Master Class: How can brands, agencies, and developers create apps that will satisfy consumers?

When launching an app, it is important to consider if it is simple to use, addresses the needs of consumers, and is original. Leaving these bases uncovered jeopardizes the potential success of an app.

Jeff Corbin
, Cofounder, theIRapp

David Hargreaves, CEO, Beyond

Rowland Hobbs, CEO, Linea and managing partner, Post+Beam

Ted Murphy, Founder and CEO, Izea

Dane Troup, SVP, user experience, FTI Consulting

Jeff Corbin, cofounder, theIRapp
Investors, just like other consumers, are becoming dependent on their mobile devices for consuming information on publicly traded companies.

As a result, companies now more than ever need a mobile investor relations strat- egy to engage with their audience. An IR app should be part of this strategy.

What's happening in the investor relations app world is not unlike how other technologies shaped the IR communications industry. For the last 10 years we've watched companies meet regulations to provide their investor materials in an organ- ized fashion on their corporate websites. When social media emerged we watched, and continue to watch public companies grapple with new IR strategies.

To launch a true mobile strategy, public companies should consider optimizing their IR content for the small screens of iPhones and Android devices via an app built for the mobile device. But, in doing so, this should not just be an attempt to squeeze the IR website onto a mobile screen using HTML5 coding. Companies that theIRapp has worked with such as Walmart, SodaStream, BP, and Sysco have already incorporated a native app strategy into their IR efforts.

IR apps have inherent functions that can make the lives of investors easier. This includes the pushing of investor presentations, as well as the sharing of video content, and audiocast conference calls.

Native IR apps can offer alerts and social sharing, not to mention email opt-in and push notifications letting investors know when new information is available. Investors want automated stock price information, posting of new wire-released press releases, and SEC filings on their mobile devices. This is now possible with IR apps.

These apps offer companies the ability to instantaneously relay vital corporate data to investors, drive shareholder engagement, increase brand awareness, and fundamentally enhance their relationships with this very important audience.

David Hargreaves, CEO, Beyond
With consumers increasingly using mobile devices to interact with brands and with the app ecosystem exploding, brands should be successful on mobile platforms.

However, it isn't that easy. To be success- ful in mobile with an app strategy, a brand should ask two simple questions: does this app solve a previously unsolved problem and is the user experience simple and unique?

Every brand needs to have a Web- optimized presence, but just because mobile usage is on the rise doesn't necessarily mean a brand must develop apps.

If you are unclear what your specific user's needs are, mining social media data will often enable you to pinpoint a clear and concise value for the app. If you can't answer this question and identify - with evidence - a specific need, then you'll be hard pressed to deliver value to your users.

It's equally critical to understand the nuances of the mobile device experience. A successful strategy requires brands to keep it simple and realize the limitations of a mobile device with its smaller-form factor, but at the same time use the unique functionality such as GPS, accelerometer, and single-tap social sharing to enhance the experience.

To create an app that resonates with consumers, you need to do one thing and do it really well. Simple always wins regardless of device, but in the mobile world it's even more important. In short, identify an unresolved need for the consumer, realize the strengths and weaknesses in mobile functionality, and satisfy the practical need of the end user.

Rowland Hobbs, CEO, Linea and managing partner, Post+Beam
To talk about the crowded nature of the mobile app industry is nothing new.

These days there is an app for just about everything and, with 36 billion apps expected to be downloaded worldwide this year, finding ways to stand out is more important than ever before. Brands, agencies, and developers looking to effectively tap this competitive marketplace should adhere to the following axiom - to gain users, you need to think like one.

The most successful mobile apps are about empowering users. An innovation and communication approach starts by putting the needs of users at the center of the experience. As a result, being able to identify not only what people want, but also how people use their apps is of utmost importance.

Similar to communications in the age of social media, the conversation can no longer go one way. In other words, brands and agencies need to prioritize listening and learn from their targeted audiences as they move through every phase of the development process.

To do this successfully, it is essential that an app development team be com- prised of a diverse pool of talent - developers, coders, user-experience designers, marketing experts, and PR professionals - that communicate regularly.

Marketing and PR teams already plugged in to user trends and the daily news cycle should be involved in the development process from day one, providing the types of insight that can help inform the work being done by user-experience and design experts. This will ensure that even in the most crowded marketplaces your app provides a clear value proposition that will attract users and, more importantly, keep them engaged long after the beta stage.

Ted Murphy, founder and CEO, Izea
According to Gartner, a leading information technology research company, 36.7% of mobile phones sold in the second quarter of this year were smartphones.

This subset of the mobile market continues to grow. Smartphone users have thousands of app options to choose from and brands, agencies, and developers who want to create platforms should consider the following:

  • Keep it easy. In general, users don't have the desire or time in today's world to navigate their way through a complicated app. Sign-up, access, and use should be simple.
  • Fill a need. Within any given market or interest, there are dozens or hundreds of apps ready to help track or plan something. Newcomers should focus on being different and better.
  • Entertain, if nothing else. Apps such as MixBooth entertain users. I will take a picture of just about anyone and merge it with mine. The app is fun, so I use it often.
  • Understand the technology. Today, Android devices account for 56% of the smartphone market; and 83% of all smartphones are Apple or Samsung. However, the iOS App Store and Android Market are completely different. Developers need to understand the requirements of each because it's not as simple as, "This app works well in one platform so I'll just copy and paste the code into the other."
  • Build it and they still might not come. A good marketing plan is almost as important as development - a great app that no one downloads doesn't help an organization. Consider things such as beta launches to create hype while managing issues; give exclusive, first reviews to leading media outlets; and consider engaging a small number of advocates or industry influencers to serve as testers and reviewers.

Dane Troup, SVP, user experience, FTI Consulting
App is a buzzword in boardrooms and PR departments around the world, but there seems to be little understanding about what an app is and how it affects business goals.

To gain the widest exposure, businesses need to focus their strategy on publishing their message to a mobile-friendly, browser-based experience that is consistent across smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

Having a ubiquitous Web experience should be priority number one for businesses and that doesn't always - and in fact, rarely - means having an app.

Mobile is the fastest and most robust medium in our history, yet far too many companies enter the app space with little to no strategy for their development.

Billions of mobile apps have been downloaded over the past five years, yet the most used mobile app is the Web browser. Ironically, most websites perform horribly on mobile devices.

And, to take it one step further, search results, social media, and email can all link to browser-based content - not to mobile apps. Instead of trying to tap into the buzz, companies should focus on the content strategy and what the best presentation will be for their audiences.

Strategies such as mobile first and responsive design do an excellent job of present- ing content to users, no matter the device and whenever they need it.

This will give users a great experience and, at the end of the day, that's what really brings them back.

Only after your business has a successful mobile Web strategy is it time to start thinking about apps.

The Takeaway
  • When launching an app, it is important to consider if it is simple to use, addresses the needs of consumers, and is original. Leaving these bases uncovered jeopardizes the potential success of an app
  • New apps need to stand out in what is a saturated marketplace. An app that empowers users will create more of a buzz than a generic one that people find too time consuming to use
  • Not only do apps need to have unique content, they also need to be original in terms of development. A carbon copy of a Web browser will not suffice

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