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Not so app-solutely fabulous?

Last week’s The Apprentice was a lesson in app development for the contestants, but not in the way that the producers probably would have intended.


Making apps isn’t an easy task, as those in the industry well know, and it is near-impossible to do on the 24-hour turnaround that the contestants experienced.


Granted, the apprentices were constrained by the rules of the task, but the fact remains that they started off on the wrong foot with their app designs, and made a series of basic mistakes such as not truly thinking through the purpose of the apps they were tasked to design, and not doing enough to know their audience.


When looking at building an app, businesses need to think about who they are aiming their product at and what they want the outcome to be. Do you want to engage customers on a local or global level? Do you want to drive customers to your main website or simply create awareness of a new offering?


There needs to be a solid business plan backing up any app development – even ‘fad’ apps need to have some rational and logical thinking behind them, not least what the long-term aim is and how you will successfully monetise your app.


Despite Lord Alan Sugar stating “put an app on the web and you can make some money”, this isn’t the case. Those who make their fortunes are few and far between. Yes you can make some money from app downloads, but when considering the up-front investment and development, it can be some time before ROI is achieved.


If app development was as easy asstick it up and make money’ then we’d all be doing it! There is a huge potential market for apps, with people who have apps on their iPhones spending an average of £400 per year purchasing through apps. But, the fact is, an app has to be engaging or provide a service to the end-user in order for them to keep it on their smartphone and continue to use it on a regular basis. Companies like Gameloft, Hand Circus and EA are making money from their apps, but they didn’t just knock them up overnight and make a profit. It takes time and effort to create a truly successful app.


Also, I take umbrage with the success criteria of the task being downloads alone. As anyone involved with the Internet knows, websites are more than just visitor numbers, and apps are more than just download numbers. Social media strategies produce large volumes of data that are invaluable in measuring the success of any strategy. But keep in mind that there is already a lot of research out there – take the time to investigate and do your homework, and make use of what is already out there.


Finally – it’s essential to remember that apps aren’t the be-all-and-end-all for businesses. While The Apprentice will undoubtedly increase interest in apps, businesses should take a step back and think carefully about the marketing tool that is most appropriate before they jump on the app bandwagon. Apps may be the right choice for your business, but marketers need to make an informed decision based on analysing the online collateral they already have, such as website visits and usage. By looking at this data you may realise that developing an app may be the wrong move and instead a mobile website may be the most effective and often simpler thing to do.