Want To Launch Mobile App? Ask Yourself The Tough Questions

Mobile website or mobile app? It's not only a common question from marketers -- it’s also the wrong question to ask. So let’s get this out of the way first, interactive marketers: You need a mobile-optimized or mobile-specific website. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check your organic web traffic. Odds are, you’ll see anywhere from 10%-25% of your web traffic coming from mobile devices, whether you’re intending to capture that mobile traffic or not. That percentage has been growing steadily and will continue to, so yes, you need to have a mobile web home. I’m glad that’s settled.

Whether or not you need a mobile app for marketing is a little less clear-cut. To decide, once and for all, if you should really build that mobile app, ask yourself these three most important questions:

1.       Is my audience using apps?

Yes, about half of US adults have a smartphone, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re using it in sophisticated ways. You can likely find users of all ages among those who have apps, but demographics affect the size of your app audience. For example, about one-third of smartphone app users are Gen Y (ages 23-31), and another third are Gen X (ages 32-45). Make sure you understand the app habits of your own audience before you decide what to build.

2.       Am I ready to build and manage an app?

It’s not a given that an app will help you achieve your marketing goals. Apps tend to work best when they’re focused on customers who are already aware of and have affinity for your brand. So if your objectives are to enhance the brand experience or build loyalty, you’re in good shape. If you want to use an app to raise brand awareness, you’re not necessarily out of luck, but you’ll need to make sure you raise awareness of the app itself too.

And don’t forget: an app is a commitment. This is a long-term strategy, not a campaign-based one. You have to make sure you’re prepared to support, manage, and iterate on this asset over time. You might be thinking your app will have a three-month flight time, but once that app is on a user’s device, it’s usually there for good. Do you really want to serve your customers out-of-date content and services indefinitely?

3.       How do I avoid failure?

There’ve been more than 40 billion cumulative apps downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. The question isn’t whether people are using apps; it’s whether they’re using yours: a branded app. To avoid failure and risk losing your mobile marketing budget, you have to take two key steps:

First, set expectations. Remember what I said before -- the fact that someone owns a smartphone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using it in sophisticated ways. There’s certainly an audience there, but it’s not yet in the same league as the number of adults who regularly check their email or use Google on any device. Set your download and usage goals responsibly.

Second, plan to buy media. Most users find apps within the app store, but findability of any one app in the vast recesses of the app stores isn’t something you can count on. Just for kicks try this: Go to your app store of choice and try browsing the recommended apps and top apps in various categories. Note how many of them are apps from brands. Now you know why you shouldn’t launch an app without a paid media budget to promote it.

Even if you’ve worked through all of these recommendations, one more gotcha exists: the highly contentious issue of who should “own” the app strategy. An argument can be made for a ton of players in your company, from marketing to IT, from eCommerce to customer service. My No. 1 piece of advice to you is this: Drop the territorialism. Join forces with these stakeholders and work together to align your strategies, address inefficiencies, and avoid bickering. This may be the hardest step of all, but it will do the most to make your apps successful and your customers satisfied.

For a lot more detail and data, Forrester clients can read the full report here.


Great report!

Just finished reading and thought this was the most comprehensive, step-by-step piece I have read on developing marketing apps. The honesty was also refreshing. In addition, one of the most important things I have heard from our members who have built apps recently is to be honest about the amount of budget it will take to pull off a great app. Most jump into the process not understanding great apps cost lots of money, but if they go through the process as you suggested it will be worth the investment.

Also curious to hear what you think about rising companies such as Fiksu that are using data to help companies promote their apps across multiple platforms.

That pesky budget issue

Thanks for your comments, Kara.

Budget is definitely something to consider. Sometimes an app that fulfills both your business goals and your customers' needs can be really inexpensive, but sometimes that just not the case. It's sort of similar to how some companies used to think that if an initiative was in the realm of social media it should automatically be free. That didn't last too long.

As for companies that help marketers promote their apps-- in general, I'm a fan of any company that's trying to takcle this issue at the moment. There are dozens of start-ups who focus on this, and they all take slightly different approaches. As long as people are thinking about it, talking about it, and working on it, I think it's a good thing.

Who Owns The App Strategy

Hi Melissa - I think your last point is particularly important. The "owner" is key to the success of the app overall. We encourage our clients to look at a mobile app not as a project, but as a product. In doing so, we all have to agree that the product has a lifecycle, product development needs, a marketing budget, etc.

On our most successful app engagements, we've seen our clients assign Product Managers as the lead for app development. The Product Manager is then responsible for coordinating with Marketing, IT, Customer Service and other stakeholders, but their main focus is on the end user's experience and the integrity of the product. Seems to work rather well!

Great report!

Program or product?

Great point, Ben! I do think that marketing apps are going to get closer and closer to being real digital products anyway. Perhaps someday, there really won't be much of a distinction between the two at all. Of course, that raises all sorts of organizational questions for the future, but what you suggest here sounds like a way to responsibly get used to working much more closely with colleagues, so that everybody will be ready when the future is the present.

Hi Melissa, I enjoyed the

Hi Melissa,

I enjoyed the article and agree that it is important to ask the tough questions before developing an app, rather than just creating a “me too.” One question that I believe is also important to ask, “What utility are we offering the user/consumer?" Consumers are going to download and use your app based on the utility or service you are offering them. If they do not perceive a good value in your app, it will not remain in the limited space on their phone.

Brian Kelley


Hi Melissa,

Thanks for sharing this interesting as well as informative post. But I think these are the points which will help after earning adequate number of installs..My problem is how to earn that initial installs so as I am facing a lot of problem in that. I have started my blog on mobile marketing "www.blog.creatiosoft.com" where I have shared my findings and analysis.. It will be great if you can help me in solving this.


Hi Melissa, I'm a student

Hi Melissa,

I'm a student from Lithuania and now I'm currently writing the final Bachelor work. My topic is closely related to mobile marketing, tools and strategies so I would be grateful if I had the opportunity to learn and get more about mobile marketing. In fact, this is an area that I love and in which I am interested to go. Currently I'm preparing a survey for Lithuanian companies, so that I could properly assess the current situation in our country. I have read many of your articles. I saw that recently, you and your company have done similar survey topic, so any information would be helpful for me.

Best wishes,

What a fantastically clearl

What a fantastically clearl and well-written report. I'm relatively new to the mpbile space and found the info really helpful, especially on mobile apps. Thanks.