We had a meeting with a potential customer today where the topic was a retail application.
We certainly see that there are great retail uses for Viafo's technology in that sector but a lot of interesting questions came up as part of the discussion.
The core of the discussion was what are the uses for mobile apps for retail brands?
It was particularly interesting to have the discussion with somebody who has been given responsibility for mobile, but fully admitted to never having downloaded an application, not used Twitter, never heard of Foursquare and only occasionally had a look at Facebook.
When you're in the heart of the mobile and web business you tend to get an extremely blinkered view of the technologies in play. We see this more often in discussions with customers about the iPhone - I'll blog on that another time.
So the interesting thing to come out of this discussion is what do you offer to somebody who at a fundamental level is having to design a service for people unlike themselves?
Now, I don't see this as too much of a challenge, even accepting that the concept of brand mobilization is quite new, there are several pretty universal marketing issues you should be addressing without even dealing with the thorny issue of whether or not you want your mobile app to be used for purchase.
Tackling that for a moment: do you want people to be able to buy with your mobile app? I'd suggest it depends on your business - the data is sparse at the moment but I'm guessing we'll see a split around impulse and small purchases (movie tickets, drinks, vouchers) versus large items (clothing, cars, electronics) - that might be my age showing but I can't see myself spending any real time on the phone buying some shoes - to be fair, I don't do all that much on the PC either.
Anyway, that's also another entire post.
Where I really see mobile and retail coming into their own is in driving traffic and mind-share - not just to your bricks and mortar store but to the web side too.
So, what does that mean in practice?
Firstly, integrated Social Networking - and this isn’t just about having Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare hooks into your mobile app, but also having those cross-linked into your web and general social networking strategy. If you're a retailer this means having a global AND local strategy - who Tweets for your brand? Do you stores have individual or managed online identities? How do you control your brand in there? It's a powerful thing to have "From the XXX App" on Twitter, less so if it's somebody mouthing off.
Secondly, manage your Social Networking - true story - I recently had an issue with Qwest over our Internet Connection. The helpdesk had been a time wasting joke. I tweeted about my experience and had an @message from a Qwest Rep who fixed the problem - THAT is brand management. If you want help with that, we can hook you up.
Thirdly, location, location, location - manage and make use of search - build location services into apps. Drive physical traffic. Make use of Foursquare - I don't myself but millions do and if you're offering freebies to the Mayor of somewhere, it's worthwhile being ready for that.
Fourth: Brochureware - see how far this is down the list? It's actually not the thing that makes things sticky - it's a by product of doing the rest of the app right. Make sure that these are cross-linked back to your website and to your prospects web accounts. Let them share information. They find a Widget they like online at work - make sure they can have that image on their phone when they use the app to find the store.
That way they can use their Foursquare "Mayor" discount and Tweet about how you rock.
Obviously, I'm blowing our horn, because this is the area that we designed Viafo to operate in. However, regardless of who or how you do it, an integrated mobile, web, store strategy is a must for retail and brands - regardless of who you get to do the work.