09/22/2012 02:17 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2012

5 Things Every Business Needs to Know to Have a Successful Mobile Strategy

As use of smartphones and tablets continues to skyrocket, businesses as diverse as financial institutions, restaurants, news outlets, and software publishers are finding that their mobile strategy is often what can mean the difference between success and failure.

According to Canalys, global sales of smartphones overtook PCs for the first time last year, and in several markets, including China, more users access the web through smartphones than laptop and desktop computers

With smartphones and tablets more prevalent than ever, even traditional brick and mortars and web-based businesses stand to benefit from a mobile infusion. If your business needs a mobile strategy (and chances are that it does), here's a list of five essential things to keep in mind if you want your business to succeed on the third screen:

1. Think cross platform

Potential users and customers are everywhere and the last thing you want to do is limit yourself by sticking to a single platform. That means you need to devote as many resources as possible to getting your product or service on to all major mobile platforms. This doesn't just mean creating apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, it also means making sure your website is optimized for mobile devices.

Furthermore, don't lock your users into one ecosystem or device if your product is available on multiple platforms. A single customer could very well have a Windows PC, an Apple iPad, and a Google Nexus phone. A customer should be able to quickly and seamlessly use your service across multiple platforms, like how Netflix allows users watching through their TV to pick up a video right where they left off when watching on their phone, or how Amazon's Kindle platform lets readers save their place in a book and continue reading on anything from a Kindle e-reader, to an iPhone, to a web browser. If you don't give consumers a seamless and connected service, they might very well turn to a competitor who does.

2. Keep it simple

After getting your service in front of as wide an audience as possible, it's just as important to make the use of your product on mobile devices accessible. Not only is a good user interface (UI) important, but if the nature of your app or site allows users to get a taste without registering, let them do so. People have very short attention spans and the window of opportunity to convey the value of your service is small.

Keep registration and payment flows as simple as possible. While virtual keyboards have improved greatly, there's no getting around the fact that entering information on a phone is a slower and more cumbersome process than doing so with a mouse and keyboard (not to mention that mobile users are likely to be on the move when using their devices and not seated at a distraction-free desk.)

Therefore, keep the information users have to enter for payment and registration to the bare minimum. With Facebook more or less owning our identities online, leverage their Single Sign-On solution to reuse as much basic information as you can and only prompt new users for the absolute essentials not provided by Facebook's APIs. First impressions are key, and if mobile users find a sea of registration fields as soon as they fire up your app, they're going to be turned off and might just delete your app and go to the next one rather than jump through the hoops you've created.

3. Target and reward loyal users

Consumers who love your product or service will do more for you through word of mouth than any ad campaign ever will. Make sure they feel that their admiration for your product or service is being reciprocated and are incentivized to spread the word. Of course, this rule stands true for any business, but is especially important for businesses focusing on mobile, as the methods for broadcasting their loyalty are literally at users' fingertips.

A couple options are to reward mobile users for preaching the merits of your product by handing out easy-to-redeem referral bonuses, or utilizing location-based technologies to target customers with promotions at "check-in" or when they mention your business in a positive light.

4. Add a social component

Similar to the last point: you want your fans broadcasting their use of your product, and they want ways to share their love of your product with others, so why not reach out to them on social networks that they know and love. It's a win-win.

Great social integration means more than basic integration with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. That's well and good, but it's been done before.

If you want to stand out, consider adding a gamification component to existing promotions or incentives that encourage user interaction, such as badges that award heavy users and achievements, or leaderboards that show who among their peers are most active.

Not only will users have more fun, but they'll want to get their friends to use your product so they have more people to play with. Try to build the core of your app around the notion of Metcalfe's Law with the value of your app increasing for every friend they convince to start using it.

5. Don't treat mobile as an afterthought

Last but not least is the single the most important ingredient for a successful mobile strategy: give mobile the attention it deserves.

Mobile Internet use has been increasing rapidly for years, and a robust mobile strategy is doubly important if you hope to compete in emerging markets. Thanks to the increasingly low cost of internet-connected phones, many individuals in these markets are experiencing the Internet for the first time through a mobile device.

You can see a cautionary tale in companies that have treated mobile as a secondary focus. Look no further than Facebook and Zynga, which have failed to fully capitalize on mobile and have seen their stock price tumble partly due to this..

Chetan Sharma, a mobile industry analyst, makes an excellent case in his Global Mobile Market Update Report when he says, "In 3-5 years, with few exceptions, if a company is not doing a majority of its digital business on mobile, it is going to be irrelevant."

I would take that even one step further and add if a company does not have a concrete strategy to target and engage mobile users, they will fall short of their competitors by a wide margin.

So no matter what your business is, you need to make sure that your mobile strategy isn't relegated to a bullet point in your business plan. Now more than ever, it should be the centerpiece from which the rest of the plan is based.