Could Apps be the New Search?

A Look at the new "App-ortunity" to interact with customers - is your mobile strategy in place?

If you are researching a trip to Italy, or want to learn about wines in the region or even just keep track of calories and new recipes while you're away,"there's an App for that." It is important to acknowledge that phrase has now become common vernacular among iphone users just as "Google It" has to the entire population. With a current user base of 1.5 million iphone users and 1.2 Million Ipod Touch users in Canada alone (Mobile Fringe), 2010 just may be your "app-ortunity" to launch a mobile marketing strategy.

At the 5th Annual Online Revealed Canada Conference, Steve Sorge from Mobile Fringe ran a capacity filled workshop on how to integrate mobile into this year's marketing budget for Travel, Tourism and Hospitality professionals. Sorge clearly identified why the time is now, how to develop the marketing strategy - and opened a world of possibilities for travel to embrace the "third screen" (TV being the first screen, followed by the computer - and now mobile is rapidly gaining ground as the third).

Why now? According to Sorge you cannot ignore the facts. "Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access devices worldwide by 2013", states Sorge, "In addition Mobile marketing will grow to $19 billion by 2012 from $1.6 billion in 2008." Add to that better data plans being offered by cellular providers making web access from you mobile affordable and the solid distribution Apple has created with the App Store following in the itunes successful footsteps. iPhone and iTouch have over 60 million users that consume over 200 million apps per month - and now there is the iPad recently launched which is the happy medium between the two.

More importantly apps are bringing content to users where and when they want it. Digital marketing has been evolving over the last 5 years as consumers are looking for fresh, relevant content on the web and now they are turning that appetite toward apps to satisfy their hunger. Customers are living on their mobile browsers more and more sharing the time spent in front of the monitors and laptops. When it comes to the traveler, they can access apps about currency exchange, common phrases in foreign language, how to travel safe, user generated reviews and even send a digital postcard and we aren't even scratching the surface.

Sorge related where we are right now to the exact same place we were in building websites 10 years ago. Before consumers would ask," do you have a website?" and be quite impressed when you answered yes. It has now transitioned to the point if you do not have a website; you're not even considered a real business. We are sitting in this same place when it comes to Apps. Right now there are 130,000 apps (which in a very small number compared to the growing iphone population.) Blackberry has apps too, but only 3000 and has not created the distribution infrastructure that apple did with their ITunes product. Soon your customers will be saying, "You don't have an app?" just as they once asked why you did not have a website.

Now is the time to jump in when costs are affordable and before the market gets cluttered with too much noise. In saying that, the same principles apply to every other marketing strategy - ensure first that your marketing budget is allocated to where your customers are RIGHT NOW - don't go building an app for your ski destination if the website can't be found when your customers are looking to book, or if your website is not even transacting business already.

First things first but, if you have all of the basics covered and are looking for new ways to engage your target audience beyond the already successful digital marketing strategies you have in place?

It may be time for a marketing strategy for mobile! With SMS (text messaging) lacking opportunity to build brand identity and viewing of mobile websites limiting, an app may become an important part of your mobile marketing strategy. Apps are becoming the new way mobile users search for information and engage with brands. As search continues to become cluttered with sponsored ads, Local Listings and real time results such as Twitter feeds, apps are becoming the direct connection to the online ecosystem.

The cost? You can get an app created for as little as $5000 depending on who is developing your app, and what you want to do. Don't look at mobile in isolation, it should be integrated to your overall marketing strategy and be consistent in messaging with your website, search, email newsletters, blogs and social media initiatives.

Then it's time to create a budget for mobile marketing. If it is too late to put any dollars into the 2010 budget (or perhaps you still need to work on your first things first checklist), be sure to have it on your radar for 2011. Current stats are showing marketers budgeting 5-15% of their overall marketing budget just for mobile (Mobile Fringe). This is a huge increase where the majority of travel marketers today still have only 10-15% of their budget allocated for all e-commerce initiatives.

Step three in getting mobile strategy in place is making a paradigm shift in the way we look at keyword research. This is a key point of differentiation for those who have been actively running organic search and paid search programs. Apple sorts the pile by dividing them into categories. If you are moving forward with a mobile marketing strategy, you need to think of what people will search for when looking for an app. There is a limit by Apple of only 7-8 keywords that you can use to tag your app. However, besides finding it through the app store, you can promote and highlight your app the same way you did your website, social media sites, on your cards, email signature and print collateral.

An app will allow you to extend communication with your customers and engage them before during and after they purchase. An properly execute mobile strategy can help you generate revenue and deliver coupons and promotions and talk to your customer `real time' while they are in all stages of the buying cycle. Tied in with maps and GPS you can develop a "location based marketing plan" where an app will let you make changes on the fly, send offers to customers as they are ready to buy, provide timely and relevant calls to action and interact with your social media marketing channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Just like your web strategy has evolved, so will your Mobile strategy as consumer behavior continues to shift to include mobile more and more. As it is a bit of the Wild West out there right now (sound familiar?), be sure to find a trusted partner to develop both the app and the marketing strategy around mobile. The way consumers research and buy travel is evolving (once again) so don't miss your App-ortunity to jump in while mobile gets its legs firmly planted on the digital ground.

About the Author:
Patricia Brusha is the co-founder of www.acoupleofchicks.com - an Internet Marketing Company focused on travel and tourism, and Online Revealed Canada - the leading e-Marketing Conference for travel and tourism, which held its 5th anniversary inception this month in Montreal to a sold out audience of 260 attendees. Together, the "Chicks" have published over 30 articles, produced a successful online marketing Blog; www.ideahatching.com, and have developed online marketing programs for such notable brands as Marriott International, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and Nova Scotia Tourism.