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To App or Not to App? That is the Question.

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I seem to have this conversation often. While meeting with clients and prospects to discuss their websites and general Internet marketing strategies they lean in and say with some degree of certainty, "we also need an app." My response, 9 times out of 10, is "no, you don't." Here's why:

Apps are expensive. Utilized primarily for the marketing and promotion of your products or services, an app will not yield a very good return on your investment. An app must be built for multiple platforms (iOS and Droid at the very least), requires developers who are currently very expensive and in demand, and then will require maintenance for bug fixes and operating system changes.

Apps are clunky. A user not only has to make a conscious effort to find and then install your app, they also have to make a conscious effort to open it. You might be able to lead users to the app store by providing a friendly link on your website but that still requires effort. Most people won't take those steps. I already have too many apps installed by my kids, like Math Puppy, Castle Doombad, and Celebrity Pimple (don't ask). I don't want more apps I don't plan to use frequently. The other issue is that you also probably don't provide enough regular content to hold users interest and keep them coming back for more. If you don't provide the content and it takes extra steps to open the app, it likely ain't gonna work.

With that said, however, there are many occasions where building a custom app could be very beneficial. Here are some examples:

Lots of great, engaging content. If you do provide a great deal of content through your website (i.e. blogs, news, white papers, etc) then you could benefit from an app. You'll need solid readership for this, though. If you don't already have a core group of followers who read and share your content, then build that first and then reevaluate your need for a custom app later. If you do, apps can be a great tool that your core users will have with them at the tap of a finger. You can push alerts for new posts and events, provide more integrated sharing methods (email, SMS/texting, facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc), and take advantage of some of the other built-in capabilities, like photos, videos, and GPS. 

Some examples of content oriented apps include Smashing Magazine, Marketing Profs, and our friends over at the Marketing Tech Blog.

Integration with existing applications. Let's say you're a manufacturing company or a retail operation, your app could allow users to place orders, virtually assemble and preview products, login to their existing accounts, or interact with your company's data in any number of ways. This reason alone is primarily why companies build apps. Integration with existing databases and applications provides a convenient and easy mechanism to conduct business with you and gives you a big advantage over rivals.

Some examples of apps that integrate with existing services: Amazon, LinkedIn, Chase, Google Drive, and realtor.com.

There are many considerations when deciding if you need an app but I can narrow it down to two:

  1. Will it help you sell a lot more widgets or land new accounts? If the answer is no, easy peasy. No more questions. If the answer is yes then the follow-up question is:
     
  2. How much are you willing to invest to make this happen and what is your minimum anticipated return? That's where a feasibility study comes into play and is beyond the scope of this post. But simply ballparking it would suffice.

If you can't justify an app, perhaps you should convert your site to a responsive/mobile website. This will improve the overall user experience for everyone who reaches you on a handheld device or tablet and is a great way to push off the need (or perceived need) for an app.

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Startups Have it Easy, Sort of

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These days it's a lot easier to start a software company than it used to be. With the plethora of cloud services available at the click of a mouse companies can focus less on infrastructure logistics and more on their product. In this way, startups have it easy.

Before I continue I have a confession to make - Marketpath is not a startup.

Wow! That felt good! You don't know how long I've been holding on to that secret.

Ok, so maybe you read the about us page and you already knew that. We've been around since 2001.

We've claimed that we're like a startup but, in reality, that is far from the truth. We are established, healthy, and revenue positive. But along with being healthy we have our share of legacy systems with legacy problems. More specifically, we have a lot of old equipment running our infrastructure.

Wayback

In 2001, we purchased our first server. It was a Dell Poweredge 2500. I remember, because I bought it and was excited about the possibilities for that powerful server. General websites and web applications were a piece of cake. So, we added an email server and database to it. Then, over the next several years, we bought another server and then another. Initially, we only managed the servers. But then it changed.

In 2004, we moved to nFrame, a data center in Carmel, IN. Since then, we've had to buy all the firewalls, routers, switches, backup devices, metered PDU's, and all the other fun that comes along with managing a SaaS infrastructure. And that's just the hardware. There was a slew of software for everything from email to backups to databases.

For a small resourceful staff this was one heck of a burden, especially when things went wrong. We had to worry about single points of failure in infrastructure, server hard drives, backplanes, power supplies, fans, memory, SCSI cards, NIC's, and many, many other intricate and complicated devices going kaput. And then there was the software maintenance.

Me and other staff have spent many long nights standing above the air conditioning panel right in front of our rack. Luckily, in all these years, our longest outage for any website was limited to about 4 hours. And that's because when the you-know-what hits the fan, we got very creative.

Why Startups Have it Easy

Startups don't have to worry about infrastructure - at least in the same sense that Marketpath and every other software company that's been around for more than five years has had to. Infrastructure is a huge resource suck. Proper planning, implementation, and maintenance should be full time jobs. When everything seemed to be humming along nicely, some small issue was festering behind the scenes getting ready to rear its ugly face.

Startups can focus on building software and leave the infrastructure to the experts. Now there's Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoft AzureRackspaceBluelock, and many more infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) companies. These companies handle all the gory details and monitoring of core hardware devices. They provide virtual servers and other services that can be plugged into easily. 

Now, instead of having to high-tail it over to the local data center, customers simply jump on their iPad, launch the web portal and restart a server or provision more. Only the exact infrastructure necessary is deployed. In the past, we had to buy more hardware than we actually needed so we could scale up to meet demand. There were intricate formulas (that I never used) to calculate capacity needed now vs. capacity needed down the road.

Startups have this provisioning capability at their fingertips and can dedicate their time to building their business and building great software.

Don't get me wrong. Established companies have this too and often implement new projects in virtual environments. It's the legacy software that is the slow moving snail of adoption.

Virtual Marketpath

At Marketpath, we began our virtualization quest last summer. We implemented our internal project management and support system which was a simple database and web application. Not too bad.

Since, we've been 

 

 

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Publisher Rebuild and Release!

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One of the core mechanisms with a web content management system is its publishing process. The process for Marketpath CMS is unique because we completely separate the content editing and site management tools from the actual live website. 

 

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