Marketing leaders now view mobile apps as essential for gaining the edge in today’s hyper-competitive economy. Most are building and releasing apps not only for customer consumption, but also to better connect employees and partners. However, for most marketers, app strategies are uncharted territory, as they need to design and develop their apps — and measure results — from scratch. It also suggests an increasing role for marketing executives in technology management.
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These are the key takeaways from a new survey of 302 marketing and digital development executives, conducted by Forbes Insights, and sponsored by Adobe. (I participated in the design and analysis of the survey results.) Increasingly, marketing executives see the value in extending this channel not only to customers, but also to employees and partners. The survey finds 53% of marketing executives designing and deploying mobile apps, both internal- and external-facing, as part of their marketing and business development strategies.
In most cases, marketing teams are blazing new trails for their organizations. Some organizations already have thriving “app cultures,” in which marketing departments can tap into existing veins of expertise and experience. But for the majority, developing and deploying mobile apps require designing and commissioning new processes and approaches for mobile app innovations. App developers also need to focus on building stable and scalable apps, publicizing and ramping up interest in the apps and, finally, determining how much value the business is gaining from the app.
Delivering value through apps requires more than simply scaling down a website to fit on a smaller screen. A compelling mobile strategy requires that marketers design, develop and deploy mobile apps that are capable of delivering a range of online services, from product communications to fresh content, unique specials and even gaming.
The Forbes Insights survey also revealed the following trends:
Customer-facing mobile apps are on the rise. A majority of enterprises with customer-facing apps, 78%, report increases in their mobile app audiences over the past year. The availability of more services and content available exclusively through apps is driving this growth. The use of customer-facing mobile apps is seen as a post-sale loyalty strategy. Thirty-one percent of respondents say that customer-facing apps have the greatest impact when maintaining loyalty post-purchase.
Internal apps are driving efficiencies. More than two-thirds of executives report the number of end-users of their internal apps has grown over the past year; they see apps playing greater roles in facilitating sales, communication and training processes as more and more internal end-users rely on mobile devices to do their jobs.
Most marketing organizations are still on their first apps. As these are still early days for corporate mobile app deployments, most organizations have only one to three apps at most. A majority, 59%, have one to three customer-facing apps, while 62% have between one and three internal apps. Most also report that they are increasing the number or functionality of their apps.
While most have the support of their IT departments, marketers are making this technology venture their own. In a majority of cases, both external and internal apps are developed within the organizations—mainly with the assistance of internal designers, internal developers and IT. C-level executives are likeliest to have final sign-off, but ultimate responsibility for apps is scattered at a majority of organizations, suggesting a role that marketing executives can step up to.
User experience is the greatest challenge for marketers. The major challenge seen by marketing executives is the ability to design user-friendly interfaces for their apps, to keep end-users interested and returning to the app. Close to half say it’s problematic supporting multiple operating systems, as well as keeping apps conformant with app store requirements. On average, it takes four months to design, build and deploy a typical app, the survey finds.
Most marketers do not measure app usage yet. Just under half, 44%, attempt to measure metrics within the apps, mainly content views and number of downloads. Usage metrics measured include content views (66%) and number of app downloads (60%), but marketers are not yet focusing on user-interface metrics such as analysis of navigation through the app, or pathing (34%), or, surprisingly, length of time spent with app (41%) in large numbers just yet—suggesting that metrics are still a nascent part of the app strategy.