Ole Bo Larsen, Founder & MD, interacterable.com
Why should your business have a mobile app? “Because my competitor has one!” is the most frequent answer you get from travel businesses looking to develop an app or that already has one.
I have challenged companies in numerous discussions on why they think they have to have a mobile app. The other response is “just because it’s there”.
Admittedly, I am generalising, but there is a lot of hype around mobile apps. Decisions to launch them might not be founded in sound strategic consideration.
The hype is based on technological developments, and spurred on by big players like Apple and Google as they push market demand towards their app stores. App developers leverage this demand, which can perhaps blur a company’s vision on whether they need an app or not.
Of course I am not trying to deny apps can add value to a travel business, because they can.
I am merely trying to question if it is always the case. Questions like ‘what does my audience want?’ and ‘what problem will an app solve?’ have been carefully considered.
A prerequisite for a mobile app to be effective is that your audience possesses the device to be able to download the app.
Let’s look at some statistics:
55-59 per cent of handsets sold globally in 2012 were not smartphones; they were feature phones (i.e. not able to download apps).
Smartphone subscriptions globally account for 16.7% and the majority the new sales are from those replacing their existing smartphones as opposed to those who are buying a smartphone for the first time.
Japan has the highest mobile web usage in the world, but a very low smartphone penetration (This shatters the misconception that you need a smartphone to access the mobile web. Companies ignore feature phone users at their peril).
Naturally, there are also statistics that show business verticals where the smartphone penetration is higher, such as within IT corporations. Ultimately, most of these statistics show that it’s not evident that a mobile app is always the answer to mobile interaction with your audience. You simply will not reach 100% of them.
The statistics also underline the confusion that seems to exist in the travel industry (and many other industries) about which mobile strategy is optimal for your business.
You may wonder why I haven’t touched on tablets. The sale of tablets is exploding, but the penetration is still not 100%, and there is still a bit of a way before that will happen, too.
So what’s my suggestion for your mobile strategy?
First of all, to outline a full mobile strategy would probably require an article in itself, but a couple of very simple first steps can be considered, and it is really not rocket science:
If you are seriously considering mobile technology you should have a webpage that is mobile enabled. Irrespective of the device from which your travellers access your webpage, they will have a smooth experience.
You can make any static content available like travel plans and destination information using intelligent mobile communication such as SMS. This is not difficult to implement and as the next step you would need to discuss this with your web team or web agency.
Ask your audience how they want to receive information and what problem you can solve.
Would they prefer email, SMS, MMS, app push notifications, calls or a combination? They might even have a preference depending on the different stages in the travel lifecycle. Pre-trip they might prefer email, because they are mainly at their desk, but during the trip it might be email, SMS, MMS and/or mobile app.
Surveying your audience should of course be planned properly, and your marketing team should be able to assist. This step should be relatively straightforward, especially during your travel lifecycle when you already have a captive audience.
Once you have addressed these two points, you can better consider the type of mobile technology that will create the most value for your audience. This step may seem daunting but with your survey as a basis and a proper procurement process, you should be able to pitch your requirements and select the appropriate vendor and mobile technology.
It’s likely that you will decide on a multi-channel solution, simply because your audience will have a mix of preferences and because it’s important to reach 100% of them.