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How Small Businesses Can Get Into the Mobile Game

By Mar 15, 2011

There's no single foolproof approach or strategy for using mobile platforms. And there's no strict format for the sites and apps one can create. There is, however, a quickly-evolving list of best practices, not to mention, a few guidelines for deciding which property-type makes the most sense.

Mobile Optimized Site or App?
Companies and brands that can support and/or achieve their business objectives using a condensed, mobile-optimized version of their Web site should absolutely consider building a mobile site. A mobile app, on the other hand, is a great way for a brand or business to demonstrate its key value through technology that simplifies its customers' lives while simultaneously supporting its overall brand platform. Mobile apps spur customers to use a marketer's services more and become more loyal to the brand.

That said, apps and mobiles sites are not necessarily mutually exclusive. An app is a more abstract and targeted concept, whereas a mobile site is more straightforward and can afford to be a bit broader.

What Do You Want to Do?
Mobile initiatives should serve at least one of three purposes: as a brand extension (i.e., increased visibility and reach), as a brand enhancer (i.e., a new and exciting way to talk about or present the offering at hand), or as its number one home base and commerce center (i.e., the business is mobile-based, both in terms of its commerce center and overall brand).

A good mobile site places the core offerings of the business's online site front and center. On-the-go users should have quick access to key features and services. The key to a good app is that it simplifies the user's life somehow. If a company or brand can do that while promoting its own business platform (thus getting customers to use their services more and become more loyal to their brand), it has essentially won.

Many big box retailers, restaurants and brick-and-mortar shops, as well as the crowd-sourcing services that cater to them, are paving the way for burgeoning mobile marketers, and are therefore a good group to learn from when mapping out a savvy approach.

What Are the Options?
The two primary ways these businesses are getting in on the mobile app action are:

1. By creating their own apps to reward customers for proximity, frequency, or otherwise; or

2. By jumping on the bandwagon with crowd-centric service apps such as Groupon, Foursquare, Shopkick, Yelp, Bizzy and others that reward customers with significant discounts for the same. (Groupon's iPhone and Android apps were downloaded 5 million times alone in their first nine months of existence, and the benefits of this were passed on directly to the businesses partnering with them.)

Because budget constraints are top of mind to many smaller retailers, restaurants and shops, piggybacking off of the group apps like Groupon and Foursquare is a very cost- and strategy-effective option, and therefore what a lot of them are doing.

As far as opportunity and cost, this means:

  • There is a ton of opportunity for non-big box retailers, restaurants, shops, or service provider to make a splash with a great mobile app because currently so few that their own apps.
  • Many of the big group sites make their API (or software specifications, services and resources) available to the public. Doing so allows developers to develop alongside their technology and integrate their features into their own apps and sites. This is an easy way to piggy back onto the trends that consumers are attracted to, but in a way that's branded (by the issuing company) with additional functionality (such as shopping opportunities or the like), and at a price potentially a lot lower than trying to reproduce a similar experience from scratch.

In terms of the opportunity cost of notgetting in on the mobile action, consider that Foursquare alone had 381 million store, restaurant, and other venue check-ins in 2010. Ignoring the various cost-effective options out there may be the most expensive option of all.

Gretel Going is a partner at Channel V Media.