More Business
Another industry that is a natural fit with mobile app users is retail. In this notoriously competitive market, retailers are constantly looking for ways to build brand loyalty and drive repeat business, and apps fit the bill. From grocery shopping to clothes shopping, there are a number of apps that allow users to instantly receive the latest deals while navigating through the store as quickly and efficiently as possible. For instance, with Klein’s ShopRite’s ShopRite Weekly Specials app, shoppers can add digital coupons directly to their Price Plus cards, create a grocery list, view recipes and add ingredients to their shopping carts, checking off items as they place them in their physical cart. Users can even email their list and have someone else shop for them. Likewise, Harford Mall is one of 1,250 malls across North America that participates in the Point Insider app, which gives customers access to special offers and coupons, a searchable list of retailers, and maps that show the location of stores and services such as restrooms, food, ATMs and elevators.
Lining Up More Customers
Tracy Meissner, owner of five Great Clips locations in Harford and Cecil counties, sees apps as a way for customers to meet their “financial and time budgets.” She points out that most of her customers are not only looking to save money, but time as well. In response to this need, Great Clips corporate developed an app customers can use to not just find the closest location and view wait times, but to actually check in online. Says Meissner, “We are all about convenience. That’s why we are a walk-in salon. But now our customers have the option to check in, know they have 30 minutes before they have to arrive, and when they walk in we are waiting for them instead of them waiting for us.” She believes this gives her a significant competitive edge, as no other hair salon offers this specific service.
Developing Deeper Relationships
Local advertising and website firms are developing apps in response to demand by their clients, but also as a way to deepen the appeal of a marketing or advertising campaign. In March of 2011, Bel Air-based A. Bright Idea launched a paid advertising site for businesses located in Sonoma County, Calif., that targets tourists by offering an interactive way to help plan their itineraries. According to A. Bright Idea Vice President of Client Relations T.J. Brightman, “SomethingAboutSonoma.com was created from day one to be an interactive website for the end user. Developing the mobile app is just the next logical step to continue to reinforce the overall brand by way of a custom smartphone icon and make it easier to engage with our advertisers.” Brightman says the new app will include alert messages about specials and events and give advertisers another way to reach their target demographic before they even arrive.
Cutting Through Red Tape
Private companies are not the only ones jumping on the app bandwagon. Government agencies are getting in on the action, too, as is evidenced by apps like “Harford County Connect,” a mobile app that allows citizens to take photos of a potential problem, such as a pothole, fallen tree or graffiti and transmit the information directly to local officials. When a user goes to the app, after allowing GPS locating services, he or she can see any reports filed in the immediate area and can click on a flag for more information. At the time this article was written, reports included a knocked-down street sign and exposed traffic signal wires, and showed the department to which the incident was directed as well as the outcome. The app also features a news feed feature.
In a press release issued about the app, Harford County Executive David Craig said, “Harford County Connect is another tool which we are implementing to assist the citizens of Harford County in bringing matters of concern to the attention of their government for prompt resolution.” The release also cites benefits of the app including the ability for citizens to provide county government with relevant and actionable data while allowing direct feedback from county government to users, thus promoting transparency in government.
As the above examples show, a well-designed mobile app can increase the effectiveness of your overall marketing strategy while minimizing traditional expenses such as print and postage. As the field of mobile apps continues to evolve and grow beyond entertainment and productivity, barriers to development are likely to decrease, while benefits to businesses that offer mobile apps continue to grow. In the meantime, if anyone knows how to get three stars on level 10 of Angry Birds, let us know! I95