With more than 1 billion smartphones worldwide and tablets in the hundred of millions, mobile has changed the world we live in. This shift to mobility can make it easy for companies to believe that a mobile play will put them on the quick path to success. But it's not that simple.
There's no denying that mobile is important - it provides an opportunity to put your brand into the user's back pocket - but just because you can utilize mobile doesn't mean that you should.
As a small business, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the market around you - constantly hustling to stay relevant in the rapidly changing mobile world. Add to that a mountain of hype and contrasting advice as well as a hefty price tag, and "going mobile" suddenly becomes a very daunting task.
But it doesn't have to be. Going mobile is about one thing, and one thing only - appealing to your users in the right way - and a carefully thought out strategy is the best way to remain competitive.
First things first - figure out who your mobile user actually is. Which group will benefit most from mobility? Many companies automatically assume their customer is the user, but it's possible that your users could also include vendors, partners, or employees. Knowing whom you are targeting is the first step to providing a valuable mobile experience for them.
Once you've determined exactly whom you are targeting, the next step is to gain an understanding of what they are looking for, which you can do by talking to your users. Ask them questions; understand their needs. Figure out what makes the most sense for them and your business, and then determine if there is a mobile-specific use case that will provide a valuable solution to a problem.
Keep in mind that while in-person interviews can glean additional insights, they can often require a lot of labor, which can be tough for a small business. Another viable, yet cost effective option is utilizing Survey Monkey, or similar survey tools that allow you to leverage your existing mailing list, craft a survey, and obtain feedback.
Analyzing your data also serves an important function in understanding user needs. Most businesses have the necessary tools to uncover the needs and wants of their users. Google Analytics, for example, provides a fantastic way to conduct some simple trending from your existing website. Assessing the information that the people seek out, what devices they tend to use most frequently, and even what times of day bring the most traffic to your site help narrow down what kind of functionality your mobile presence should have.
Time and time again, we see companies charging head first into mobile without a plan. It's not uncommon to hear the phrases, "my competitor has an app" or "my boss says we need an app" from clients - they go straight to the how without considering the what or the why. And time and time again, we work to steer clients away from this urgent need to play in "the next big thing" before they understand the impact it will have on their users, their business, and their bottom line.
When it comes to mobile, have a clear, measurable set of goals before you act. Larger companies with the funding to back up experimentation don't always take the time to extensively analyze the user needs, but as a small company with limited funds, doing without understanding is a luxury that you just can't afford. Plus, treating your user as a priority rather than an afterthought will help avoid a mobile project that falls flat from low adoption and lackluster usefulness. And if you are lucky, you may just develop some brand ambassadors along the way.
Take this example: Several years ago we had a large grocery chain come to us looking to make its entire website available in a friendly way via mobile devices. It was going to be an expensive and time-consuming project, and as it turns out, one that was not completely necessary.
After analyzing the company's specific audience (in this case, its customer) and their behavior, we found that mobile customers were only visiting three specific pages. So rather than making a costly extension of the full desktop experience, we pared down the mobile offering to provide only what their customers truly needed for phase 1.0 - how to find a local store, hours of operation, and weekly specials or coupons. By giving special attention to the user's specific needs, we created a mobile experience that is both useful to people, and well worth the money.
In the long run, spending more time defining who you serve and what their needs are is the best way to stay competitive in the ever-changing market. Companies are always asking for more than they need because their competitor has it or feels innovative, but cutting the fluff and providing only what is truly valuable to your users will ensure you are spending your company's time and budget in the right areas, and will provide you a better competitive advantage than mobile can alone.