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B2B mobile apps and websites: big flip or big flop?

In November last year B2B Marketing published a blog of mine on the subject of mobile websites and their potential value to B2B marketers.

In that post I argued that the worldwide take-up of smartphones, the rise of remote working, and the need to have a widely accessible mobile presence meant that B2B companies without mobile websites would be giving up significant competitive advantage in the fight for custom, and the battle to build customer relationships through always-on mobile content. In the same piece I noted that there is a big difference between having a mobile website and having an effective mobile website (and the same may be said of apps, of course). The questions I’m going to address here, 9 months on from my last post, are ‘has the ‘big flip’ to mobile discussed in my post actually happened?’ and ‘have B2B businesses successfully met the usability challenges that come with creating a small-screen presence?’ 

To address these questions I’m going to start with the results of a survey we conducted through independent business research specialists Vanson Bourne earlier this year. We polled 1,000 heads of department on their mobile activities and plans and found that 45 per cent of them were working or planning to start work on a customer-facing mobile website, and 43 per cent on a customer-facing mobile app. On average our respondents were planning to spend £305k on at least 3 separate customer-facing mobile projects over the succeeding 18 month period. Other surveys support these findings: eConsultancy/Tealeaf research that crossed my desk recently suggested that 74 per cent of brands have now ‘implemented’ a mobile website, which is timely, given that 20 per cent of all website visits came via a mobile device in Q2 this year (this according to marketing consultancy, Latitude). I also note an interesting poll picked up by B2B Marketing’s own Gemma Huckle in January 2012, that revealed that “24 per cent of B2B marketing companies plan to invest more money on building apps this year.” The evidence is, then, that the big flip to mobile is in full swing. But how successful has all this mobile development actually been?

Well, we asked our business decision-makers to specify the level of take-up they’ve achieved with their customer-facing mobile projects to date and found that only 22 per cent—or just over 1 in 5—have seen their work adopted by ‘the majority’ of the people they were aimed at. A third of respondents said that their mobile initiatives had been taken up by half to three-quarters of the customers they had been aimed at. This is obviously disappointing given the costs involved in investing in the mobile channel and the sheer potential of the medium. The question is, ‘why is take-up so disappointing?’

Again our research offers clues as to why this might be. We asked our panels of department heads to identify their frustrations with the mobile app/website/web-app production process and found 45 per cent dissatisfied with the speed of project delivery, 42 per cent dismayed by spiralling budgets, 30 per cent unhappy with the security of their completed solutions, and a startling 21 per cent distressed that the mobile initiatives they had ordered turned out too difficult to use. Crucially, what all of these responses imply is that the executives and departments who commission mobile projects are wasting their investment in the mobile channel because they are too detached from the development process that they are responsible for instigating.

And this brings me onto what I really want to talk about here: the need for a sea-change in the way all brands, including B2B brands, approach the business of going mobile. Because it is apparent that many are still treating the medium as they did when it was in its infancy – by launching relatively un-researched, one-off, standalone, and static mobile apps and websites which don’t deliver significant returns but do get them out there and into the world of mobile. Unfortunately, getting out there is no longer enough – mobile has lost its novelty. More consumers than ever before are now incredibly mobile-savvy, and brands need to have engaging content that is highly relevant to their audiences before they can make an impact.

If B2B brands and businesses want to compel customers and prospects to connect with them through mobile devices, they need to stop taking a backseat during the development and implementation of their mobile initiatives. That means carefully researching and piloting content, having development tools that allow for design changes, ensuring that there is full integration with backend systems for measurement, constantly analysing take-up and usage, quickly replacing content that fails to resonate with consumers, and promoting apps and websites across a full range of marketing channels, rather than relying solely on overcrowded app stores. Above all it means having the tools to perform these tasks quickly and easily and with the minimum of expense. Needless to say, this approach to mobile requires a lot of commitment on the part of businesses - in the B2B space, and elsewhere. But anything less risks taking the big flip to mobile and turning it into a big flop; and that’s something few of us can afford to do in these straitened economic times.