How Apps Can Help Market Your Business, Increase Sales

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According to a recent AT&T Small Business Technology Poll, 72 percent of the small businesses surveyed said they used a mobile app in their business. Even more striking, nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said their business most likely would not survive — or would be greatly challenged — without mobile apps.

That’s not that surprising considering that smartphone use continues to rise; as of January 2011, nearly 66 million Americans owned a smartphone, which is an 8 percent increase over the previous three months, according to comScore. And that number is expected to continue to grow, with more consumers using “smart” devices (phones and tablets) to do research, browse, and shop online.

However, while mobile apps are undeniably hot, does that mean that you should invest in one for your business? And how do you go about choosing the right app? Small Business Computing interviewed three small businesses to find out.

Using a Mobile App to Extend Your Brand, Provide Added Value

A few years back, Kathy Harrison and Becky McCraney, the owners of Miss Cayce’s Christmas Store, created Show Me Decorating to showcase their holiday decorating techniques. They even created a DVD titled “Recipe for Holiday Tree Trimming,” which provided step-by-step holiday decorating instructions — and nicely dovetailed with their Christmas store business.

Then, in 2010, while playing with their iPhones, they realized there wasn’t a good holiday decorating app available. And a light bulb — or, in Harrison and McCraney’s case, a whole string of Christmas lights — went off. Why not further extend their brand and attract even more customers by turning “Recipe for Holiday Decorating” into an iPhone app? After all, they had all the information and photos. They just needed to customize it for the iPhone.

The Show Me Decorating iPhone app; mobile commerce, mobile apps
The Show Me Decorating iPhone app. A version for Android phones is due soon.
(Click for larger image)

After researching iPhone app developers, Harrison and McCraney found one they felt was a good fit — and worked to roll out the new app in plenty of time for the 2010 Christmas season. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan, and the app wound up costing more ($20,000) and being ready later than they had initially planned. Still, they felt the investment was worth it and that the decorating app would be much more effective (and ultimately less expensive) than print advertising. [Note: Adventurous business owners can also use tools like AppMakr to create their own iPhone apps for free.]

And the initial response was very positive. “Our customers were very supportive and excited,” said McCraney. Especially the younger, more tech savvy customers. “Everyone was really amazed that a local retail store could have an app.”

McCraney loves it when customers come into Miss Cacyce’s Christmas Store (which is based in Midland, Texas) with their iPhones, checking off what they need. (The app provides decorating theme ideas, step-by-step instructions, and an ingredient list with quantities suggested based on the size of the Christmas tree chosen.)

Suppliers have also been very supportive and excited to have their Christmas products promoted.

“We have gained [customers] and have the potential to gain more because the app has given us a national presence and allowed us to share our decorating expertise without opening another retail location,” explained McCraney. And the owners are hoping to further capitalize on their mobile app by releasing an Android version this year.

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