What is Mobile Strategy?


More screens= profit.

This used to be how companies approached mobile apps. Move the web or desktop interface to mobile, adjust the form factors, and boom! Profit. Then came the rise of “mobile first” strategy: developing interactions, especially those for consumers, with the idea that the mobile app will be the primary source of interactions with the brand. Using the mobile app as the foundation, rather than the other way around.

Today, the industry is moving in a different direction and in a big way. It’s not mobile first anymore— it’s user first. Developing a mobile strategy for your customer or employee that fits inside of your overall experience strategy, which maps out the physical, digital and emotional interactions users have with your brand. With the rise of contextual awareness in applications, the physical environment is no longer separate from the mobile interaction. Virtual and augmented realities are also changing these interactions, specifically in heavy industrial settings.

So, what is a mobile strategy for 2016? We’re focusing on a user-first mobile strategy in this post, but it’s important to note that there is a larger context at work here. We saw a lot of posts out there focus only on the team who will develop the strategy, rather than the actual components of the strategy. Although the right team will always play a role, the strategy they deliver needs to be the centerpiece. Our research, design and development teams have developed mobile strategies for some of the world’s largest companies, and we have refined our approach over the last 8 years as the industry and user needs have evolved.

One-off mobile apps are no longer enough for enterprises serious about staying around for the next five years. The enterprise mobility market is expected to grow to $285 billion by 2019. Chances are your competitors have already started their strategy.

Where thinking goes wrong with mobile apps

Five years ago

  • IT-driven
  • Project
  • Complete on due date
  • Just for consumers
  • Not personalized or contextual
  • Launches to users after waterfall development
  • Focused on the business goals


  • Business-driven
  • Product
  • Never complete; always in maintenance
  • Part of a holistic app ecosystem and larger customer and employee experience
  • Agile development process with user feedback woven throughout
  • Focused on the user goals

With mobile driving such serious changes in the industry, it’s no wonder companies are getting serious about their investments: Cox Business estimates that by next year, 70 percent of mobile workers will be using tablets. Here’s the problem-- this type of thinking leads to companies who develop the mobile apps that users log into once and then delete, which represents about 79% of mobile apps. Correcting your thinking leads to a completely different strategy, and completely different outcomes, also known as the outcomes that you need to survive in the next few years.


Elements of a Successful Mobile Strategy

We’ve whittled this down to the most essential pieces. The other aspect of developing mobile strategy is that the mobile landscape changes very quickly, so the most important tenet of this mobile strategy is that it is high-level enough to endure changes in market conditions and consumer needs.

Definition of the strategy stakeholders and the project team

Including just the right amount of leaders in the process is where most companies make the first stumble. It cannot be just IT driving the development of the strategy; the business, operations and marketing teams need to have a place at the table. IT and other mobile app development experts who are well versed in the market conditions can start the initial conversations, but it needs to be a collaboration between everyone. Here are the general roles we think need to join the team:


  • Chief Information Officer-- This person is a stakeholder in the strategy and ultimately responsible for the outcomes.
  • Chief Marketing Officer — Anything consumer facing needs to involve the leaders of the marketing department.
  • Chief Operations Officer— Streamlining operations is an untapped area for mobility for many companies. If there is even the slightest chance that the first five years will include this, this person needs to be at the table. 


  • Business Strategist or Analyst— Too often, businesses develop key performance metrics for applications that are completely divorced from their overall business goals. A business strategist or analyst can help steer this portion of the conversation.
  • Marketing/Customer Relations Expert— This person needs to be included for two reasons: one, most app ecosystems include a customer-facing application. This person will be the expert on how to integrate current marketing initiatives within the app(s). Second, every app needs to be marketed, even the ones for employees whose use is mandated by company policies. We tend to recommend that companies avoid mandating the usage of an app, because then the analytics and work efficiency gains data will be undiluted.  
  • Operations Lead— This person will provide crucial insight into how any app strategy will need to work within the company’s operations goals. It can also begin collaboration for later applications.
  • UX Researcher— Someone with background in human factors, psychology, or related fields will be able to provide best practices on how the company should deliver the strategy to employees.
  • IT/Mobile Development Lead— Ideally, this person will have experience delivering applications. They are able to provide the development context, including the security, technology purchasing and methodology considerations.


Business drivers

This section overall needs to be driven by the goals of the organization. Defining where mobile fits into making those goals a reality is part of this process, but the overall goals need to come from the top.

After reviewing your key goals, carve out the sub-goals that will deliver the most payback from mobile application investments. Prioritizing these requires careful consideration of the revenue associated with moving closer to each goal. It’s important to understand that the goals with a mobile application strategy will roll up to the larger organizational goals. For example, if you work for an apartment management company and your goal is to improve the customer retention rate, then the mobile application can directly address common customer complaints, such as a frustrating maintenance request system.

Other business drivers include your brand perception and loyalty. How will the mobile app change how your customers think about your company? What current research do you have on brand perception?

As far as market penetration goes, what are your goals and how will a mobile app help achieve those? Will a mobile app open up new markets for your product?

