There was a time when trying to start a video game company would take vast sums of money, difficult-to-find technical talent and deals with the major console companies. Most of those barriers fell away with the advent of smartphones, however, when the software and other tools to create and publish a mobile game became available to almost everyone. That’s why some it became such a strong area in which small and medium-sized businesses have launched.

You don’t have to be in mobile gaming, however, to take advantage of mobile technology for marketing purposes. In fact, the proliferation of smartphones and similar devices among consumers and business people means the audience for apps and test messaging has never been larger. If mobile isn’t a part of the mix of channels you consider along with email and your web site, it should be.

Many SMBs may not need to be convinced about the “why” of mobile marketing, but get caught up with difficulties around the “how” instead. That’s where it may make sense to take a second look at all those mobile game developers. Even if you operate in an entirely different sector – targeting B2B customers, for example – many of the challenges you’ll face are not unlike those trying to stand out amid thousands of competitors in an app store.

2016 State of marketing. New research based on 4000 marketers worldwide. Get the report.


Even if you’re a one-person company who manages to create a better mobile game than Candy Crush Saga, you might still face an uphill battle to get anyone to know about it or, better yet, install it on a mobile device and start using it. This is called “discoverability” by the app industry and it’s an issue that more SMBs will face as they begin to offer apps to help sell products, answer customer questions or provide entirely new kinds of services.

Rather than develop an app first and hope the audience will come, it’s best if SMBs spend an equal amount of time thinking through their discoverability strategy before they create anything. This is where more traditional firms may have a built-in advantage, because unless they’re a brand new entity, they might already have a database of customers to whom they could grow this channel. This includes:

Newsletters: If you have a regular email communication that goes out to customers when you’re announcing new products, promotions or other updates, plan how you can talk about the apps benefits and give them a solid reason to install. Consider a button that looks like a social media icon that can become a regular part of each email blast.

Events: If you host or even speak at an industry event, use the opportunity to not only share insight but explain to the audience how an app can help them take a next step. This could be placing an order, of course, but also setting up a user profile with preferences about how they wish to be contacted. This will set up your marketing efforts via an app to be much more successful from the outset.

Social media: More SMBs are realizing that they need to take an active role in the conversations their customers have on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Look for opportunities where they make mention of specific business challenges and, if it makes sense, inform them “there’s an app for that,” whether it’s a digital utility or just an easier way to manage information.


This is a term marketers already know well, but in the mobile gaming space it means the difference between the life or death of a business. If consumers don’t play the mobile games they install, they don’t make any money, and after a while they’re likely to be uninstalled. SMBs that see apps as a marketing channel need to be equally vigilant of usage, figuring out the tactics that are most likely to create real business value.

As a starting point, make sure everyone on your team can answer the following questions:

  • What does high engagement look like? Whereas a consumer might play a mobile game multiple times a day, a business app could be useful to a company if a customer only uses it weekly or even monthly to provide information, respond to offers or begin a purchase process.
  • What’s the right balance between informing vs. annoying? While SMS can be used as its own mobile marketing channel, push notifications via texts are the best ways to remind people to revisit an app. What would a short, helpful reminder look like in your firm’s case? “Regular customers will want to know everything about our upcoming new product,” might be one example that gets them into a marketing message that stimulates demand.
  • Where will marketing add value vs. interrupting the experience? Mobile game players hate seeing ads pop up in the middle of a game. The same goes for B2B customers who are trying to use an app to look something up or make a purchase, only to have information appear they didn’t want. Map out the journeys you expect people take in the app and look for smart ways to insert marketing at the beginning, the end or during a pause in a specific app activity.


As with any sector featuring a number of overnight successes, the majority of mobile games aren’t necessarily bestsellers. Instead, developers struggle to figure out methods of generating revenue that include advertising, paying to download an app or selling in-app merchandise.

This is likely less of an issue for SMBs, but marketers in particular may need to reimagine how they determine return on investment.

Here’s one suggestion: In mobile gaming, developers often discuss the lifetime value of an average user, or LTV for short. In other words, they look at how expensive it is to get a customer to download their app, how much it takes to keep them engaged and how long they have to be a customer to really contribute to the bottom line.

SMBs in the business space could work in a similar fashion. For example, even if an app is purely used as a marketing channel, would shifting customers to that channel reduce any of the spend you require for other channels, like email or direct mail? Does marketing through an app mean your sales group has a more direct way to build their pipeline? If a customer starts to receive communication or offers through an app, are they more likely to convert to a paying customer than those acquired through other channels?

There are many different ways to get at this formula, but the result should be the same: an app should bring a closer relationship between the company and its target audience.

For a lot more detail on how mobile usage is growing and what it means, download the 2016 State of Marketing Report, a free research report from Salesforce. 

2016 State of marketing. New research based on 4000 marketers worldwide. Get the report.