Right on cue, after yesterday’s post on mobile app ideas for “boring” businesses like tire shops and dry cleaners, Inc. has published a great read on why you must take the risk of getting into the mobile game in order to continue growing your business – physical or virtual.
All posts in Mobile
Mobile internet usage is doing nothing but rising and will continue to for at least the next decade or so. At the bottom of the article there will be some links to stats and info about that so you can do some research, as well as platforms you can use to make an app yourself, more affordably than hiring a development company to do it from scratch.
What I want to talk about are some ideas that less-sexy businesses like dry cleaners and tire shops can use as inspiration to create their own mobile app, and how this can benefit you. So open your minds and get ready to think outside your box about new ways to market your products and services. Don’t worry about cost for now… we’ll talk about that after the ideas.
App Content & Features Ideas
Tires & Tire Services
Purchasing tires can be like purchasing underwear – you know you need them and have to buy them, but don’t necessarily want to as it seems like your hard-earned money would bring more satisfaction if spent on something pretty or fun… like a designer handbag or electronic gadget. So how does a tire shop possibly create an app that customers would want to use and ultimately would bring them into the store for tires or service? How about…
- offering a daily or weekly deal in the app exclusively for app users
- allowing fast inventory and price-checking
- pushing out a reminder to a customer who needs their tires rotated or some other service on a schedule
- pushing out seasonal tips about tire care
- giving a “guide to long-lasting tire care” so people can save money & not have to replace them prematurely
- letting customers schedule an appointment so they don’t have to call
- letting customers tweet you a question easily
- giving people a fun badge for checking in so many times using the app
- randomly giving people a special incentive after so many checkins using the app
- write a “tire buying for dummies” guide or something geared to first time tire purchasers to help walk them through it
- allow parents to purchase tires for their college kids via your app, so all the student has to do is show up to get them put on
I just read a short but great article on mobile app branding and the approach you need to consider before going to market. The 12 lessons mentioned in the article:
- Apps must be real-time
- Make it easy for consumers to pay
- Integrate feedback quickly
- ‘This is not the wired web’
- People will pay for value…
- …But free works to drives sales for your endemic product
- Apps need to be part of an integrated message
- Utility, frequency and viral distinguish long-term success
- People find apps through other people
- Use existing assets to market your app
- App marketing needs to be targeted
- Don’t discount the iPod Touch
For details, case study examples and to read the whole article head over to Advertising Age.
Ask the question “Do you have a mobile site?” to a lot of overworked professionals and they’ll groan, roll their eyes, or do something else to indicate this is just not something at the top of their priority list right now, and they’d rather not think about it.
Yet, with so many people on the move, using a wide range of internet-capable phones, the timing is right to take a look at going mobile. Since I wrote Branding Yourself in Small Spaces and hypothetically redesigned an existing corporate mobile site, I have been chomping at the bit to get my hands on a real one. I have the perfect mentor, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to take on this new challenge. This week I discovered some free web tools that gave me the chance to play with mobile design, albeit in an indirect and less-than-perfect way from an information architecture and design perspective.
However, even with the design limitations, I think anyone who wants to network and get the word out about their business should take a look at these tools. I have designed two sites for my company, Fresh ID and am trying to decide which one I will officially use with my new “freshid.mobi” domain name.
SWIFT GETS YOUR MOBILE SITE ONLINE QUICKLY
Swift is a beautiful tool that allows you to literally create a mobile web site in minutes. It offers the ability to make the mobile site your own by choosing colors and inserting graphics, which is the reason I started with it as my first foray into mobile design. It allowed me to add a page for this blog’s rss feed, which is nice because this is updated much more often than the Fresh ID site is. In fact, Swift focuses on bloggers who might just want a way to make their blog mobile. It is free if you want to show ads, or $10 per month to be ad-free.
I went through a lot of trial and error with the design, which was exhausting, but I sincerely believe we should try to brand ourselves consistently regardless of the environment, so I wanted to put in the effort. I am not totally satisfied with the results… if I were designing this with developers, or wanted to spend the time learning all the applicable behind-the-scenes css and coding tricks to do what I want, I would approach the design differently – especially of the home screen. What I created at Swift is a nice first pass and usable, but not delightful, which is the emotion I ultimately want to evoke.
Swift says, about growing your business, “Now, you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to have a great-looking, professional mobile Web site.” That is definitely true, and is the single reason I am sharing this information. I hope organizations of all sizes that read this will think about what they can do in the mobile space to promote their products or services, and I will provide some examples to get your marketing synapses firing at the end of this article.
