Public relations

You might want an app for your business, but do you need it?

Weigh costs against expected benefits

Contributing ColumnistNovember 26, 2012 

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.

Does your business need an app?

With soaring sales of smartphones and tablet computers, businesses are looking for ways to deepen their connections with customers and attract new ones using mobile devices. An app is one way to do that.

Research by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers suggests 46 million apps are downloaded daily from Apple's App Store. And the number of users willing to pay for apps is high, as Nielsen research suggests 93 percent of users will spend money on a game, 87 percent on an entertainment app and 84 percent for a productivity app.

Because of the explosion in interest, business-created apps have been a hot trend. Even though it seems everyone is doing it, you need to consider seriously whether developing an app is a good choice for your company.

When making your decision, consider factors such as whether an app fits your business. More importantly, it would need to fit the lifestyle of its users. It should make their lives easier, cheaper or offer some fun.

One major question to ask is whether you just need to offer a mobile website instead of an app. The answer might come down to the amount of resources available. If you already have a website, why not make it mobile-ready for your customers so it's easier to view and interact with on phones and tablets?

Making your website mobile-ready can be cost- effective as there are free options and others that cost as little as $8 a month based on the site's traffic. By contrast, developing an app can cost $500 to $10,000. That should give you pause for thought.

Should you want to pursue an app, you really need to know your customers, their needs and what mobile devices they use. You'll have to decide what type of app would interest them. Apps can be put into a few basic categories such as entertainment (games), content (news, sports, etc.), utility (simplifying tasks) and transactional (such as the Starbucks app).

You'll then have to decide the ideal operating system platform, such as Apple's iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone. Most companies develop for iOS first then other platforms. That's because the Apple operating system boasts the most active users of apps when it comes to not only researching but buying via their iPhones and iPads.

How easy is it to develop an app? It comes down to your skill level and knowledge of programming language. You have two options: build it yourself or hire a developer. Co-it-yourself options include BuildAnApp (Buildanapp.com) and AppBreeder (Appbreeder.com) in which you use templates to create your app. They can cost upwards of $500. Hiring a developer can cost $2,500 to $10,000 depending on the app's complexity.

All apps must go through a submission process to be approved and appear in an operating system's app store. Any updates to your app also will also to be submitted for approval. Apple has strict guidelines, and the approval process takes time.

Lexington's Adam Martin, owner of boutique creative shop A. Martin Design, developed a tailgating app that was available from 2010 to 2011. It provided information on parking, tailgating rules, bars and restaurants, hotels and so forth for each college football city in the Southeastern Conference. Ultimately, he decided to forgo the app because it was a side project and was never going to compete with services like Yelp and Google. Also, he said, the revenue didn't really offset the development and content creation costs of keeping it online.

His advice to fellow business owners is to first decide whether an app is really what you need. Many people think that because apps are so popular that they need to create one for their businesses when they could get by with mobile-optimized websites or improved Web design. If an app is what you need, though, find a good developer with extensive knowledge and a portfolio in Objective-C or Cocoa programming.

Martin also says you shouldn't expect to become wealthy from your app. Very few hit the jackpot in the crowded App Store, and even if your app is great, how will people find it? You have to combine it with great marketing, great development and a great experience for the user.

The bottom line on apps is that it always comes down to the goals of your business and the needs of your customers.

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional specializing in small businesses and is principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. She's interested in feedback on what you would like to learn about public relations, marketing and social media. Email your ideas to her at ann@mindthegappr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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