Why We Don't Create Apps For Most Of Our Clients

When it comes to healthcare and real estate marketing, I’m not sure which tool is most misunderstood by clients:  apps or social media.  Yes, both are glitzy and get a lot of press.  And yes, both are now being “demanded” by those in the C-suite who understand these tools the least.  But just because they’re the hot topics right now, marketers shouldn’t jump in head first into these projects like a teenager in love.  While at least some form of social media can play a role in marketing almost every business (if used correctly, and that’s where social media is misunderstood), dedicated apps aimed at consumers, on the other hand, have little to offer most local businesses no matter how you look at them.  In fact, I argue that before creating an app for your business, you really must create and fine tune a mobile website.    Here’s why:

Who needs this app?

Apps are only available on certain smartphones, yet mobile websites are accessiblefrom any web-enabled phone.  While both user bases are growing, the mobile website market is much larger and easier to reach since everyone in it can immediately access your mobile website without downloading any special tool. Your app isn’t so ubiquitous.  In fact, your app is meant for the local market that knows you and that’s it, whereas your mobile website can be seen at a moment’s notice by out of town visitors who simply enter your url into their browsers.

Now think about how infrequently your local market actually needs you (thus, needs your app) and you’ll see that most potential customers or patients won’t bother dropping your app onto their devices simply because they won’t remember to use it. Sure, if you’re a grocery store, someone may use your app to keep track of their shopping list.  Plus, your app can use the phone’s built-in technology (like scanning bar codes to populate the list) to give more value than a mobile website.  That’s a good app, simply because people can use it often and it has benefits that a mobile site cannot offer.  But if you’re not needed often, and you cannot use the phone’s advanced features in a way that benefits your customers/patients, you really have no need for an app, do you?  If so, let me know.  I haven’t seen one yet.

Then there’s the fact that there are over 100,000 apps available for download.  In retail terms, you will need to find ways to stand out on the store shelf — or market your app all on your own.  This is not easy.  In other words, it’s not worth the trouble.

Why take on WebMD's app?

But the biggest reason NOT to create an app is that most businesses have absolutely nothing to offer in one that cannot be handled by a mobile website (which, as mentioned, has a larger audience that can automatically be redirected to the mobile site from your server).  I’ve seen hospitals with apps that promote their Emergency Room and Immediate Care Center wait times.  Big deal.  A mobile site can do that.  I’ve seen a hospital with an app that allows you to input symptoms to see what’s wrong.  What a waste.  Virtually the same information can be found on WebMD’s app — and their mobile website.  Not only does WebMD have a more powerful brand, but they also pay to update the information.  Who is going to do that at this hospital?

I’ve seen builders with apps designed to help users find the home that’s right for them.  Why?  There are dozens of apps that do the same thing, only with thousands of listings rather than a handful.  The builder is better off getting his home listed on another company’s app — an app that is not dedicated to the client.

The question any business should ask is “why would anyone want to download my app?”  If you could come up with a good answer that doesn’t already exist, then you might have something.  I bet you can’t.  On the other hand, there’s absolutely no reason not to have a mobile website.

But don’t rule out dedicated apps in the future.  As smartphone technology gets more advanced, there WILL be uses.  Augmented reality might have value to guide people through your hospital, or to help people easily get information on homes they pass on your streets.  Right now, though, the technology doesn’t allow you to be so targeted.

And don’t forget that you do not have to create apps to market your products and services to just consumers.  Right now, apps may have more value to your dedicated network of employees, vendors and supporters.  For hospitals, a dedicated app might have value if it connects staff physicians to you and each other.  Indeed, they use you often, so the need might be there.  But how can you help them with an app?  What can your app provide to your physician groups?

Or a builder with many communities may create an app that pulls construction info on each home for their vendors in order to keep everyone on the same page.  Sure, the home buyer might be offered the app to keep track of your progress — and this is a marketable use.  But as before, I wonder why this cannot be handled by a mobile website.

So don’t get sucked into the app craze right now.  In most cases, it’s just not right for you and will only waste your time and money.  Instead, think mobile website.  You’ll get a much better return on the investment.