4552429931_2fe07875ac_mWere you in business when Foursquare first came on the scene? It was (and is) a geo-gamification tool that retailers and restaurants especially have been playing with over the last few years. If you’ve seen people “check in” to various locations, you’ve seen Foursquare. When Foursquare first launched, countless bloggers exclaimed, “You need to start using this now! It’s for business. It’s for fun. It’s for everyone! When Pinterest became popular, the same thing happened. If your company wasn’t pinning pictures to the rapidly growing platform, you were like a cave man. The same thing is happening with mobile marketing. If you are not on top of mobile marketing, so the saying goes, you are already behind the 8-ball. Again.

When we talk about mobile marketing there are a few things we could be talking about. We might be talking about text message campaigns. We might talk about creating a completely mobile-friendly website. Most likely, however, what we are really talking about is the app.

Before you worry about how far behind your company is because you haven’t developed 17 apps and uploaded them to Itunes, let’s talk a little bit about how to consider whether you should “app” or not.

1. Are your customers using smart phones?

This may seem like a silly question, but we still know of companies that are handing out Blackberry phones to their sales team. We also know of plenty of industries where mobile phones are simply not used very often, at least on the job. Think about people working CNC machines in a manufacturing plant for example. If you don’t have a good feel for how much your customers use smart phones – ask them.

2. What would your objectives be in creating an app?

There are two major obstacles in the way of experiencing success with an App. The first is that they can be expensive to design and produce, so you need to make sure you’ll be able to get a healthy return. The other problem is that people want apps on their phone that are fun or extremely useful. Think about the apps on your smart phone, if you have one. You might have games you like to play, perhaps a weather.com app to keep you updated on the weather, or other apps that you use on an almost daily basis. Your customers are no different. If your objective in creating an app is to build your corporate brand, you may not experience a lot of success.

3. How could you help your customers solve a problem?

In his book Youtility (not an affiliate link), author Jay Baer, a leading social media speaker and consultant, describes several companies that have created apps that are truly useful. He mentions a hospital, for example, that created an app that helps you pick the perfect and most safe car seat for your child. An oft-mentioned app is Charmin’s “Sit or Squat,” which gives you reviews of restrooms near you. These apps are extremely helpful and are used by thousands of people, but the usage of these apps does not guarantee (necessarily) more business or sales for the companies behind them. If your company is willing and able to invest time, money, and resources into a long-tail effort to build relationships, how would you do it?

4. How will you keep up with changing platforms?

Once you have a successful app, you can’t just rest on your laurels. People who use the app will ask for new features. Smart phones will be updated with new operating systems. New smart phones will come on to the market and of course every update will require an investment. How are you going to sustain the popularity of your app for the long term?

5. Are you thinking about developing that app just because you feel like you should?

This is perhaps the most important question as you begin to think about app development. Are your customers clamoring for this kind of communication channel from you? Do you have room in your budget for starting something totally new? Would you be recommending this if people weren’t saying, “You’ve got to do this now to stay ahead of the game”? The worst reason to invest in any type of marketing tactic is to fulfill your feeling that you’re keeping up with other companies or that you’re staying true to what marketing gurus are saying. Every company is different. Companies will need different things at different times. Keep your own company’s objectives and needs front and center and go from there.

If you are considering an app, make sure you have answers to all of the important questions first. Consider any difficulties, and also consider what would happen if your app is extremely successful. Do you have the infrastructure to cover both eventualities? Start from the basics and then move forward.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilsciencechick/4552429931/ via Creative Commons