Flagship Projects is a company based in Dubai that creates mobile apps for gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. Shadi Al Hasan, the company's managing director, talks about how small businesses can make the most of marketing an app.
Your research has found that companies in the Gulf now spend more than 5 per cent of their marketing budget on mobile app development. That seems rather small.
Well, it's not. As you know, advertising has a lot to do with media bookings, airtime, print and so forth. Mobile development is purely the charges and costs of the IT development, including design, graphics and user interface. So it [5 per cent] is quite high and has been increasing tremendously in the last six months.
Flagship has developed more than 45 apps for companies in the region. How can small businesses use apps as marketing tools?
Because of the technology built on mobile devices, you are more likely to get one-to-one communication. This will create a longer-term relationship between you and your consumer. Besides that, it's interactive and you can add videos or have consumers click on a button and take action by making a call, sending an e-mail or making a purchase.
What's the biggest hurdle that still exists for smaller companies that want to advertise via mobile apps?
Advertising on apps is still premature in the Arab world. We're not using apps to advertise because the penetration of apps is still low. What we're trying to do is engage consumers with messages for a longer time.
Can you provide an example of how that's been done locally on an app with a small budget?
An app from a client called London Business Forum [which holds workshops in Dubai and] brings in speakers from around the world … sends a business thought or tip of the day. You're getting something for free, but you'll have to be exposed to the latest event dates of the London Business Forum. You can also book the ticket right away or click a link to make the purchase.
How successful has this app been?
In two months, we have had 14,000 downloads mainly from the Gulf. The good thing about such tools is that the moment you download an app you're more likely to keep it for a longer time when it has a tip of a day or something on a regular basis.
What else should small business owners keep in mind before they invest in app development?
It can be a heavy investment. If you look at it as "I want to market myself using mobile" then you might end up making [a company website] mobile-friendly so you provide a service to people while they're on the go. When you reach that understanding you don't really bother or care about building an app. You just have to be on mobile.