Getting into your customers’ pockets is no easy task.

With the tablet wars heating up and smartphone sales skyrocketing, at some point, the thought is bound to cross your mind: Is it time to create an app? The lure of being with your customers everywhere they go and being readily accessible with the tap of a finger is certainly hard to resist. With over 350,000 iOS apps in Apple’s App Store and over 200,0000 apps in Google’s Android Market, it’s clear that many companies have eagerly climbed aboard the app development bandwagon. Thanks to a proliferation of DIY app templates, the barriers to entry in the app marketplace are not as steep as they once were. But you can’t simply judge the merits of creating an app as you would any other marketing tactic.


Instead, it would help if you looked at your potential app as a product in and of itself. You wouldn’t put time and money into developing a product without a reasonable confidence that a market exists. The same goes for an app. You can build it, and you can get it into the app store. But if it’s not something people want, your efforts will be for naught. Your app must meet these eight basic criteria, or else it’s not worth the investment:

1. It must be designed around business growth objectives.

To justify the necessary investment, your app must be aimed at promoting the growth of your business, whether it does so by making it easier for your customers to buy from you or keeping your brand at the forefront of their awareness. Sure, plenty of big names have created vanity apps that don’t serve a business growth function, but that’s not a luxury the average company can afford. For example, Mercedes offers an iPad game called SLS AMG HD that allows users to put their driving skills to the test through a series of tunnel challenges.

Sure, it’s a slick-looking gimmick. But is it doing anything to improve the company’s bottom line? Does anyone inclined to buy a Mercedes need an iPad racing game to tip them over the edge? An app in and of itself is not a marketing campaign. If your goal is to boost your brand’s visibility, creating an app is a very indirect and costly means to reach your desired end. Remember that you’ll compete with hundreds of thousands of other apps to be discovered by smartphone users.

Your chances of creating something so new, different, and out-of-the-box that it will go viral and jump to the top of the download charts are slim to none. What’s more, even the number of downloads your app gets is no guarantee of ongoing exposure to your customers. According to a recent study, as many as twenty-six percent of apps are opened only once after download. With odds like that, if your sole purpose is elevating your brand’s visibility, there is no shortage of other tactics – from SEO to pay-per-click advertising to social media-based PR campaigns – that will likely deliver a better ROI.

2. Its utility must be customer-driven.

No matter what, your app development process shouldn’t be an exercise in ego-stroking. Forget what you think is cool or cutting-edge, and look at your app through your customers’ eyes. For your app to be successful, it needs to offer something people want, whether in the form of utility, convenience, content, or all of the above.

For the most part, your customers use their mobile devices for one of two purposes: productivity or entertainment. If you want to create an app that entertains, be prepared to bring the big guns because you’re competing in a space with the heavy hitters, from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to a slew of professional game developers.

The productivity space is easier to enter, but conquering it is still no easy feat. A useful productivity-oriented app must make it easy for your customers to accomplish the types of tasks they commonly perform while on the go. If your app is content-driven, it needs to be encyclopedia-worthy to warrant a spot on the reference shelf of your customer’s mobile device. It must be comprehensive and updated frequently, and its interface must be ultra-searchable and scannable.

Whole Foods offers a great content-based app. Users can search its extensive library of recipes by keyword, input ingredients on hand to get suggestions, and create shopping lists on the fly. Search results are classified by dietary preference, such as gluten-free or low-fat. This type of utility aligns squarely with Whole Foods’ target market. Undoubtedly, their app is the go-to resource for many health-conscious, time-strapped working parents who leave the office with no idea of what they’re going to make for dinner when they get home.