Lessons in app development

Rather than developing an app to jump on a bandwagon, Spun Candy founder James Ellender believes there are a few important questions franchises need to ask first

Lessons in app development

The rise of mobile has changed the world forever and when it comes to apps, businesses are only really limited by their imagination. However it’s all too easy to launch right into development without carefully thinking through what you’re aiming to achieve and how you’ll execute your app engagement strategy in the long term.

Not long after I founded Spun Candy, my confectionery franchise, I realised there was a demand for personalised candy for corporate events, weddings and individual customers. But while speaking to customers, it soon became apparent that rather than trying to imagine what the finished product would look like, people wanted a mockup of their bespoke design before buying. Customers would routinely ask us ‘what does my name look like with those colours in candy?’ but all we could do was show them a sweet with my name on it and ask them to use their imagination. It just wasn’t cost-effective to make a batch for one or two samples. That’s how we came to develop an app that allows people to choose the colours, designs, type of candy or words they want and have fun trying out different designs.

While I never set out to create an app, there were two basic but important elements that drove its development. Primarily, it had a purpose and served a real customer need. Secondly, I knew it wouldn’t just be useful for engagement or entertainment purposes but would actually help us win new business by making people feel more comfortable about ordering something personalised. That’s not to say that an app that’s designed entirely for engagement purposes isn’t valuable. But for us, the investment had to be backed by a reasonable expectation that it would help us boost sales.

Going down the app road

Generally speaking, there are a few things to consider when judging whether or not an app is right for your franchise. First, be clear on what you’re trying to achieve. Do you think you need a mobile app because everyone else has one or is there a real benefit to your consumers, business and brand? You need to balance the financial investment against the projected benefits, so it’s essential that your business objectives are both clear and measurable.

For some businesses, an app is secondary to their core function. For example, TripAdvisor has a website and an app, both of which provide travel-related content. Meanwhile, McDonald’s has an app that enables customers to find restaurants and view menus, which is a secondary function. It’s important for businesses to be clear on this distinction as it will affect not only the app’s functionality but the benefits gained and the level of investment too. At the end of the day, apps should solve a problem. For example, do you need to improve the customer journey and experience, reduce resources, change perceptions of your brand or add a new dimension to the services you already offer?

From there, you can start setting key performance indicators, based on what sort of actions you want people to take. Some apps that are directly related to sales will call for metrics like in-app sales, while others that have been developed to help people feel close to your brand are best measured by looking at how many times people engage with the app or share it with their friends.

Plotting a journey

Once you know what you want to achieve and embark on the planning stage, you need to map out the entire customer journey from initial install to the final destination, including prompts along the way and exploring methods to re-engage with lapsed users. Social media and targeted paid advertising can be particularly useful for delivering personalised messages to keep people engaged. With so many apps available on the market and new competitors popping up every day, brands need to keep working hard to retain people’s interest.

It’s also important to plan for the future – building an app isn’t a one-off action. If your business changes or expands into new territories, the app needs to evolve too. Technology and consumer expectations are constantly changing, so it’s vital that franchises ensure their mobile strategy is fit for the long term and invest accordingly. This means you need to be prepared for continual investment so your app’s functions don’t become outdated. Franchises” should consider their app a long-term investment or customers might stop finding it useful or engaging. At Spun Candy, we’re continually auditing ours and looking for ways to improve and tweak it over time.

Apps can be incredibly powerful sales and marketing tools but to reap the benefits, you need to ask the right questions and be aware of the long-term commitment you’re making.

James Ellender
James Ellender