Target your customers.

Almost 60% of smartphone users don't go even a full hour without checking their phones, according to a study by Lookout Mobile Security. And with mobile penetration continuing to soar, it's natural that so many companies are incorporating mobile into their marketing efforts.

Yet, when it comes to creating mobile apps, many businesses see them simply as a tool for acquiring new customers. In reality, their greatest promise lies in helping companies retain clients and stay top of mind with them. Today's non-stop onslaught of advertising has made brand awareness more valuable than ever. Apps are a great way to build loyalty among your existing customers, because giving them a highly useful tool builds substantial goodwill toward your firm in their minds. What's more, apps are relatively inexpensive next to, for instance, TV and radio advertising.

What could your company offer its clients to encourage them to make using your app an ingrained habit? Plenty. The key is to start understanding your customers so deeply you become a part of their life.

Scoring big with hockey fans

Let me illustrate this concept with a hypothetical example. I love hockey. I watch hockey, I play hockey on my company's team, my son loves hockey and he plays it locally as well. But it's tough to find the time to make it to all of my own games as well as my son's games, and to catch Leaf games on TV—let alone to search for schedules, pick up hockey equipment and so on.

So I do a Google search on my smartphone for "hockey management app" and in the results I see that Bauer, the hockey-equipment maker, has exactly what I need. Bauer's app allows me to book shinny times locally, check up on the scores of the Leafs vs. Habs games (if only...), read up on recent trades, see how my son's team ranks in the local standings and more—all from my smartphone! When my son needs new skates next year, which kind am I most likely to buy? Bauer, obviously, because its brand is always top of my mind.

Why you need to change your mindset

The Bauer example highlights the importance of thinking differently about your marketing. You need to shift your mindset from using a mobile app solely for customer acquisition to striving for customer retention. This parallels a shift from traditional "interruption marketing" to what blogger and digital-marketing specialist Avinash Kaushik calls "utility marketing": delivering so much value to your audience that you become part of their lives. This is branding your business in a way that doesn't focus primarily on advertising your products or services; instead, you focus on nurturing customer retention, loyalty and lifetime value.

The most exciting part about this? Not many companies are doing it! A significant opportunity exists to be there for your audience, and to go where your competitors haven't gone—at least, not yet.

For example, the Red Bull Playgrounds App allows a user to build a virtual playground—not the kind for kids, but one for youthfully minded adults in the sense of "the world is your playground." Users identify bike jumps, skate parks, nightclubs and all kinds of activity hubs around the globe, then add them to a map so other users can view the locations. Users can also read up on what some of the world's best athletes, artists and icons have to say about the best places and activities across the globe.

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