How Digital Agencies can succeed in Mobile App Development
May 12, 2016 / Rob
If you are like most digital agencies and web designers you’ll be keen to make sure that you get your slice of the highly lucrative mobile app development market. Mobile Apps are big business and keep digital agencies relevant as consumer habits change. Brands are increasingly adopt an Omni-Channel approach to give their customers a much more seamless experience. With Millennials now making up more than 50% of the working population this is increasingly becoming Mobile First approach. Agencies without a coherent mobile app strategy risk becoming irrelevant and their customers turning to Mobile First Agencies to help them deliver their digital strategy.
Even the most modest projections put eye watering numbers on the current value of the mobile app market, valuing it in billions of dollars in the next year or so. Also the average enterprise budget for an enterprise app is around 5 times that of an equivalent website. So Brands are putting significant budgets behind their apps.
Why Digital Agencies Struggle with Mobile Apps
This great piece recently published in The Drum (a leading UK publication serving the design industry) nailed why some digital agencies are struggling to get a foothold in mobile apps. In essence the piece says that 3 things are holding agencies back. First, not taking the opportunity seriously and investing in the resources (or easy access to external resources) to deliver mobile projects well. Second, not taking time to understand mobile and thinking it’s just an extension of web, when in fact the dynamics and the services the agency should deliver to support their client, are completely different. Third, not saying no. Not challenging their clients hard enough on whether they actually need an app. Not pushing hard enough to get them to think carefully about exactly what “outcome” they want from the mobile app. What metric do they want to deliver; increased sales, tangible improvement in customer satisfaction, increase in staff productivity or whatever. There seems to be a tendency to ship an app with no clear KPI’s (and usually no way of properly measuring the impact the app has had on the business). As the Drum article says agencies are inclined to think that mobile is just another channel, tick that box for the brand and they are doing their job.
Its also worthwhile to point out that many Digital Agencies, who have grown up with web development moved into mobile responsive websites, just assume that native or hybrid mobile app development is just the next natural extension to what they do. So its an easy and natural extension to their business. The reality unfortunately is somewhat different. This excellent piece on Why Most Mobile App Projects Fail, nails it for me. The big take away is the difference between mobile and web development, with mobile much more closely aligned to software development than website development, so a very different approach and mindset is needed if you want to succeed.
Well the hard truth of the matter is that Digital Agencies who don’t have a credible offering in mobile will see themselves become increasingly marginalized as their Brand clients turn to Agencies that take a Mobile First approach. That means putting mobile (and mobile apps) at the core of what they do.
How Digital Agencies can Succeed with Mobile Apps
Here’s 3 things that Digital Agencies can do to make success of mobile.
1. Start with the end result and work back
Really understand what the Brands need the app to do and build that. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it. But we’ve seen many, many mobile app projects go wrong because the single most important objective is lost somewhere in the dark reaches of the mobile project. One of the best ways to do this is to nail down the 20 most important questions that should be asked before any code is cut. Then keep this front and center throughout the project. This is also a great way to sense check changes to scope – with the acid test “how will this benefit the Single App Objective of the app”. Helps, big time, keep crazy Brand clients focused on the important stuff and keeps your project on track. (Protecting your project margin as well of course).
2. Learn from the software developers
Agile methodology in software has been around for a while. Software developers learnt that the best software projects ship a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as their first release. This doesn’t mean ship an inferior product. What it does mean is to give them a product that delivers the Single App Objective incredibly well, stripping out “Feature Bloat” that often comes with new releases. Bloat that increases the time to market and cost to develop the software. MVP also ensures the product is out in user’s hands early, so how it’s being used can be carefully studied and features enhanced around the use patterns of real people, not what is dreamed up in “smokey” back-rooms. Specialist mobile app agencies are catching on to this and this method is becoming mainstream in how they build apps.
3. Make sure Agency and Client’s needs are aligned.
Another big benefit (and a big reason why specialist mobile app agencies love Agile) is that it helps increase the bond between Agency and Client. It’s a much more collaborative way of working and a method anchored in facts. Facts about exactly how the app is being used and therefore what should be done next to make the app even more successful. The alignment of needs between the Agency and the Client comes from the Client wanting their app to be a success (success defined by the Single App Objective) and the agency wants to work with the client long term to optimize the performance of the app and bill a rolling program of work. The client gets a great app that just keeps getting better, the agency builds a business based on monthly recurring revenue from clients, extending income from just the few months it takes to build and ship the app, to a multi-year engagement.
Mobile Apps – the Opportunity for Digital Agencies
The question isn’t should digital/web agencies target the mobile app development opportunity. It’s a simple case of they can’t afford not to. The facts are simple. As the purchasing power of Millennials continues to grow this will skew the Omni-Channel away from desktops towards Mobile-First. As technology matures and the Internet of Things connects everything to everything, enabled largely by mobile apps running on tablets and smart phones, mobile devices will dominate. There are many examples where this has reached tipping point already. As consumers increasingly move off the desktop, agencies without a coherent offering around mobile risk becoming irrelevant. This that act and build a strong foothold in mobile are not only strongly positioned for the future, but will get a slice of a very profitable and lucrative market.