On the operations side, it’s important to highlight the goals for operations efficiency that the mobile application can impact. It’s tempting to write that the mobile strategy can touch all aspects of the operations. However, certain aspects of operations will not be worth the investment and should be part of a phase 2 strategy. We see a lot of business leaders first identify a “mobile dashboard so I can see the velocity of all of the operations.” This, however, may be better suited to a desktop because how often are the business leaders looking at that data away from a desk? Focus on the field workforce and operations away from the desk. These are the people who can gain the most from the real-time and contextual possibilities of mobile.

An important note here-- make sure that you establish that you will have a user experience research team investigate these issues and validate the ROI estimation before the project moves forward. Think about it: prescribing medicine before validating the symptoms of the illness is malpractice in the medical field. If you give the team the permission to not spend money on validating the problem, they won’t...and then they will be the doctor committing malpractice.

Technology Purchasing Considerations

This is where we get into the weeds. Will each department be allowed to choose between a device management solution or a BYOD strategy? Will the implementation of this be top-down? Will each department be able to do a modified version where the department chooses their own devices?

It may be helpful to talk through this with an agency who has done a lot of these implementations, or at least a resident technology expert. Companies often worry about employees stealing laptops or other devices. The device can be replaced, but the company data being handed over to a competitor presents a lot of risk. One option to increase the security of the physical device is to install geofences that will erase all of the data on the device if it exits the geofence. This is just one option of a creative workaround.

Regulatory and Security Considerations

Historically, regulations always lag behind technology advancement, but there are still protocols for mobile devices that need to be followed. Lay out each of the applicable regulations to mobile for your enterprise. For example, HIPPA compliance or other regulations may require that you encrypt names and identifying information from users.

It’s also important to involve a security expert on establishing minimum standards for data security. For example, every enterprise app needs to be equipped to handle the OWASP Top 10 threats.

This really depends on the industry you are operating in, so be sure to do your research.


Customer and employee engagement/interaction research

How do your users feel about your company? What do the trends say about the interactions customers and employees have with your brand? What is the customer interaction strategy and how does this fit in? Who are your key customer personas and what interactions do they want from your brand?

These questions are difficult, but very worthwhile to answer. For example, say you are a makeup provider with a direct, house-to-house sales force. A mobile app could make communication extremely seamless with the sales person, and even allow them to promote makeup tutorials and tips to the consumer directly. How does that change or enhance the interaction? What types of ROI in terms of repeat customers or larger orders would you expect?

For employees, you need to answer the same questions. What are the interactions that drive the perception of your internal brand? Is there a way to make that more aligned with your desired brand image? For example, many companies increase communication via a mobile app or intranet delivered on a mobile app. It’s important to also keep in mind the cultural considerations of the workplace. How is new technology received by staff? Have past technology implementations been rolled out successfully? If not, what needs to change?

Competitive research

What are your competitors doing with mobile? What results do your competitors promise with their mobile apps? The idea with this section is to identify the competitive advantage you can gain from your research.

For example, with consumers, say you have an app that helps your loyal customers find your gas station. They log in and then see a map with all of your available gas stations. But what if you were able to get more people to download the app and become familiar with your brand by highlighting all of the available gas stations, including ones not owned by your company? This way, you can get more exposure to customers who are not used to interacting with your brand, and increase your touchpoints with them by for example, sending push notifications or other materials.

The second part of this question is to identify the switching costs. How difficult will it be for your competitors’ customers to switch? What are they risking by switching and can the mobile app ease that transition? A lot of times, this is the biggest “competition” that you face with consumers. If it’s easier and more convenient to just stay with the competition, why would they choose to switch?

For employees, this question takes a different turn. How difficult will the implementation of these mobile apps be? It’s important to set guidelines around training and user feedback when new apps are rolled out. What basic metrics does the launch/internal marketing team need to hit in order to launch the app? Some companies skip this question, choosing instead to say that use of the app will be a mandate. We strongly advise against this route. Mandating use of the app dilutes the analytics of the app and does not provide an accurate picture of the usefulness of the app itself. Employees will develop workarounds if the app does not meet their needs, but leaders will not be able to tell. If use of the app needs to be mandatory because it comes with such substantial changes, it’s important to build in contextual inquiries and ethnographic research engagements post-launch to ensure the app is meeting targets for employees.

Development Methodologies

This is a big one: How will you approach the actual development of the app?

Will you rely on outside partners and follow their methodology? What methodologies do you need to see from vendors?

How will you scout and evaluate emerging technology? There is a lot happening with virtual reality and augmented reality-- what types of metrics will you need to see before dipping a toe in that arena? It’s important to outline basic principles for your app’s foundation. Do you want to build out your internal app development team or do you want to just work with vendors?

The key here is to be realistic about the capabilities of your internal team. Can they handle developing the APIs, for example? If the answer is no, but you don’t include this, then nearly every project will experience significant delays and your internal team will really struggle.


Answering all of these questions takes a lot of effort, but developing a strategy will help keep your company competitive through mobile applications. Instead of constantly pursuing one-off apps for different departments, you will have a solid foundation to empower your team. If you need more details on how to create the team and strategy for your organization, download our Requirements for Mobile Apps.

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