This article first appeared November 10, 2009.
Given the extraordinary success of Apple’s App Store, it’s no wonder that corporations all over the world want a piece of the action.
In the last 12 months, Australian companies such as CommSec, Qantas, Pizza Hut and Officeworks have all released their own applications, while smaller web-based businesses such as Lasoo.com and Catch of the Day have also developed their own apps.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
While many of these applications have generated revenue, the apps are seen mainly as a marketing tool – a brilliant way to connect with a rapidly-growing, tech-savvy group of customers.
And while getting a corporate app-custom built can be an expensive process, there are ways to cut costs, providing you’ve got the right tools (starting with a Mac) and a good idea.
Connecting with new customers
Lasoo chief executive Paul Marshall, whose company’s app aggregates content from paper catalogues to find products on sale, says companies with a chance to make an app should do so to take their brand to a new group of customers.
“This is obviously our first venture into apps, so it’s difficult to understand what the success rate will be. But we didn’t build this just to be a flash in the pan. We want to have a long life on the app store, and not have a limited usability.”
“Putting our offering in your hand, we thought that was a powerful proposition. We saw the market share accessing our site from the iPhone, and we thought we could take advantage of that.”
Marc Edwards, chief executive of development studio Bjango, says if companies have the opportunity to develop an iPhone app that is an extension of their core business, then they should absolutely jump on the trend.
“There are obviously a lot of benefits in making an app from a marketing point of view, as you can get your message across to an extremely large audience.”
Catch of the Day founder and chief executive Gabby Leibovich says many businesses will have a model that is perfectly tailored for the iPhone. His site, which sells one product per day until sold, was “perfect for a mobile offering”.
“The main reason that drew me into developing an app was our model, and the iPhone’s new features. I can now send a message that pops up on a user’s screen every day telling them what the new product is. So about 7,000 people now receive a message, and I’m guessing that has only increased our sales.”
Keith Ahern, chief executive of development studio MoGeneration, says businesses are recognising how important the App Store has become when it comes to developing a marketing strategy.
“I’ve been quite surprised with some conservative large Australian companies, the kind of companies that two years ago would not have been interested, are now coming to us for us to do iPhone apps.”
“These are offline companies moving full ahead with iPhone apps and are even pretty opinionated about them. I’m seeing a lot of slow planning being fast-tracked, with pretty surprising deadlines.”
How can you get in on the App action?
It’s one thing for an experienced software developer to make an app, but most entrepreneurs don’t have the first clue about programming. So if you’re a business owner with a good idea, where do you go?
Shayne Tilley, marketing manager for Sitepoint.com, says there are a number of developers, both overseas and in Australia, available to create corporate apps.
“The alternative is to contact a specialised iPhone application development organisation to have your app created for you. This should speed up your speed to market, and depending on your in-house technical capability, result in a much more polished product, but will likely come at a higher premium.”
Ahern says development studios are gaining scores of new work because of this very reason, and MoGeneration regularly develops apps for other businesses.
“You’ve got two extremes, with the one being companies who have all the ideas and say they can make it all. The other extreme is people who have just the outline of an idea, and most businesses fall somewhere in the middle.”
“We talk about what they want and experiment to see what works. We look at similar competitors based on what they are doing, and look at the objective – is it brand extension, or a revenue advantage?”
Having someone else develop your app is hassle free, and will certainly guarantee you a product you’re happy with. But there’s just one problem – it’s expensive, with developers charging up to $50,000 for a single job.