Companies everywhere are jumping into the world of mobile applications, but often times the rush to “get in the App Store” produces applications with poor design, little functionality, and worst of all, no way to track whether or not the investment is paying off. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, here are some simple guidelines to follow to produce mobile apps that deliver style, function, and measurable results.

  1. Consider the audience for your application. Will the end users be consumers, vendors, partners, customers, or employees? By knowing your audience, you will be able to craft an application that provides form and features appropriate to their needs. Try to avoid the “one and done” global application that attempts to work for all audiences. This will lead to a bloated application that takes longer to download, is more difficult to update, and will be frustrating to an end user that may only need access to a couple of areas in the application. Keep the initial focus on delivering a quality application to a specific audience, and then plan on expanding over time to more features, or separate applications.
  2. Keep your application look and feel consistent with your corporate image. This does not mean that your app has to look exactly like your marketing materials and your website. Rather, it means that if your corporate image projects an austere, all-business attitude, don’t try to make an app that is funky and offbeat. One caveat, however, is to avoid falling into the trap of simply making your app into a mobile version of your website. Nothing frustrates a user like taking the time to download an app, only to find that it is simply a re-hash of a website that they could access via their mobile browser.
  3. Make sure your application brings functional value to the end user. This is the area that will make your app worthy of a download and continued use. In the early days of mobile apps, simply having a store/dealer locator or a map to your facility would provide useful functionality. Now, searching with Bing or Google in your mobile Browser will produce almost the same result. Be creative in deciding on useful features, and try to think like your audience. For example, if your company manufacturers, distributes, or sells sporting goods, you might want to have a feature for tracking batting statistics, or for calculating a bowling average, or selecting the right golf club based on hole distance, wind level, etc. By providing a useful tool, your application is less likely to be deleted, and more likely to get your message across through more frequent use.
  4. Investigate what your competitors are offering in the mobile arena. This should go without saying, but knowing what your arch-rival is doing in their app will help you in designing one that is even better. As in our example in #3, if your competitor’s app already has a bowling average calculator, then consider how it could be improved by adding the ability to store profiles for multiple bowlers with historical data and graphs to show improvement. Remember, you can always build a better widget.
  5. Make easy user interaction a key factor in the design. The importance of usability cannot be underestimated. All too often, user interface design falls victim to the desire to save a bit of money by creating a universal app that is deployed to all devices and the major mobile marketplaces (Apple iOS, Android, Windows Mobile) using the same code for all. This strategy commonly ignores many of the design guidelines put in place for each platform and can be limiting in terms of how your application interacts with hardware features like cameras, velocimeters, and GPS. When designing your application, pay attention to the recommendations for optimal user experience from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. They have invested millions of dollars in researching UI design, and your app will benefit from following their guidelines.
  6. Plan for how your application behaves when no Internet access is available. Despite the abundance of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, there are times when you just can’t get a signal. Lack of signal should not prevent your users from using your golf club selector at their dream course in Scotland. To prevent this situation you need to establish a balance between locally stored application data and web generated content. Too much local data means too large of an app, and too much web generated content means no fun when out on a remote adventure. To strike a balance, ask yourself whether or not the feature or content is likely to change on a daily, weekly, monthly, or periodic basis. More frequent content changes increase the likelihood that it should be web generated content. For features that change very little, local storage is the way to go. Locally stored content is also much more responsive to user interaction.
  7. Make you mobile app part of your social media strategy. As popular as mobile apps have become, the number of social media devotees on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have grown just as quickly. Your mobile app should embrace social media and encourage users to share your message, product, sale, service, or tool with their friends and co-workers. You can help by providing shortcuts within your app to Friend, Tweet, Like, or Share information with others. Not only will this help get your message out, it will provide even more information about your application users and their associates.
  8. Design features so that they will measure not only how many users have downloaded your app, but who they are, what they like, and how they are using it. The simple statistics provided by the marketplaces do not provide much information about who your users really are. For this reason, you need to think creatively to come up with ways to gather valuable demographics on your users. For example, in our golf club selector example, you may ask the user to enter their brand/model of clubs and whether or not they are right or left handed. You might use GPS location services to automatically find weather conditions at their course. This type of data collection seems innocuous to the user, but provides information that combined with an email address can lead to highly targeted offers for a new series of clubs for left handed golfers in the Tampa Bay area. The type of demographic data that you want to collect about users should be determined even before the application features have been designed. They can then provide a framework for what type of features need to be included to gather the information.
  9. Tie your application to a CRM system to provide a central location for analyzing user demographics and to initiate corresponding actions. After designing features to collect information about your users, you will need a place to put all of that information. There is no better place than a Customer Relationship Management system, like Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Salesforce.com, to store prospect and customer information. Not only are they easily customizable, but CRM systems also handle the tasks of creating, managing, and automating email campaigns, tracking sales calls, generating personalized mailings, and other marketing related functions.
  10. Recognize that building an attractive, functional, and effective mobile application is a team effort. Chances are, your organization does not have the complete collection of available in-house personnel with expertise in design, mobile marketing, business intelligence, mobile development and CRM systems to deliver your application in a timely, cost effective manner. Find an experienced vendor that has the pieces that you need to complete your team, and then get to work.

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