SEMA eNews Vol. 15, No. 45, November 8, 2012

Making Your Business Better With Mobile Apps

SEMA News—October 2012

BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY
By Mike Imlay

Bettering Your Business With Apps

  According to Michael Beller, vice president of Media Works and emerging media at Source Interlink Media, apps nowadays are more likely to be developed to better a business and its operations than to merely awe or entertain consumers.
   
The words “there’s an app for that” have become somewhat of a cliché—and with good reason. Not long ago, many businesses pursued mobile applications mainly as a gimmicky exercise in marketing. Having a cool branded game or similar whiz-bang app was considered a trendy way to burnish a company’s image with smartphone and tablet users. But times are changing, and the world of apps is maturing.

According to Michael Beller, vice president of Media Works and emerging media at Source Interlink Media, apps nowadays are more likely to be developed to better a business and its operations than to merely awe or entertain consumers.

“There’s a whole range of ideas coming from our clients that fall into a lot of different buckets,” Beller explained. “They could be database-driven apps; they could be more marketing-related apps for reps to use with retailers; or they could be more consumer-based apps to help consumers learn about their products. It’s all really interesting.”

Laying the Groundwork

Of course, the term “app” is shorthand for an application or software program accessed through a computer, smartphone, tablet or related device. Up until recently, the question facing many manufacturers—and even retailers—was whether to hop on the app-development bandwagon at all. Now, however, with a wide range of utilitarian apps available—especially those designed for mobile devices—there’s no question that they can make a business more efficient, productive and portable. So what are some best practices in approaching mobile apps and/or related emerging media?

If your company’s goal is to improve its marketing to consumers, mobile optimization of your website is always a recommended first step. While not technically app development, such optimization lays the foundation for other digital marketing efforts. Beller pointed out that customers in a retail environment can easily research information, compare pricing and even make online purchases via their smartphones while waiting at the counter. If a website isn’t mobile optimized, frustrated consumers can quickly bail on it in favor of another company’s site that is. Fortunately, mobile optimization can be accomplished easily and inexpensively.

“We tell our clients that no one wants to pinch and zoom anymore,” said Beller. “No matter who develops it, you have to have a mobile website.” One example would be including an easy-to-use online database containing product information, availability and pricing.

After optimizing its website for mobile viewing, a company can next move on to consider whether specialized applications make sense. The realm of choices is broad. Apps can be:

  • Utilitarian—for instance, enabling customers or even staff and field representatives to look up products and information from their smartphones or tablets.
  • Brand extensions—applying the power of a brand to an app that’s not necessarily directly related to core business but that nevertheless supplies a service to users.
  • Content-driven—offering users videos, reviews, news, feeds and related marketing collateral or updates pertaining to a business.
  • B2B tools—such as a marketing app created so that sales reps can educate potential buyers about a company’s offerings at trade shows, events or in the field.
  • Training related—specifically for a company’s employees or sales representatives.

According to Beller, deciding what type of app to pursue comes down to two considerations.

“First,” he said, “it depends on what specific vertical you are in—direct to consumer, direct to retailer, inventory management, web-based versus mobile-based. The other consideration may be a challenge that needs a specific solution. For example, a company may need an inventory-management-type make, model, year app for a certain part it manufactures.”

Branding Utility

  Toyo’s recently introduced app was designed to educate the company’s sales team, dealers and dealer customers about Toyo products.
 

Toyo’s recently introduced app was designed to educate the company’s sales team, dealers and dealer customers about Toyo products. It displays product overviews, features and benefits, training materials, multi-media product videos, commercials and photos along with media stories and product sizes and specs.

   
“You should identify your target audience and the content that is important or useful to them,” agreed Amy Coleman, senior director of marketing for Toyo Tire USA Corp., which recently developed an innovative iPad business app with Source Interlink Media’s assistance. “Establish a good outline of the project in advance. This will act as your road map and guide, establishing the content you need to gather or create and milestones along the way.”

Toyo’s recently introduced app was designed to educate the company’s sales team, dealers and dealer customers about Toyo products. It displays product overviews, features and benefits, training materials, multimedia product videos, commercials and photos along with media stories and product sizes and specs. It also features PDFs of product brochures, the company’s dealer magazine and links to the Toyo website and social-media channels. It has proven to be an extremely useful B2B tool for the company’s field representatives.

“The goal was to consolidate product information into one, easy-to-use-tool,” Coleman said. “It was first launched with our Proxes 4 Plus and now features 17 products. It’s a tool that can be used in sales meetings, in employee training, on the showroom floor and at events, including the SEMA Show. The sizes and specs data is pulled from our website, which is updated regularly so our sales department and dealers will always have the latest information at their fingertips. This is the first time all Toyo product information is together in one tool for our sales department and dealers.”

Read the complete article featured in the October 2012 issue of SEMA News.