Trends in IT and communications change so rapidly. A few years ago, a professional website and a social media presence was all any company needed to fulfil the expectations of its customer base. Not anymore.
Today the stand-out online business tool is without any question the app. As smartphones become ever more sophisticated to the point where they can take on most of the functions of a desktop computer or laptop, so the simple screen icon promising a world of personal interactivity is the go-to tool for enterprises wishing to engage with their customers - and, most importantly, to keep them engaged.
But it would be wrong to see the app as some kind of novelty or fad. Used correctly it can build a lasting personal relationship between your company and its client base.
A virtual, interactive shop window to enhance your brand's visibility
Simply having an app available for download gives you access to what have become some of the busiest marketplaces on the planet, namely the app stores. For instance, Apple's integrated app store receives over 500 million visits every week. Potentially every owner of an Apple smartphone or tablet is able to research your application, and to download it.
Of course, whether visitors get to find your app or not is determined by algorithms, which work pretty much the same way as they do with search engines such as Google. As a general rule of thumb, the more popular your app becomes the higher up the priority list it goes, leading to more exposure and hence even more popularity. Clearly, the better your app is, the more attention it – and therefore your business – will receive.
The app as a means of consolidating trust
Trust is still probably the most precious commodity in the world of commerce. Our ways of doing things change, but the bottom line - that customers eschew doing business with companies that can’t be relied upon to engage honestly and honourably - is fairly much a constant.
It is a reasonable assumption to make that the more interaction a potential client has with a service provider; the more trust is likely to be built. Therefore, any means through which that interaction might be engendered is generally to be pursued.
Trust comes not just with values but with brand recognition. We tend not to trust products or manufacturers that are entirely new to us, at least not as much as we trust those with whom we have had dealings in the past and have found to be reliable. Brand recognition is one of the single biggest factors in ongoing commercial success, and it surely follows that the more means through which that recognition might be achieved the quicker it is likely to occur.
An app, once downloaded, is ever-present on the screen of your telephone. You see it each and every time you scroll. This is subliminal advertising in its purest form.
Creating loyalty with your brand
Big corporations have long understood the concept of encouraging loyalty through incentivisation. Most if not all of them offer something back in return for frequent shopping, and as such, these offers are collectively known as "loyalty schemes".
Or course "loyalty" in the context of shopping is an often misused term. Indeed the idea that one customer can be loyal to each of a whole range of supermarkets and be the proud owner of a fistful of "loyalty cards" to prove it has long been the butt of jokes. Nevertheless, the fact that the special offer continues to prove so attractive to purchasers demonstrates the power of creating an impression of something for nothing.
The app takes incentivisation to a whole new level. Push notifications can be sent out, tailored and personalised, inviting those signed up to them to pay another visit, to fill out a market research survey, to sign up a friend or even to make a good old-fashioned purchase in exchange for points, coupons or just about anything else.
At the end of the day the name of the game is to keep the person using the app coming back to the virtual store, to see what's new and what is on offer.
Whatever the type of business you operate, there is almost certainly a benefit to be had through building an interactive relationship with your client base and by keeping them informed of any new developments at your end of things.
Retaining customer interest with new and exciting features
Quite often an app operates on two levels, one of them almost superficial with, say, games, photo sharing or light surveys designed to retain customer interest in the whole experience. But then, the best and most creative app developers often add another objective. Sometimes that may be some blatant form of marketing, at other times it could be something much less palpable such as subconscious product advertising or even a simple trust and familiarity building exercise.
In many respects it doesn't much matter. For as long as the app retains your interest and your participation, it has your attention for whatever purchase the host company may wish to put that to.
The idea is similar to that used by some social media platforms, which operate on the surface as a public meeting place but in the background as a business marketing operation.
There is virtually no limit to what you can achieve with an app. When used to support a startup business it could generate potentially exciting outcomes.
Your app as a direct communication tool
The use of push notifications has revolutionised mobile communications. Whether it be news clips, football scores or a message indicating that somebody has replied to your Facebook status, the transmission of information that you believe you need to know is instant.
It doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to realise the potential that push notifications have as a means of keeping your customers and potential customers informed. As the epicentre of your own news output you can keep all your contacts advised of your latest products, offers and promotions once they have signed up to receive your messages simply by downloading your app.