In today’s fast-paced market, businesses are aiming at moving targets. Mobile is no longer just nice to have; it’s an essential component of any marketing plan.

According to a report from Walker Sands, nearly one-fourth of all website traffic came from mobile devices in the first quarter of 2013—that’s a 78 percent increase from 2012, and a 109 percent increase from 2011. Plus, mobile shoppers convert at a higher rate than desktop shoppers, according to Internet Retailer.

So, there’s no question that even the smallest businesses should have a mobile website … but do you need an app? That depends on what you’re selling, what you’re trying to achieve, and what your customer data tells you.

Apps Done Well

Many companies have significantly enhanced user experience, branding, and revenue by supplementing their mobile sites with a standalone app.

  • Marriott: In addition to a strong m-commerce site, Marriott offers an app that lets customers find a local hotel, book a room, and check in. The company’s mobile investment has paid off, with an annual growth rate of 250 percent.
  • Delta Airlines: The Fly Delta app lets travelers check in, get an e-boarding pass, pay for bags, and even download in-flight entertainment from a smartphone or tablet.
  • Amazon: With Amazon’s Price Check app, shoppers can scan a barcode and see Amazon’s price for the item. Plus, Amazon receives the store’s selling price and uses that for market analysis.
  • eBay Mobile: The auction site’s sales were lagging when the new CEO developed mobile apps for buying and selling. The investment paid off—sales rose by 15 percent, and Neilsen reported 13.2 million users in 2012.
  • Starbucks: Busy coffee lovers no longer have to carry around a prepaid store card. With the Starbucks app, they can pay right on their phones. As of March 2013, the app was generating 3 million transactions per week.

Could Your Business Benefit from an App?

The answer lies in your business objectives and, most importantly, in your data. Using tools like the Adobe Marketing Cloud’s mobile services, you can look at data points to answer these questions before deciding to build an app:

  • Who are you building the app for? New customers, existing customers, or both? Are you attempting to boost sales in a particular market segment?
  • How do your customers like to shop or interact with content?
  • What types of devices does your audience use? Most of today’s mobile users have Apple or Android. You might consider starting with one platform and testing before rolling out to both.
  • Will users need to access functions that are specific to their smartphones, such as cameras, GPS locators, or offline capabilities?

Testing for Success

Before building an app, think strategically about the purpose it will serve. Users will only download an app if it truly adds value by making their lives easier, more fun, or more profitable. An app that underperforms—or isn’t used at all—can do more harm than good to your brand.

Once the app is in place, you can use solutions like Adobe Target to connect the analytics data to optimizations. Your ideal customer never stops changing—and you shouldn’t, either.