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Should marketing be in charge of B2C app development?

By Christopher Willis

We are in the mobile era. Applications have become a part of life for consumers, from the way they shop, to the way they make appointments or pay bills.

In fact, a December 2011 IBM study on holiday shopping trends showed that 14.6 percent of online sessions on retailer sites started from a mobile device, more than double the previous rate of 5.6 percent. Sales from mobile devices also doubled, reaching 11 percent versus 5.5 percent in December 2010.

Whether it is the holiday season or not, companies need to have mobile apps to support their sales and business strategies.

If you are a marketing professional, you want to make your mark with enterprise mobile apps, offer value and make your apps ?sticky,? i.e. an app that people find valuable enough to use frequently, in some cases, every day.

Here are some tips on building mobile apps to drive greater effectiveness:

Think of apps as landing pages versus Web sites. Do not pack too much content or too many interactive pieces into one big app.

Instead, build apps like you would build a campaign landing page, with a single call to action. It is much better to build mobile apps to support individual products, services or events that you want to promote. Think targeted campaigns?not mega apps.

Keep distribution channels in mind. Marketing-oriented apps should be designed to go viral and must be compatible with the mass-market app stores.

That means building native apps or apps developed specifically for use on a particular device.

?But what about this HTML5 I keep hearing about??

Well, there are plenty of challenges with HTML5, one being the lack of a clear and recognized distribution channel.

Users today expect their apps to show up on the What?s Hot list in the App Store. That requires that you build native apps that can be distributed via the mass-market app stores such as Google Play, iTunes App Store and BlackBerry App World.

Build apps that people will use frequently. If you are an insurance company, it makes sense to build a claims app, mostly as a requirement for your business.

However, most users will only use that app once every few years at best.

Instead, build a single feature app that simplifies daily or monthly tasks.

For example, one of our customers added ?bill pay? to their claims app. Now users open that app every month like clockwork.

That same insurance company?s marketing department released an app that had nothing to do with insurance. It is an app that easily connects young drivers with their parents via a short message service and global positioning technology. No sales pitch. Just pure user value and branding.

Listen to user feedback and adjust accordingly. When you pay a company to build an app for you, that app really represents a moment in time?the time when you determined the requirements?which may have been a year ago.

Most users download an app and use it once. If you can add content and features based on their feedback, you raise your stickiness.

The bottom line is that when you build mobile apps, you want them to be focused on solving specific customer concerns.

From a practical standpoint, you also need to be able to get your apps out to the broadest market, and have a platform nimble enough to adjust to changing customer needs.

The real focus, however, must center on customer needs, which is why marketing people should be a driving force behind business-to-consumer mobile app development.

Christopher Willis is chief marketing officer of Verivo Software, Waltham, MA. Reach him at