Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Custom apps, online marketing and the unique customer experience – 1

Posted in strategy and planning, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on January 4, 2011

This is in a way one of the more important postings I will have added to date to this blog, and certainly within the general topic area of Web 2.0 and interactive marketing, but also for business operations as a whole. I initially planned on writing the posting with a single, simple focus on online apps and our growing range of options for creating and deploying them in support of a business, and yes with a marketing focus. I will write of that, but I see a need to posit any discussion of that sort in a larger framework, and this is what I have come up with, with that more encompassing goal in mind.

When you run a business your goal is generally to capture and hold market share, and to offer a product or service that people will seek out to buy. This, at least, is how it would be stated for the context of for-profit businesses for this basic, core issue. But the same principle applies to any organization that seeks to offer something of value, and in the face of competition for attention and business. Nonprofits and charitable organizations market their missions and visions as their counterparts to the for-profit’s products and services and they also face challenging competition for consumer and marketplace attention and action.

I have written repeatedly in this blog about establishing and marketing a unique value proposition. This is usually discussed in the limited context of product or service novelty and that is a very important aspect of this more general topic. But unique value proposition can arise in any aspect of a business where a way to uniquely stand out can be created. Quality control and consistency across outlets and franchises can create a unique value proposition and so can supply chain innovation and excellence. Innovation in crucial business operations processes and practices can make the difference where that translates into a significantly better customer experience. And marketing and communications definitely offers opportunity for developing and effectively offering that unique value proposition. In fact it can be argued that good and even outstanding marketing and communications are essential for any real unique value proposition to take hold in the marketplace and make a real difference. If the people you are trying to reach out to do not hear of you and find you, it will not matter what you offer or the potential value of your offerings to them.

That is where marketing comes in as a source of unique value proposition and certainly for the interactive online experience of Web 2.0 and social media. I have been posting recently on business social media and social media marketing in my series on Web 2.0 Marketing and with a focus on developing an effective mix of Web 1.0 central publishing model information resources, coupled with an effective mix of interactive options for people to connect back to you through. So far I have primarily focused on web sites, blogs, Twitter, online groups and other more standard offerings. Here I turn to a set of options where you can offer a truly unique resource for sharing information and developing two way conversations: custom apps. And as I stated above I approach this from a wider perspective than just marketing or the pressures of current and immediately anticipated marketing campaigns per se.

• Start out by looking to your business model and the cycles of processes and practices you follow in running and maintaining your business, producing and offering your products and services, and sharing word of all of this through your target markets.
• Start out with a clear focus on what you offer as products and services, and on who you could most effectively reach out to as a source of realized market share.
• Together I present this as a form of binocular vision, and together they offer a depth and clarity of actionable understanding that no single perspective could provide. Think of the first two points here as the vision of how, and of what and who respectively.

I include this posting in both my Web 2.0 Marketing and my Business Strategy and Operations series as effective online apps offer potential value for every point of contact leading outside of the organization, as well as in enhancing the internal information architecture with its Intranet and other shared internal resources. But this cannot be done with any effectiveness or as a source of long term, sustaining value if you simply add in something flashy and leave it at that.

First, the obvious: Google and an increasing range of other resources are now offering both businesses, large and small and also individuals and non-business groups the capability to build customized, branded apps and with minimal programming or other technical skills or experience (see Google Apps.) And web and related online apps are now ready to bring you the same problems and headaches that bad and disconnected but glitzy web sites did for an earlier technology generation – and still do for way too many.

I find myself thinking of easy to apply template-driven web sites as I write this – easy to assemble out of pre-built components, easy to brand to the specific business or other site owner’s taste and perceived needs, and all too often cute without being effectively functional. Template-built web sites can work and really have positive impact so this is not about web site templates per se, as much as it is about systematic failure to select features and options, assemble and build, and flesh out with content – with a deep understanding of the business and of the marketplace in mind. And assembly-kit apps offer this same potential for both effective development and deployment or end-user frustration and marketplace disconnects.

• Look to the lessons learnable from the first set of bullet points, above.
• Look for places where an app – where some augmenting functionality can add value and plan out what that functionality would best include and with what priorities included. In this, look for places in your business processes and operations, marketing included where you can fill gaps in ways that your competition does not address – where you can create a source of unique value.
• Then, and only then look to the capabilities and options that these built-it-yourself and similar online app resources offer.
• Map what you would like to accomplish with your app(s) to the components and their capabilities that are available and look for app building sites and other resource outlets that would best meet your needs.
• Plan through the question of whether you need one app to cover your core needs, or if you would need to build two or more what would individually bring together features that would make sense to the app users you want to reach out to.
• Keep any apps you build simple and single function where possible in this, or closely tying similar and overlapping functions and needs.
• Make sure your app building resources offer options for branding and related content, but set aside actually adding anything like final branding in until you have a working, vetted prototype.
• Test what you build in-house through beta-development stage testing, before you go live with it. Test-stage-brand it while doing this and when offering a later development version for outside early adaptor testing.
• Alpha stage testing would simply look to see if the coding and links work per se. Beta stage testing is directed at making sure this new app or set of apps actually supports your business model and its operational and other processes it is supposed to connect into.
• Even when you approach a resource like an online app strictly as a marketing tool, and a social media-enhancing marketing capability it is still going to have to help you connect your business with its operations to the marketplace.

Custom apps are a new and upcoming capability, and one that will soon move out of the purview of the early adaptors and to the general marketplace. These resources will become as essential as having and maintaining a web site was when the gold standard was still Web 1.0 oriented. The idea here is to think and plan before you built so you do not simply find yourself with the next generation equivalent of a poorly designed and built web site.

I will write at least one more posting in direct continuation of this in a few days.

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