How much time do you spend with your mobile phone each day? Take a guess. Is it more than the time you spend eating, commuting, or doing housework? Surprisingly, if you’re like most Americans, your time with mobile devices easily exceeds the time spent on any of the three.
According to Flurry, Americans spend 2 hours and 42 minutes per day on mobile devices, and 86% of that time is spent in mobile apps. In 2015, Americans’ time spent with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets accounted for more than half of their total time spent with digital media.
But marketers can’t think of mobile apps the way they think about seasonal campaigns. Mobile applications are complex technology products that require niche expertise — product strategy and management, experience and interface design, and native development and testing — to achieve the first of many version releases in your product’s road map.
Start With Your CTO
CMOs who wish to develop a mobile product should first consult their CIO or CTO to determine organizational readiness. Building and iterating on a mobile product requires four tracks of work: initial planning and development, recurring maintenance, continuous iteration for future updates, and ongoing integration with internal and external technologies.
Consumer demand and competitive pressures are the core drivers behind brands’ mobile product development, so speed to market is a top priority. And market demand is rapidly increasing. According to Gartner, demand for mobile product development is expected to grow five times more quickly by the end of 2017 than organizations’ internal development capabilities.
Unfortunately, expanding internal capabilities isn’t just about securing approval to hire. Because of exceedingly high demand, many organizations struggle to curate a talented team capable of creating, managing, and evolving mobile products. Between the financial investment and ramp-up time required to construct an in-house mobile team, it’s easy to see why just 26% of brands opt to develop mobile products entirely in-house.
Check Your Agency Roster
Many CMOs next look for mobile development capabilities among their existing agency partners. About 55 percent of brands successfully use a mixed-source approach to mobile products, which involves collaboration between in-house mobile talent and an agency partner. But be warned: A strong partner should be uniquely suited to, not merely capable of, mobile product development.
While many brands partner with a full-service digital agency capable of creating mobile products, this is seldom that agency’s core value proposition. These agencies have broad talent pools with varied skills that can be applied to mobile but aren’t their expertise. For example, you don’t want a graphic designer accustomed to creating banner ads struggling with the interface for your mobile product.
Specific expertise aside, many digital agencies are simply unequipped for rapid change in the mobile space. With operating systems and devices receiving updates almost monthly — and average mobile apps being reliant on six third-party cloud services — mobile apps need constant iteration. In 2014, Facebook promised iOS users new updates every four weeks, but in 2015, these updates have come even more frequently, with 24 released since the year’s beginning. Top-performing apps all update just as frequently.
The majority of digital brand leaders admit they struggle to keep up. Forrester found that just 25% feel like they update their mobile products as frequently as customers expect. More worrying, less than 20% update their products frequently enough to react to operating system updates and basic bug fixes.
While many digital agencies can create a functional app, fewer can adequately support its evolution. Creating an app that keeps pace with mobile innovation requires a product agency, a partner uniquely devoted to creating and evolving products for the small screen.
Choosing a Product Agency
Evaluating product agencies for partnership requires collaboration between your marketing and technology departments led by your procurement or agency relationship partner. There are five core criteria to look for when considering a product agency partnership:
1. Product-focused and iterative road maps: A leading agency will demonstrate a proven track record of creating, managing, supporting, and evolving apps. Look for a partner that proposes an iterative release road map spanning 12-18 months, not just the first version or minimum viable product.
2. Multidisciplinary teams: The product agency manages multidisciplinary teams across core practice areas for each client. These disciplines include product strategy, experience design, user interface design, software development, quality assurance testing, and analytics — all overseen by a product manager with a proven track record of developing and iterating mobile projects.
3.Collaborative, mixed-source teams: Because most brands opt for a mixed-source approach, leading product agencies must be adept collaborators. This requires clear communication and understanding where the brand’s expertise lies and where the agency can add value. The product agency’s ability to maximize clients’ strengths, fortify their weaknesses, and lead where they haven’t evolved is crucial for a collaborative approach.
4. Multi-year relationships: Many agencies are capable of building a good product, but can they keep improving? A proven product agency will demonstrate successful execution of long-term product road maps with iterative version releases. Look for an agency that emphasizes fast-paced evolution and its portfolio of relationships rather than just its products.
5. Research and development: No agency can guarantee how mobile technology will change tomorrow, but leaders demonstrate a commitment to understanding where the landscape is heading and position their teams to react to uncertainty. Select the partner that can demonstrate the shortest learning curve to embrace new technology.