Entrepreneur Magazine article: To Invest in Mobile or Not to Invest in Mobile… That is the Question

Aug 12, 2016Best Practices

This article was originally published in Entrepreneur.

Since 2014, people spend more time browsing the Internet on their smartphones than on their desktops. Businesses cannot ignore mobile as a valuable channel to reach their customers anymore.

Marketing teams are focusing on reallocating a bigger budget to mobile. But to be truly effective, mobile marketing requires the involvement of technology, and the cost may outweigh the benefit.

When starting a business, every dollar counts. So how much should entrepreneurs actually invest in mobile? When making the decision, here are three options to consider.

1. Don’t invest in mobile.

Take this risk at your own peril. Make no mistake – no business ignoring mobile today will still be alive in five years.

Why do I say that? Look at your customers, employees and friends. They all carry at least one mobile product at all times – their smartphone. If a business ignores mobile today, a competitor will soon enough come up with a mobile offering. Since everyone is on mobile, that competitor will quickly grab market share.

Remember what happened to Kodak, Yahoo and Nokia? They refused to adapt to mobile and the tide quickly turned on them. Denial is someone else’s opportunity. It happens faster than you think.

Related: 3 Ways to Use Mobile Marketing to Keep Customers Coming Back

2. Make a minimal investment in mobile.

What’s the minimal investment you need to make in mobile? The minimal investment you can make in mobile includes three things.

  • Make your website responsive, i.e. mobile-friendly. The cost is minimal, but the benefit is significant because Google recently started favoring mobile-friendly websites in its search algorithm. In other words, not having a mobile-friendly website penalizes you on both mobile and desktop.
  • Make your emails easy-to-read on mobile. According toExperian, two out of three emails are opened on mobile. Businesses that want customers to read their emails need to optimize them for mobile users.
  • Optimize your mobile ads. On mobile, everything is measurable. For example, you are able to know things like, which ad resonates the most with men between the ages of 35 and 44 in New York. That’s pretty valuable if this group represents your target customers, right?

Related: Getting Started With Small Business App Development

3. Invest more into mobile by creating an app.

My recommended starter investment is to add an active presence in the top 10 apps.

Nine out of 10 people use smartphone apps instead of mobile websites so a website has significantly less reach than an app.

But by itself, that information can be misleading.

Many businesses jump to the conclusion that they need to cram their website into an app. This is a mistake. Remember the dot-com era, when companies hurried to build websites that mirrored their paper catalogs.

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the barebone sitemaps that looked like tables of contents. Clicking links would open static web pages with lengthy product descriptions and no pictures.

Website visitors couldn’t read reviews, or go from one product to another to see what others had purchased or compare prices – let alone buy online. So few of them came back, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that websites were new line items on already fat IT budgets.

If companies build apps that look like cluttered websites, they’ll be left wondering: Do the benefits really outweigh the costs?

Having an app strategy works in specific situations, but it’s not for everyone. Consider this: every nine out of 10 minutes people spend on mobile is spent in the top 10 apps. And 50 percent of apps are never downloaded, not even once.

My recommendation is to maintain an active presence in the top 10 apps – social networks, like Facebook or LinkedIn, messaging platforms, like WeChat and WhatsApp, and marketplaces like Amazon and Thumbtack.

So when does it make sense to have an app strategy?

An app strategy often requires an app for iPhone, Android, tablets, smartwatches, etc. Each platform requires a new product and a new team so it can get complex and expensive fast.

Related: Why Your Small Business Needs a Mobile App

There’s likely a business case for making an app if any of the following is true.

  • Your products or services are high touch. This means your customers buy from you often and what they buy requires a lot of support. Customers who use your mobile app are significantly more loyal than those who use a website. Having an app may mean more personalized promotions, increased sales and more.
  • Mobile meaningfully enhances your current offering. In the past, people who needed a cab had to spell out the pickup address. At the end of the ride, they paid cash. Today, passengers’ location are seamlessly detected, and their payment information is often stored. It’s as if they no longer pay. This is when apps provide competitive advantages.
  • You can offer new offerings that could not exist without mobile. For example, an event management company could let attendees easily communicate in an app during a conference. In that case, a mobile app may mean new revenue streams.

Mobile offers businesses many opportunities to reinvent themselves, but they need to carefully assess the cost versus the benefit.