The App Fallacy
For many marketers, shiny object syndrome is a way of life. They just can’t help it, as they don’t have the focus to adopt and use technologies long term as part of a process. Instead, they flirt from trend to trend hoping the next will be their savior.
Of course while shiny object syndrome is not likely to achieve any real results, experimenting within the framework of a strategy does make sense. But there is a difference between a skunkworks project that aligns with a strategy and executing a tactic merely because it’s trendy. I think for brands, application development for specific platforms falls into the latter.
Maybe we will get to a day when every brand, regardless of what products or services they offer, needs an app for each platform. Maybe the day will come consumers will be willing and excited to install an application from every company because companies actually create apps that are useful, interesting, and necessary. But that day isn’t here yet.
Following are some thoughts for brands who are not native technology companies and considering developing an app for a specific platform:
Mobile is huge, but it’s the icing on the cake of a solid digital strategy
Convergence devices have been here for years, but they’ve finally been adopted outside of geeks and tech savvy professionals by a more general consumer audience. This is great news but it doesn’t immediately mean to drop everything and develop an app because you can. You need a solid digital strategy in place first and your app needs to play into it. An app is very tactical for brands where the app itself is not core to your business, it needs to fit within a larger framework.
It’s flash websites all over again: no “so what” factor
Brands developing apps to me feels a lot like the adoption of useless and obnoxious Flash websites years ago. In the same way you used to go to a brand’s flash website once, play around and be done (if you ever went at all) it’s the same thing with an app. In both cases there was no utility — all style and no substance.
Don’t be fooled: developing a good app isn’t cheap or easy
A lot of brands seem to think having an application is somehow enough. That no matter what it is, “if you built it, they will come.” Of course this is ridiculous, there already exists a long tail of applications to solve many issues. So brands, do your research and see what already exists: you’re in no position to compete if there is an entire company focused on developing and iterating an app in your category, and you’re just building one for marketing purposes. You’ll never win.
A mobile-optimized version of your site / distribution of content may be enough
An app might not even be necessary for you: perhaps simply a solid mobile version of your site / blog, as well as content distribution and promotion through mobile-friendly platforms is sufficient. Even if you can get people to install your app, you may be diluting yourself to thinking users are going to open it every day (whereas they may open Twitter, Reddit or other apps daily). Especially for brands who don’t produce software. Just because so many have app frenzy doesn’t mean you need to fall into it – think through the use case carefully. Building an app just to build an app is silly.
(Most) Facebook / social apps: hilariously bad, potentially hurting your brand
So many brands have created utterly useless Facebook applications. In many cases, they’ve paid a development firm to create something, launched it, and thought it some magical solution to their social strategy. In reality most branded Facebook apps (as one example of social apps) are a joke and nearly total waste of resources. Many of the brands doing this don’t even properly nurture a community in Facebook using their native business pages which are already powerful. It’s easier for them to throw money at someone to build an app and think they’re done (instead of actually getting social with their customers).
So many are crazed over apps, but most brands and marketers need a reality check and to think critically about what they’re doing here. When there is so much companies already get wrong with digital marketing, building an app is actually the last thing many marketers should be thinking about.
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