Over the past six months, we've seen a shift in the type of client asking our agency about mobile apps. Mobile apps are now not only being considered for consumer brand engagement, they are increasingly being found in the B2B marketer's toolbox. B2B marketers are recognizing mobile apps as a relevant tactic for brand awareness and engagement as well as personal productivity and connectivity. We've recently held several client workshops looking at ways their marketing programs are being distributed and consumed. People are starting to rely on their mobile phones not just for personal use, but also for professional use, and they are bringing their smartphones into the workplace. This trend is leading our clients to explore relevant new ways to add apps into their marketing mix.
According to a recent Forrester report, 13 percent of information workers currently use smartphones for work at least weekly. And, the number of information workers using smartphones is predicted to escalate rapidly, hitting 34 percent by 2012. Based on the adoption rate, we believe smartphones will reach relatively widespread adoption over the next three-plus years.
So when is a mobile app relevant and what should B2B marketers consider as they weigh the options?
We look at apps in three unique categories: entertainment, brand butlers, and tools.
- Entertainment -- It's pure brand engagement, fun and games -- and even in a business setting, it's still a way to escape from the daily grind.
- Brand Butlers -- Branded apps that help end customers make the most of their daily lives and tasks.
- Tools -- Pure "utility apps" that help internal audiences or customers do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.
Entertainment is certainly still a relevant consideration even for B2B branding and audience engagement. We've launched new apps in a trade show setting, as a branded game accessible in a "customer lounge" area. Then, to extend the experience further, marketers provided links to the app when following up with contacts and leads after the show. We also have several clients from large manufacturing facilities where plant tours and customer visits are common. Having branded games available in their customer center provides another branded activity as well as a fun, cutting-edge way to point out key product differentiators.
Brand butlers, a concept introduced by Trendwatchers several years ago, is now making its way into the app world. Brand butlers assist customers with tasks they already perform. Let's say your company sells construction products. Since weather is a critical aspect of a construction manager's daily life, is there another lens your brand could add to a weather report to make it more meaningful? A detailed wind report? A recommendation for best time of day to perform a weather-dependent task?
Lastly, let's look at apps purely as "tools." We're currently seeing the most growth and requests in this category. According to a recent Nielsen Pew survey, 26 percent of mobile app users are using apps for "productivity" purposes. Sales support and sales tool development is always high on the list for most marketing teams. Apps can be a quick and easy way for a mobile sales team to access relevant, real-time information. This might be related to product training, it might be sound bites for a sales call, or perhaps a better way for sales to gather and track client information during a sales visit. Mobile apps allow a sales team to access information remotely that likely exists in many other, less accessible formats.
What else do B2B marketers need to think about when considering an app?
It's our favorite agency question: "How much will that cost?" And our famous answer: "Well, it depends!" Let's look at some budget drivers to put things in perspective. The largest budget driver will be type (and number) of mobile platforms. As B2B marketers, you need to consider what device your customers are primarily using for business connectivity. With more than 250,000 apps and growing, the Apple iPhone has been one of the most popular destinations for apps. If you are considering a native app to be included in Apple's App Store, there are a host of other considerations around licensing and registration that will affect your cost. Google's Android is quickly gaining popularity and has shown significant expansion in market share in the last six months. RIM BlackBerry is still the most popular device among enterprise users and a likely destination for B2B apps. According to Nielsen, BlackBerry is the biggest smartphone player with a 35 percent share compared to 28 percent for Apple's iPhone and 13 percent for Android. Ultimately, understanding your target audience's phone preference and knowing how many platforms you design for will be a large budget driver.
Other questions to ask that will drive your budget:
- Content -- Will you repurpose existing content, or develop content from scratch?
- User Interface -- Increased expectations on ease of use and simplicity may require a focused investment in interface design, even if your content is relatively consistent.
- Security and Integration -- Will the data and interaction be public or private? Will you need SSL or integration with other platforms like your CRM tool or Facebook page?
Clearly, the way information is being consumed and distributed is shifting drastically. Accessibility and ease of use need to be top of mind for marketers as they develop a channel strategy that spans today's range of desktop and mobile devices.
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