… and never pay for someone else’s app.
… and never market a marketing channel that you do not control entirely.
Some mobile services in the app world want you to market their app instead of your own. Be aware of the disadvantages. The promise is often huge but almost always incorrect: save money and have tons of users right at the start. And finally, there’s an even bigger warning for those who see their mobile strategy exclusively in social networks.
Here’s what you need to know if you buy or rent yourself into a foreign app for an audio guide or a gamification solution or a hiking-tour-app that is not yours.
There is an old saying and it cannot be truer: Never build your house on foreign land. Never!
In today’s media and marketing world you can and, frankly, must build your own channels – reaching your users on the phone is essential. If you don’t, marketing will be very expensive for you soon or you might not reach your target audience at all.
Your own channels need to be big and every marketing Dollar you invest or every effort you undertake creating good content will make your channel bigger and more effective. And since these channels do belong entirely to your business, there is only one in control of it: you.
Examples of channels that you do control are:
- a website or mobile web portal, that is hosted under your domain (just as xamoom offers it)
- the email newsletter list wherever you host it
- your podcast or RSS feed as long as it is on your domain
- a mobile app that is in an app store account you own
Examples of media channels that you do not control but nevertheless pay for are:
- a social media profile on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok
- apps, hosted in store accounts that you do not have access to.
- every hosting (blog, podcast, RSS feed, etc) that does not use your domain name
- entries into generally available services like Google Maps, Wikipedia and so on
No, you cannot completely ignore these channels but be aware that the situation in each of these can change drastically within a short period and all your investment can vanish immediately.
Yes, the media properties you control do cost money, might need maintenance and technical expertise. But the most important thing is: you control content, features, rules, hosting and their destiny. If you want to change the developer team or hosting service because of increased prices or decreased quality – you can do so at any time you wish.
Most importantly: The subscribers, users or list entries are yours. No other company can monetize them and you are the only one who can nurture them.
Sure, building the third party app from the ground up did not cost you a penny. Although you might not have paid for the developers directly, you do so with monthly fees. If there is no fee involved, be aware that there will be one soon.
Yes, the development risk (time and money-wise) of your own app might be high. But there are powerful apps that are available now or mobile web solutions that you can host for yourself (like xamoom’s smart app and mobile web).
Irrelevant users: Some salesmen have an intriguing offer for you: You can jumpstart your mobile business with tens of thousands of users who already have the app installed. But ask yourself: Do they really (since Google Play gives you no indication of how many people currently use the app and Apple has no public numbers at all)? How do I benefit from app users that might be far away from my shop/museum/tourism destination? Do your guests really have this app installed?
Marketing an app is expensive and exhausting. There is no reason why you should pay for someone else’s gain. If you anyway need to inform your users/guests/customers about a mobile app, why should it be someone else’s? You should only invest in an app channel that you can also monetize even after your visitors have left. Please, spend hard-earned marketing money only for the channels you own!
Will you get analytics and are the numbers trustworthy? Since such numbers could be inflated by a service provider, you should only trust the analytics service that you control.
No push for you: In your own app you can send your users suitable push notifications whenever you find it useful – e.g., invite them again if they are already at home. In third party apps, this is not possible at all.
It does not fit you: Someone else’s apps do adapt only a tiny bit to your corporate design – if at all.
Do you need an app anyway? You asked yourself probably why someone should install your app for an hour-long visit to your museum. So why should someone install another app for an hour-long visit to your museum? Many tasks can be achieved on the mobile web without an app at all. Have you never seen routing information or an audio player in a (mobile) browser? Many (of course, not all) things can be done in a mobile browser.
If you are unhappy with an app’s progress, you can only switch – but only if the app store account if it is yours. If not, you are dependent on the goodwill of the contractor (btw, xamoom offers that voluntarily although it has never happened since none of our app customers left).
Every service has its house rules and some of them are crazy. Did you know that Facebook punishes images with too much text on them? Are you aware that most Facebook sweepstakes area against the social network’s rule? It is not very likely that Facebook itself will ban you … but your competitors could tell Facebook to do so at any time.
How about the control of content? Your company or tourism destination has a substantial Wikipedia entry. Nice. Would you consider Wikipedia’s app as your official one? Most likely not.
With third party solutions, you have no influence on the title page or your ranking in comparison to your competitors. Even if you buy yourself into an audio guide app … you cannot be sure that you will be discovered by your potential users. The other company or museum might always be one click away from or ahead of you.
You do not control the service’s destiny: What if the service provider decides to change direction or modifies the business model entirely? Or what happens if the service ceases to exist? Do you remember Google+?
Someone else monetizes your work and your content. You might bet on one thing: If it is worth it, it will happen. It is already happening: Take a look at social networks.
The same happens with other services that have the right to re-publish your content on their properties. And guess, who will have the better SEO: you or technically more savvy service provider?
Social is not mobile. Yes, they all have apps that are used heavily on your customer’s phones. But you can watch how your organic reach is decreasing steadily. If Facebook’s shareholders demand bigger profits, Mark Zuckerberg will decrease your traffic even faster to the point where you only get through to the thousands of followers (you earned or paid for) with advertising money. Things might change faster and more dramatic than you expect until your entire investment will be gone.
It is tempting to jump on the bandwagon of an already existing or established app or online service. It promises lots of users from day one. But be sure that this is a big promise that – in many cases – cannot hold the first contact with reality.
Yes, it is incredibly expensive to market an app. It takes lots of effort and money. But you will be rewarded with huge opportunities: a push channel and a place on the home screen of the most intimate device of every consumer … the smartphone.
Do not lock yourself into a bad landlord just because it looks easy, cheap and effortless. It is neither of those things and might end up complex to get out and expensive. Lastly, if you do not put any marketing effort into it, you will gain nothing.
These questions should be the basis for your checklist:
- Is my marketing money spent future-proof?
- Will I be completely in control of this channel in the future?
- How expensive/complicated will it be to change the service provider?
- What’s the net worth of every single user if I can directly communicate with him/her?
- What opportunities might open if I can communicate directly with all my users/customers/guests?
Before buying into a foreign app … at least try to answer all the questions above.
If you seek independence from your audio guide, gamification app or tour guide app … feel free to contact us: We’ll help you out: firstname.lastname@example.org.