For marketers considering creating mobile device apps, the bar has been set very high. I mean, c’mon, a free app that gives you voice directions to your destination? An app (also free) that lets you convert your spoken words into written emails?
These are hard acts to follow. (I’m sure you have others; tell me about them in the comments—I’m an iPhone geek in my spare time.)
So how are we as marketers supposed to compete with apps like these? I’m going to be moderating a panel on this question (among others) at next week’s MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum in Boston.
From phones to computers
Mobile is going to become an important part of our marketing, whether we like it or not. The number of smartphones continues to explode. More important, the way that people use these phones is changing. According to a recent survey by ABI Research, 28% of respondents said that they access web sites from their phones at least once per day—up 75% in a year. And while 3G makes the download speeds bearable, the price of the handsets continues to drop—making them really cheap and increasingly functional computers.
Our customers and prospects—especially the younger ones—will be looking at smartphones as one of their primary computing platforms—if not the primary platform. I always take analysts’ forecasts with a grain of salt, but ABI’s prediction that mobile marketing (ads on mobile phones) will be a $4 billion business by 2014 makes you stop and think.
How do we compete?
I’m sure that there will be opportunities and reasons for B2B to advertise on these things eventually, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is finding a way to get and keep people’s attention by carving out a spot on the phones next to the magic voice and directional applications.
Seems impossible, doesn’t it? On the surface, yes. But the reason that these applications are so impressive is not because they were developed as standalone mobile applications but because they take advantage of a deep reservoir of thinking and intellectual property developed over many years—elsewhere. Dragon has been perfecting its voice-to-text abilities for decades through its PC software and MapQuest (I still prefer it to the Google Maps gorilla) has been honing its route guidance for many years.
Good mobile apps start somewhere else
Their mobile apps are like tender shoots that emerge from the trunk of the tree; with that supply of DNA, food, and protection, they have a much better chance of survival than a seed dropped on the ground.
I think that’s how we have to view mobile apps for B2B marketing. While it may be possible to build an outstanding standalone app that wows your audience, I think the chances are pretty similar to an individual seed’s chances of surviving to become a mature oak—really slim.
And Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind having lots of oak trees that all look pretty much the same. Your audience will mind. And frankly, they are really, really jaded.
We have to think about how mobile can be like the tender shoot that sprouts from the well-established tree if we’re going to be able to compete effectively.
But first, we need to establish the reason for going mobile. We can’t simply create an application that links to static website content, for example. Mobile doesn’t magically make static content exciting.
There has to be a purpose behind adding mobile. At ITSMA, we’re seeing four main reasons for doing it:
- Help. The classic B2B mobile applications have been internally focused, giving maintenance people access to service information while they are out in the field. Is there a reason for you to offer whatever help you give to customers through mobile? Could your salespeople benefit from mobile access to a sales enablement application giving them advice in the field for helping customers?
- Location. The addition of GPS chips to smartphones makes it possible to use people’s location as a driving force behind the mobile application. Right now Foursquare is the Twitter of location. People like it, but they’re not quite sure what to do with it or how it can be used for marketing (and making money). One possibility is to use location at your events so that attendees can find each other or share schedules and information. But Twitter and Foursquare already do that, so again, you need something more behind the app than just the location feature.
- Continuity. Do you have situations where customers and prospects feel they might miss something by being disconnected from you even for a short while? An example of this is user groups. I could see techies catching up on technical issues while they have some down time at an airport, for example.
- Timeliness. Of course, the Blackberry is the quintessential timeliness mobile app. Is there any aspect of what you do that customers would want to be alerted about the moment it happens?
B2B mobile marketing case studies
At the MarketingProfs event next week, I’ll have two panelists who have sprouted shoots from the tree. (Both are winners of the 2009 ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards—the 2010 Awards deadline is June and anyone can enter).
Xerox Global Services (XGS) built a mobile application as part of its internal sales tool called Competipedia. It’s a wiki-based tool where salespeople can go to find and share competitive intelligence. The mobile app that hooks into Competipedia is justified because XGS’ salespeople often need information while on the road (help) and can use competitive information as soon as it is available (timeliness).
Consulting firm CSC meanwhile, built a tree trunk called WikonnecT that is a B2B online community for the insurance industry. CSC added a mobile shoot to WikonnecT because its community is essentially a user group on steroids. CSC has been building the complex software that runs the processes of big insurance companies for decades—a kind of ERP for insurance. By making its software development processes transparent within WikonnecT—e.g., people can argue about and lobby for new features at any time and CSC responds within the community—there is a vitality to the conversation that satisfies the timeliness and continuity requirements for mobile.
As you can see, both Competipedia and WikonnecT’s success in mobile depends on having the center of gravity for the applications be outside the mobile apps themselves.
What do you think? Is this the way B2B marketers should approach building all mobile apps?
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- Top 10 Mobile Trends of 2010, Part 1: Design & Development (readwriteweb.com)
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- Foursquare, Gowalla and the future of geo-location (telegraph.co.uk)