Brands: Stop phoning it in on mobile

by Katie Jansen on Sep 20, 2016

Major Fortune 500 companies have started to realize the opportunities that are lost when they don’t go mobile — they stand to lose millions if not billions of dollars. But many still don’t quite understand what it takes to have a successful mobile app — one that anticipates consumers’ needs and increases revenues. Unfortunately, you can’t just repackage your web content in an app, and an app requires significant investment to build, maintain and update over time.

Many newly mobile-friendly companies think launching an app is the last step in rolling out a mobile strategy, but it’s only step one. You need a strategy that constantly caters to the mobile consumer (who is unique compared to the web consumer), and evolves with the new technologies available. Brands must be aggressive with their mobile apps, both in terms of producing them and pushing the envelope with what they can do.

But first…what took so long?

In general, brands were slow on the uptake with mobile because they simply didn’t know what to do with it. They couldn’t conceive how mobile could be advantageous to their brand, and they thought that web marketing — which they had just figured out — was working just fine. In retrospect, there was probably a lot of innovation fatigue going on that prevented them from taking a leap into yet another unknown area.

Still, there’s lag, and some industries, like financial services, are particularly slow on the uptake, and companies can have very particular reasons for not building an app. Consider, for example, Virgin America, which was the only major airline to hold out on developing an app, presumably in an effort to keep costs down should it be acquired. There’s no doubt not having an app alienated some of its customers, and that many are now waiting to see what happens in terms of an app given that Virgin America might continue as a brand or be absorbed by Alaska Airlines.  

Why ramp up your mobile presence now?

Brands that continue to drag their feet when it comes to mobile need to be aware that we’ve reached a tipping point where not having a mobile app — and a good one at that — alienates consumers. After all, smartphone users spend the majority of their time in apps (about 80 percent), and mobile web is notoriously frustrating. We are long, long past the point of mobile apps being a trend: They’re a way of life.

Then there’s also the fact that more and more, many brands (including your competitors) are embracing a mobile-first approach — even the ones that might not seem at first blush like a “fit” for mobile. As Courtney Ferguson, senior mobile product manager for TurboTax, told Marketingland, “Due to the explosive growth within mobile, if your brand or company is not thinking of how to become ‘mobile first’ or leveraging the capabilities of the mobile platform, you will be disrupted…As the world is evolving to connected and ‘always-on’ experiences, it is best for companies to think about how they can change and evolve with it in order to delight and stay relevant to customers.”

And don’t forget how a good app can affect stock prices. Going back to banking, for a moment, and specifically the ones that have been aggressive with their mobile presence: although the industry overall has been slow to adapt to mobile, the winners haven’t been. Half of the ten largest banks have apps with four stars or more. JP Morgan/Chase, which was at the forefront of mobile deposit and has more reviews of its app than any of its competitors, saw its stock go up from a low of $28 in 2011 — just a few months before launch of mobile deposit in April 2012 — to a fairly steady $60 today. While obviously stock value is affected by many different things, it could be the case that its mobile app had something to do with JP Morgan/Chase’s share price.

The bottom line is, cool your heels when it comes to mobile, and specifically to mobile-first, and you risk losing market share and even stock value.

Which brands have gotten it right, and why

Smart brands took a page out of the game developers’ play book early on: they recognized that ROI is more important than committing to a written-in-stone budget, that making mobile transactions simple is key, and so too is earning from and iterating on data.

They also understood that they couldn’t just repurpose their web content and offerings into a mobile app and expect it to take off. They thought hard about what mobile functionality they could offer. Thus far, quick-service retailers have done well with this, like Starbucks. Through its order ahead functionality of the app, which came out nationwide in September 2015, Starbucks took on one of the biggest bugaboos of its customers: standing in line (and winding up late for work!). The result? By the end of 2015, 21 percent of Starbucks orders were made via its app. Others in QSR (Quick Service Retail) should take heed: mobile order-ahead is in its infancy, but it’s expected to be a $38 billion industry by 2020.

Walgreens has also done a great job with its app — to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to think of things you wish it did that it doesn’t already. Users can refill their prescriptions in a variety of ways (including by scan), check prescription status, live chat with a pharmacy tech, set pill reminders, submit an insurance card, share a list of meds with their doctor, and even order photos. The latest and greatest that the app offers are non-emergency doctor consultations: live video calls, with an average of 12 minutes until you see the doctor, for $49. With the iPhone version of the app, you can also connect to Apple Health to earn rewards for good behavior like exercise. All of this in addition to the usual retail app features, like making a list and clipping coupons.

Walgreens makes filling prescriptions less painful.

Walgreens makes filling prescriptions less painful.

Finally, there’s Nike, arguably one of the most successful brands ever. While it has multiple apps in the app store (Nike+ Run Club, which I use to track my time and plot courses; Nike+ Training Club; and Snkrs, for shopping), the new Nike+ app offers still more ways to “just do it,” like booking a slot at a Nike event, connecting with an expert (so you can call to determine the right product for your needs), and expert advice from pro athletes and trainers. Nike’s pitch for the app is that it is “the centerpiece for your all-access-pass” to the brand.

Interesting articles populate a feed in Nike's app.

Interesting articles populate a feed in Nike’s app.

When it comes to functionality with a brand app, it’s not necessary to be at the bleeding edge. You just need to continually think about context (including location) and what you can offer that’s different, relevant, and convenient. Even more to the point, you need to track how your customers interact with your brand, listen to them, solve problems for them and make tasks easy and even fun.

The time has come when brands can’t afford to do the minimum when it comes to mobile. It  takes creativity, listening to your customers, and devoting real resources and having a commitment to make mobile an important part of your business. Get it right, and you’ll truly engage your consumers and maintain or even grow your market share.

Katie Jansen is AppLovin’s Chief Marketing Officer. In addition to her work, Katie is an advocate for women in tech and equality in the workplace.

We’re hiring! Apply here.