MOBISITEGALORE PROVIDES ROBUST & DYNAMIC SITES
Another mobile site builder I wanted to try was mobiSiteGalore. I found them first, but ended up starting with Swift because they looked easier and had a more appealing interface. However, I’m glad I tested mobiSiteGalore because they are a lot more robust and have helpful marketing “Goodies” you can utilize to make your mobile site a lot more interactive. The site is fairly easy to use and comprehend (well, for a web professional like myself, that is.) Like Swift, they create the site for free and give you a custom domain name to use, but they also offer the ability to host the created site on your own server, which is a little unexpected for a free service like this. You can remove their “Made by mobiSiteGalore.com” link from the bottom of the pages for 95 Euros, or about $150 US.
They are tightly integrated with ready.mobi (a mobile phone tester and emulator, and where these screenshots came from.) If you get into designing your own mobile site at all, you will become intimately acquainted with ready.mobi, as I found myself going back and forth constantly to test the results of my design efforts. mobiSiteGalore does this with each completion of your page design, and you get instant results of how well it is expected to work across various types of mobile phones. I found that my mobiSiteGalore site scored better than the Swift site did in terms of having the properly validated code and fewer errors.
My main complaints, naturally, have to do with the design control. My header is tiny, whereas with the Swift site it resizes to fill the screen, and I had no control over the home screen’s appearance, like I minimally did with Swift. If I could combine these two products together, in addition to my wish list of design features being implemented, I’d have the perfect online mobile site designer!
BRAINSTORM & PLAN MOBILE SITE IDEAS BEFORE STARTING
When I decided to take on this experiment, I had the benefit of some understanding of restraining my mobile site’s message to fit the context of the space, thanks to tutoring from a leading mobile design expert, Barbara Ballard of Little Springs Design. She believes in designing for the mobile web with “intelligent simplicity” but that is perhaps easier said than done.
You are going to need to put yourself in your user’s shoes to create content for your mobile site, and I strongly advocate creating a separate site, because your existing web site is going to be much too hard to navigate and read on this small surface. (Test this for yourself using an emulator.)
Here are a few questions to get you started:
• What is the minimal amount of content from your site that someone might need online?
Your full contact information is one obvious reason for being found online when people are searching, so definitely make pertinent content information a page in your mobile site, and use any SEO features offered, in addition to considering paid mobile ads, to be found in mobile searches.
• What is the next most important thing people in a non-computerized environment might need to know?
For Fresh ID, I felt the answer was about my services and a little bit about my background, which adds credibility. In reality, people want to see my portfolio, but I have directed them to the normal web site (when they’re in front of a computer) rather than putting these images online… for the time being.
I have two clients who are manufacturers, Vertec Polymers makes plastic shapes that companies use to create products and parts with, and Titan Wood sells a special wood that is used in all types of structures and applications. Both of these companies sell to individuals and distributors, and a natural mobile site component for them, might be to have specific product information or datasheets (perhaps stripped down to essentials) that a buyer in the field could access if they had a question based on their need at the moment. A contact form that sends an email (such as mobiSiteGalore offers) to a sales rep would be awesome when someone has a quick thought, away from their desk, and wants to handle it now.
• What do people commonly do at my site, that I could let them do from a mobile site?
Banks and brokers have begun using mobile sites to provide access to transactions, such as checking your balance or transferring funds. What do you do, that could make life for your users a bit easier if they could do it without having to be in front of a computer? Here are ideas for three companies I like that I don’t think have mobile sites now:
VisualCV could let users send their resumes via the phone to someone’s email, so that if they get a call from a potential employer or recruiter, they can hang up and instantly send their visual resume to an email address.
Phix could let customers order more energy drink powders from wherever they are at the moment… a thirsty mountain biker would never have to be indoors to get his Phix!
EchoSign could allow users to send documents from a mobile site to someone’s email address so they didn’t have to rely on computer access to take advantage of closing a possible deal.
MOBILE SITE RESOURCES
Are you starting to formulate ideas for your own business yet? If not, check out the .mobi showcase to see real examples of mobile sites from all sorts of organizations, and visit the sites below for help to get your mobile site online.
Do-It-For-You Using Online Tools
>> Fresh ID
If you’re hungry for more information about mobile design, from industry experts, attend the Design for Mobile Conference in Lawrence, Kansas September 22-24, 2008!
So many people are searching every day for the costs associated with Alltel’s Celltop feature, and finding the design critique on the Celltop user experience I recently posted, that I felt I should provide specific pricing information if possible. I have done some more research about the cost of using Celltop on your Alltel phone. Maybe this can be my good deed for the day.
Please note, this information is from the software on my LG Scoop phone, which appears to be different than the software in screenshots on the Alltel site, so the pricing and application information is subject to change. (And not all applications are available on all Alltel phones.)
