What Makes a Strong Mobile Strategy

Mobile is what the Internet was two decades ago. And that means your customers, and partners expect you to be there too. Here’s what you need to know to create a strong mobile strategy. 

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff Mar 16th 2012 A-A+

Mobile is what the Internet was two decades ago. And that means your customers, and partners expect you to be there too. Here’s what you need to know to create a strong mobile strategy. 

About two decades ago, there was no company in the world that didn’t want an online presence. The Internet soon became the most sought after platform to generate revenue and provide better customer service. 

In no time, companies that developed websites and followed their customers online—enabling users to download information, interact and transact—were winning more sales and lowering business costs. Today, every company has a team responsible for harnessing the power of the Web in a secure way. 

But today, the Web has given way to another platform that has a wider reach: The mobile.

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when developing a mobile website or app is making it a standalone project.

According to ComScore, more than 40 percent of your customers, your employees, and your partners are using their mobile devices to browse the web (and shop online) and download apps. And that percentage is expected to increase. However, a majority of businesses have failed to "mobilize," that is create a mobile version of their website, or a mobile app.

Does that mean that every business or organization needs a mobile website? No. But if you currently have a B2C or B2B digital presence and/or the people you do business with are mobile, it's time you had a mobile strategy.

Need a Mobile Website?

According to Ted Schadler, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research who covers enterprise issues, you can determine if your organization needs a mobile website by asking these questions: Does the organization currently have a website that is regularly used by customers? Do the people you are trying to reach use smartphones or tablets on a regular basis? Can mobile provide opportunities that a traditional web presence can't or doesn't do as well? Would customers (or employees or partners) benefit from having information at the moment of decision?

If you answered "yes" to two or more of these questions, you should probably (if not definitely) have a mobile presence (either a mobile website or a native app, or possibly both).

Think of mobile as "a system of engagement," as a way to improve the way you engage with customers, and employees and partners, explained Schadler. For example, let's say you run a real estate company, or are a developer. Prior to mobile, if a customer wanted information about a house, she'd have to call the real estate agency or look up the information on her computer. With mobile, however, you can provide prospective buyers with the information they need on their smartphones, when they are right in front of the house.

Picking a  Provider

When selecting a mobile solution provider, "you should go through the same vetting and RFP process as you would for any other type of software," says John Epperson, the CEO of Ruxter, a mobile marketing company. And part of the vetting process should include viewing and testing out several mobile websites (or apps) the mobile solution provider developed—on a variety of smartphones and tablets.

"How is the user experience?" says Mike Craig, the co-founder and VP of marketing at Ruxter. Does it have a good UI? Are pages quick to load? Is the site easy to navigate? In addition, Craig recommended reaching out to organizations with mobile websites and/or apps you like and asking how many people visit the site—or have downloaded the app—and what the analytics are.

Equally if not more important, find out if the mobile solution provider can help you develop a mobile strategy, as opposed to just a mobile splash page or basic app, stated Dan Liliedahl, CTO at TandemSeven, a mobile solution provider and user experience expert. Do they have both the front-end (that is, design, user experience) and back-end (integration) expertise to make mobile truly successful for your enterprise?


Developing a Mobile Strategy

One of the biggest—if not the biggest—mistakes organizations make when developing a mobile website or app is making it a standalone project, Schadler says. That is, not integrating your mobile website or app—your mobile strategy—into your broader marketing, sales, and customer (or CRM) strategy.

Instead of just thinking mobile, "think in terms of multi-channel," Liliedahl says, "where mobile is just one channel."

That said, when developing a mobile website or app, "you need to understand your customers' goals—and what devices they are using," Schadler says. What looks good on a large monitor is not going to work on a smartphone. Similarly, don't assume that what looks good on an iPad is going to look the same on an Android device or a BlackBerry. So, when creating your mobile website or app, make sure it looks good and is easy to navigate across a variety of mobile platforms.

Unlike traditional websites, with mobile it's all about streamlining information. So "figure out what are the five or six items that are the most vital to your customers," advises Craig, and get rid of all the extraneous stuff that could slow them down or distract them.

Finally, make sure to test your mobile website or app before you release it publicly.

Time and Cost

Depending on the amount of work that needs to done, and what you already have in place, it will likely take three to nine months to develop a good mobile website or native app. Three months if your enterprise already has a good service-oriented architecture in place and the mobile website or app is not too complex—"we're talking a straight build out, HTML5 with a wrapped app," Liliedahl says; nine months if there's no real infrastructure in place—that is, you need to build a service-oriented architecture.

As for the cost, while there are sites out there that allow you to create free apps, expect to pay at least $20,000 (about Rs 10 lakh) to design and deploy a professional-looking, customized, native apps, say both Liliedahl and Craig. If you want to create a multi-platform mobile presence that looks good on the front end and provides a positive user experience and integrates with and leverages your back end systems, expect to pay upwards of $200,000 (about Rs 100 lakh).

That may seem like a lot of money,  but the number of mobile users are growing, and that ROI can make mobile well worth it. Also, you don't have to do everything at once. "Start with a small project," Epperson suggests. "Find out how people are consuming your data." Then build from there. 


Better Get Going Now

Today’s market leaders are now leveraging the capability of increasingly powerful mobile devices, whether through apps or the mobile Web. 

Consider referrals. They’re the most powerful form of marketing, because an existing customer is telling a potential customer to do business with your company. With sales of smartphones and tablets skyrocketing, the odds are greater than ever that a prospect referred to your site will be using a mobile device to access it. 

You should compare your Web development budget with your mobile development budget. It’s time to put the money where the business is. 

It’s time to redesign your website to conform to the needs of mobile customers to make sure they have a good experience. This is just the first step, however. You also need a budget for researching, developing and testing mobile applications. With more than half a million mobile apps, there’s a lot of capability you can use if you know about it, and if you also know how to test it, integrate it and make it secure. Not only will you need developers to make external apps function for your needs, you’ll most likely want to write your own apps that help customers enjoy doing business with you. It will also provide a competitive edge for your business. 

Today, thinking you won’t be developing mobile apps is as unrealistic as thinking you wouldn’t be developing a website was in 1995. 

It’s time to act. To the early, aggressive adopter go the spoils.

- Adam Hartung