There’s An App For That?

It’s a scene as familiar as your drive to work.

The conversation is marked mainly by questions. A 17-y.o. high school senior and his parents discuss college as they clear the family dinner table. What are his options? Why isn’t he interested in business? “Artists starve… how many times do I have to tell you?” Tonight’s conversation lasts longer than most: all of ten minutes before the son withdraws to his room. He knows his parents are right. He doesn’t want to let them down, but plenty of people manage to make a living in the arts. He just needs to figure out how.

He reaches for his iPhone and launches Safari. In the Google search field, he types, “art and business dual degree,” and waits for answers to appear. And appear they do – an entire page of options. Schools he’s heard of, schools he hasn’t. Choices. Possibilities. Potential. He closes Safari, swipes twice, taps the App Store icon, navigates to the Search tab, and enters the name of the top result from his Google search, eager to use the school’s iOS app to learn more about their Art + Business dual degree offering.

And that’s when your head explodes from being asked to accept so much implausibility.

The Principle of Least Effort can quickly be applied to predict that, for prospect recruitment and general information, a mobile website will outperform a mobile app. Yet, how many of us have recently been mandated to create or commission a mobile app, simply as a matter of competitive upkeep? If only peer pressure would listen.

On the surface, mobile app development looks like a gold mine: In 2011, the average number of downloads per iOS app was approximately 40,000. But most of those downloads went to the top 50 apps. With nearly 600,000 apps currently available for download, and ~750 new apps added daily, the iTunes App Store has come more to resemble a black hole than a beacon, for marketers who dare to approach.

Fact is, usefulness is the number one predictor of App Store success. Utility. It’s the need for utility that drives App Store search, and providing utility that earns an app’s keep on users’ devices. A successful mobile app development effort demands that you start by understanding your users and their needs, being open to rewriting assumptions and budgets in response. Divining those needs is both art and science, and to do it well takes both experience and focused expertise.

Alone, that “Available On the App Store” badge guarantees nothing beyond having spent the time and money to get there, and that prospect can raise thorny questions: Are we trying to make money from this app, or is our investment in mindshare? Can we justify the cost of the investment being considered? What will success look like, and how long will it take us to get there? Where do we begin our search for answers?

The right mobile app development strategy can turn those question marks to exclamation points. The right digital marketing agency can make the journey a joy.