We’ve all heard about mobile apps, and know that what started as a foray in cute games has evolved into a sophisticated tool of commerce that enables business and delights customers.

It’s no surprise that plenty of big companies have mobile apps…

…but did you know that custom mobile apps are an explosive trend for small business as well?

Local restaurants, bars, gyms, law firms, nonprofits, and sports teams…all of these business categories (and many more) see the sheer potential of apps, and have integrated them successfully into their overall marketing efforts.

Other people are getting into mobile apps.

The real question, of course, is: should you?

The numbers prove your customers are mobile: will you be there with them?

Mobile is more than a fad: it’s a proven trend that grows exponentially year-over-year.  In fact, at the end of 2011, 101 million people in the United States were using smartphones; an increase of 60% from 2010.

Of all of the statistics, one stunning number paints a crystal-clear picture for small business: 80% of smartphone searches were for local businesses.

In other words, your customers are already looking for you with their smartphone.

Let’s dissect these searches a little bit more: up to 90% of mobile searches for businesses resulted in an action favorable to the business, such as a customer visit (for example, 52% of searches led to a call to the business); a quarter of those who looked for local businesses made purchases.

 

What other methods of marketing or promotion yield these sort of sky-high conversion rates?  The story the numbers tell is clear: mobile is an effective, proven and growing way to get in front of customers and increase conversions.

There’s bad news, though: your competitors have already started to figure this out too.  22% of small businesses planned to increase mobile marketing in 2012

; a number that will continue to increase in the coming years.

Man in suit sending sms while getting lunch

How can mobile apps help my business?

Mobile apps offer an almost unprecedented way for your business to make your customer’s life easy, and make it almost irresistible to engage with your brand.

Custom mobile apps help your business in 3 main ways:

       1. Keep you in front of customers

Think about traditional advertising methods, such as commercials, flyers, and direct mailing.  They’re expensive, and they’re a one-time shot: after you send the mailings or run a commercial, you’re done until you’re ready to fork over more money for another campaign.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, go where no traditional advertising method has been before.

Once your customer downloads the app, it stays with them.   The app is like a mini-billboard that goes with your customers wherever they take their phone.  When your customers are flicking through the apps on their phone, they will see your app, and be reminded of your business and its products.

Push notifications automatically display your specials and promotions to customers, even when they aren’t using your app.  And unlike traditional advertising, the ongoing cost to keep your app on their phone and in the App Store is minimal.

  2. Bolster customer loyalty

Customers want to know you care, and customers that are cared for become loyal customers.

What if there was a way your customers could always know about your best deals?  What if they could easily sing your business’ laurels, or directly contact you if they were having a problem?

Business mobile apps allow for all of this.  Before mobile apps, businesses would only hear praises and complaints through the grapevine (or publicly on a review site like Yelp!), which meant slow and ineffective reaction.

Worse, pre-mobile app methods made customer loyalty difficult to obtain; continuously mailing out coupons, costly and annoying e-mail campaigns, or simply “hoping” that customers would come in.

Today, savvy small businesses use their apps to easily and effectively build customer loyalty.  They use mobile apps to send out specials, or to easily solicit customer feedback.  They make it easy for satisfied customers to share their experience with others on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  They make customers feel like they are part of a community: this community-feeling gives customers a vested interest in the success and betterment of your business.

       3. Make it easy to conduct business

Why limit interacting with your customer (and making money) to only when your customer is at your location?

Before, if a customer wanted to conduct business with you, they would have to go to your website, or give you a call…and if they wanted to make a purchase now, it would be impossible; they’d have to wait to get to your location or until they were in front of their computer.

Mobile makes it easier to capture customers’ interest “in the moment”.  If a customer is wondering where to go for dinner, they check your app, and can immediately make a reservation.  If they want to buy a product like the one you sell, they simply go to your app and make a purchase.  And if they want to know whether or not your business is open…it’s as simple as checking your app (and since you have them in your app, why not take the chance to show them some of your specials or promotions?).

Mobile apps have great potential for small businesses: consider it as part of your overall marketing plans.

Apps make it unprecedentedly easy to connect and engage with customers.  Small businesses of all types understand the statistics and realize that apps are a powerful, modern tool in their marketing arsenal that fills the gaps left by traditional marketing methods.  And the savviest of small businesses build comprehensive marketing strategies around their app, knowing that their app is their “foot-in” to contact and engage with customers.

In short: start thinking about an app and what it can do for your business today!…because if you’re not, your competitors probably are.

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