For those that don’t know, “Celltop” is a suite of mobile widgets designed by the amazing Frog Design especially for Alltel, who is my service provider at the moment. Celltop works on certain phones only, and there are about 10 free widgets out of the box, with others available for purchase. An interesting idea, in theory. When I first saw the concept, with its slick looking interface, I wanted to put my hands on it and play! In reality, the fun was short-lived.
The design feels pretty nice at first glance… the colored backgrounds and typography on top of them seem readable. But because they put two cells on the screen at one time, they feel a little “squished” for my taste. I think there’s a way to unsquish them and display only one using the full screen, but I haven’t yet figured that trick out. As a user experience specialist, I deliberately don’t want to use the Help for it, because I am trying to ascertain the application’s intuitive learning curve. (Unfortunately for me, that meant my husband ended up telling me how to listen to ringtones because he figured the secret out first.)
A brand design, an amazing application interface, and ultimately the entire user experience of any system is dependent on two external things:
I recently had the opportunity to get together with a brilliant woman named Barbara Ballard, who specializes in mobile application design… in fact, she wrote the book on it! As someone who wants to break into this field, the gears in my brain couldn’t help turning as we looked at some real live apps on several of her different devices and discussed the ramifications of designing for these small spaces.
Today I took a few minutes to do a brief redesign of one of the mobile applications we looked at, for USAA. I want to make it clear, that neither Barbara nor myself have done any work on the USAA site or mobile application. She is a customer of theirs, so we had the opportunity to examine the interface superficially and only briefly discussed it.
THE CORPORATE BRAND
At first glance, I wasn’t overly impressed with the mobile application Barbara showed me. It is functional, but very plain. As someone who believes that the brand and user experience are strongly intertwined, I wondered what the site design and USAA branding looked like, so I visited the http://www.usaa.com/ to check it out. Wow!! I fell in love with the simply elegant typography, the color palette, effective use of white space and generally effective navigation. (I didn’t look too closely at the information architecture – today’s focus was visual.)
The web site fits the image, the style, and the level of sophistication you’d expect a large, national, financial brand to portray. I found it very peaceful to peruse, and they had some nice usability components that would help a potential customer research their offerings and make at least the decision to call them to see about becoming a member.
In comparison to USAA’s corporate site, I don’t get the same experience when launching the mobile app. So I did a quick redesign to show how I would have approached this design and created the same brand experience in the small space, as they offer in the large, unlimited one.
It was surprisingly easy, because the web site contains some wonderful graphics in a special section promoting the mobile service. By the way, the presentation on the site is designed as part marketing/part tutorial, and it provides an excellent service for users. The mobile app itself seems pretty easy to use and understand, but it lacks the delightful branding that makes the USAA site such a pleasant environment. Here is the login screen, looking much more like the login section on the site:
All the functionality is still there, except one component. I don’t think it is a good idea at all to enter a user into something without their permission, such as they are doing with each mobile login. I didn’t know what this contest is about, so I searched the site (as they said to do, for the contest rules) but couldn’t find the information. The reality is, if I had been doing this project, I would have tried to talk Marketing out of this approach by explaining the how this introduces a negative message to the user, or I would have handled it in a way that feels more advantageous to people than intrusive. I eliminated it from my login screen completely.
This is a very quick effort to redesign the home screen at a purely visual level, repurposing their existing site graphics, but I think it has a lot more personality and appeal. Given time and money and a real job redesigning this, the effort would be a lot more impressive, but I think you will see my point here.
Utilizing these well-designed, iconic images already on the web site sends a message of professionalism that says “Our company is second to none. We offer style and class. We take no shortcuts, etc.” It also gives the application a little bit of an interactive feel, much more so than the plain, dry text links offered currently.
(The little “hand” over the green icon should not indicate that this is a touch interface. I just realized I am so used to designing software prototypes, I put that there as an indicator of the visual cue when an option is selected – on this type of mobile device that would mean using the center key to move up, down, left or right to hop from one icon to another.)
This brand exercise only took me about an hour. Of course, the images aren’t as perfect as they would be if I worked with their designers and had the original art. I used the largest size device screen, but would have no problem scaling down the images and altering the layout, yet still maintaining some branding for smaller size screens – the smallest of which is about 128×128 pixels.
As the postage stamp industry has proven, there is nothing so small that you can’t align beauty, detail and spareness of clutter if you feel it’s important. Fresh ID is founded on the principle that branding is a key ingredient in the overall user experience of a system. It should not be ignored simply because we have a significantly smaller canvas on which to paint!