Mobile Apps: Do they even matter?

“Mobile apps are the future!” -Everyone

My co-founder and I have spent the last seven years in digital marketing. We spent most of that time at ExactTarget and Salesforce.com working with some of the most innovative marketers in the world. Since leaving earlier this year, we have spent six months talking with and consulting for companies of all sizes and verticals about their digital and mobile strategies.

Throughout these seven years, one consistent theme existed at conferences, industry publications, and strategy presentations … mobile apps are the future! Almost everyone has a smartphone (3.5 billion people by 2019!), uses it ALL THE TIME (people check their smartphone 60 times per day!), and apps are dominating (89% of all smartphone time is with apps!). Let me translate for the non-statistical readers: MOBILE APPS WILL RULE THE WORLD! Or at least that is what all the research has led us to believe.

What if your mobile app did not exist?

We have worked with hundreds of organizations and brands spanning all sizes (SMB to Enterprise), industries (Retail to Financial Services), and business models (traditional to eCommerce). Over drinks one afternoon we decided to perform a thought experiment: Of all of these companies, how many would be negatively impacted if their mobile app never existed?

The answer we came up with: two. Two. TWO!

Let that sink in for a moment. In 98% of these companies NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN IF THEIR MOBILE APP WAS NEVER BUILT. How is this possible if apps are in fact such a revolutionary marketing channel?

Of course there are exceptions: Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, YouTube, Maps, Instagram, mobile games, and companies that were built as mobile-first platforms (i.e. Uber). However, what about everyone else? You know … all the companies that mattered more than 10 years ago?

A Crossroads

Mobile apps are at a crossroads. On the one hand, almost all consumers have a super computer in their pocket which represents an opportunity to build relationships, improve lives, and achieve goals in a way that was unimaginable 10 years ago. On the other hand, very few brands are actually building relationships, improving lives, or achieving any meaningful goals.

So what do we do now? This is the ultimate question, and we will start exploring it in future posts. To start, every company should ask themselves two important questions:

1. Does your mobile app matter?

If your mobile app disappeared (or you never built one), what would happen? Be honest. Maybe you have millions of users which actively use your app every week. However, what is the real business impact? Would monthly or quarterly goals be missed? Would sales decline? Would the company go under? Would anybody even notice? Or would nothing happen? Would you actually save money?

2. Will your mobile app ever matter?

In 5 years, do you believe your mobile app will have an impact on your business? If the answer is no and your app will never play an integral role in your business, STOP DOING IT! Why spend effort on something that does not contribute and never will? Employees do not want to spend their time and energy working on something that will never matter. Seriously, just stop reading now, kill your app, and go back to checking Twitter.

What now?

Do I really believe companies should quit trying? Of course not. Mobile apps will continue to fundamentally change how we live, work, play, earn, spend, invest, and consume. However, marketers must start thinking about mobile differently. Traditional strategies will not work. So where do we begin?

It is time to go back to the basics. We must rethink goals, strategies, and the tools we are using. In our next post, we will begin that conversation. We hope you join us for the ride.

Matt Compton is a former sales and product leader @ExactTarget and @Salesforce and is currently the co-founder of Waysay, a company focused on helping brands create more personalized mobile apps. Follow Waysay and Matt on Twitter.