Add an iPhone App to Your Multichannel Strategy

Have you been looking at the new iPhone and wondering what its ability to run native applications could mean to your business? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe you could add another customer-facing channel to your offerings via an iPhone application. Today we’ll take a look at a few ways to explore this space.

When I was at barnesandnoble.com in 1998, the wireless team launched an e-commerce store on the new and exciting Palm VII. In those days, there was a mad rush to fund anything with the word “wireless” in it. And in 2003, I wrote a column about whether wireless was making a comeback. Well, those golden days seem to be back with a vengeance, with funding going to anything that includes the phrase “iPhone application.”

Less E-commerce, More Services

If we learned one lesson from the initial wireless push 10 years ago, it’s this: wireless/handheld applications on phones don’t have to focus just on commerce. They can be service- and information-oriented. In fact, the majority of iPhone applications already released are service-based. There are e-commerce tie-ins in many of them, but they are services first. They fulfill a need someone has while on the go.

Think about your business. Both B2B (define) and B2C (define) markets offer services in addition to their primary transactions. Think about what services are needed in real time. If you’re a financial institution, this could be a stock application that shows the user a real-time update of his portfolio, with the functionality to buy and sell. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are applications available that let users identify drugs and store their medical records on the iPhone (these are in the App Store currently).

Comparison shopping and coupon sites have a play here, too. Combined with the iPhone’s location-based services, people could easily search for products and get a listing of how much it costs in all the stores nearby.

On the B2C side, there are unlimited options based on your business. Do you have a gift registry in your store? The iPhone can become the device customers use to create and edit their lists as they walk around the store. One can easily imagine how adding pictures taken in the store could add personality to the bride’s registry.

Or maybe you run a grocery store, and the iPhone becomes a new way to distribute coupons that are always current. Once the system learns the customer’s behavior, the coupons could be targeted to the right audiences.

Loyalty

In the struggle to gain user loyalty, what better way is there than allowing users to interact with your brand and services in a very personal way? IPhone apps (and similar apps that are being developed for other mobile platforms) are a way to do that. We’re working with a few companies right now to imagine not only how to integrate the iPhone into their multichannel strategy, but also how to put companies’ actual loyalty programs on the iPhone.

The possibilities are endless. If your high-value customers are those who would own an iPhone or other device with an open application architecture, get cracking. Brainstorm internally or hire an outside firm to work with you on your mobile application strategy.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Let me know.

Until next time…

Jack

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