I grew up in Boyd County, Kentucky, where John Deere tractors are practically an indigenous species. This now famous brand, started by none other than Mr. John Deere himself, began life with one sole product: the steel plow. Fortunately for lawn care companies and husbands everywhere, Mr. Deere was a man who understood his market. He understood that his company existed to serve the needs of the agriculture industry, and not purely to cut furrows in soil. Because of his focus on the needs of his consumers, Deere & Co. now manufactures hundreds of products and parts in multiple agricultural categories, perhaps the most iconic of which is the quintessential riding lawn mower. Business leaders would do well to take a page from the Deere & Co. play book, especially when it comes to their technology strategy. If John Deere were alive today, I think he might offer the following advice: place your focus on the consumer, and then find ways for technology to serve them. I’ll say it even more forcefully: For just a moment, completely forget about the specific technology you’re using to serve your market. Instead, just think about the lives of those who use it. Why do they use it? What does it help them achieve? Is there a better way for them to reach their goals, even if it means completely stepping outside of the medium you have created?

Consider Facebook, YouTube, and Digg. These are not “web” companies. They are, respectively, communications, entertainment, and news companies. If tomorrow a new technology emerged (and inevitably it will) that allowed consumers to better achieve their goals than the services offered by these so-called “web” companies, all three organizations would be forced to either embrace that new technology or risk significant loss of market share. The kicker is that they aren’t alone: what is true for Facebook, YouTube, and Digg is also true for you.

Now for the secret: tomorrow may have come a day early. In April of 2009, Apple announced that the iPhone App Store had surpassed one billion downloads in just 9 months1. Consider that for a moment. It took Firefox, the most used web browser in the world2, over 4 years to reach one billion downloads3, and VOIP/IM service Skype served its one billionth download after 5 years4. Apple did it in 10 months, and they did it in an emerging market with an entirely unique distribution model. As impressive as that was, Apple has recently outdone themselves once again, reaching the 2 Billion download mark in September of 20095, doubling the total number of downloads served in just 5 months.

This kind of exponential growth is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, and Apple’s success with both the iPhone hardware as well as the iPhone App Store has revolutionized the pace of innovation in the smart phone market. Verizon is projected to carry 18 different smart phones powered by the Google Android OS by the end of 20096, and Blackberry now has an “App World” to provide consumers of their smart phone line with third party applications.

What does this impressive growth mean for business owners, executives, and IT managers? It means that consumers are becoming increasingly mobile, connected, empowered, and, ultimately, accessible. As large segments of the consumer market begin to adopt mobile technology, the organizations who benefit the most will be those who evolve to service them, finding new distribution or advertising channels for existing products and in some cases utilizing this technological shift to create entirely new offerings.

Yet the most profitable organizations will capitalize on the opportunities created by the mobile market without becoming lost within them. As smart phones are beginning to reach critical mass, it is perhaps now more important than ever to realize that much of the excitement in the mobile space is fueled by HTTP and the Web, and Internet usage certainly isn’t going anywhere but up in the foreseeable future. In the United States alone, Internet Service Providers have reached a point of market saturation with 71% of all Americans reporting consistent Internet and Web availability at home or work7, and 85% of iPhone users report using mobile Safari to browse the web on a regular basis8. Savvy managers will apply many of the lessons learned in previous online ventures to future expansion in the mobile space while continuing to build lasting value wherever their consumers are.

Device Penetration

In the past 10 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects that span multiple mediums. In varying capacities, I’ve directly contributed to television productions, radio broadcasts, print publications, trade show exhibits, stage shows and online advertising campaigns. I’ve also served as the lead engineer on a variety of desktop, web, and mobile software projects. I consider myself to be a graduate of the school of hard knocks, and when you dance with lady experience long enough, you begin to realize that the principles of success transcend all mediums. The following are just a few “Transcendent Themes” that I believe must be applied regardless of the medium an organization chooses to operate within:

  1. Launching is Not Enough

    “If you build it, they will come.” It worked great for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, but in the real world, merely bringing a product or service to market is rarely enough for it to succeed. Good products require good marketing initiatives behind them, and what is true in conventional mediums is also true on the web and the emerging mobile market.

    From banner ads to social media, today’s marketers have more tools at their disposal than ever before. Finding the right mix can be a challenge, but the solution will likely involve a cross-comparison of proven conversion rates against perceived market presence. In English: find out where your market is digitally congregating, look at the proven effectiveness of the tools at your disposal that are able to reach them, and then start a small initial campaign to test your analysis.

  2. Sample It to Sell It

    Shopping mall fast food chains face some of the fiercest competition around. Sales quantity is king in a confined space with direct competition, low profit margins, and a product lifespan measured in hours instead of days or months. The presence of free samples in food courts isn’t primarily motivated by desperation but by survival. Fast food chains continue to offer free samples month after month in shopping centers across America because they understand that the cost of giving away small amounts of their product is adequately covered by the sales those samples generate.

    This same principle is applied in virtually every industry. Clothing stores often allow customers to use in store fitting rooms to try on outfits before purchasing. Automobile dealers allow qualified leads the famed “Test Drive,” and the movie industry produces previews of all new releases to entice the viewer to later enjoy the full experience.

    Samples sell, and this age old axiom may be even more effective when applied to digital products than to physical goods.

    Consider the case study of iCombat, a top 100 iPhone application. The month after the makers of iCombat released a free, “lite” version of their paid application, they were rewarded with an 8.73% conversion rate. The most impressive part? A conversion rate of 8.73% resulted in a monthly sales revenue increase of 496%9. From the iCombat creator:

    we had waited months longer than we should have to launch a lite version. There was no point to waiting and sacrificing the initial new release buzz.

    When it comes to profiting from the power of sampling, iCombat isn’t alone. Mobile analytics company Flurry released a study of the impact sample applications had on paid application sales and found that there is on average an 85% “free-to-paid” sales lift generated by application sampling10. From the Flurry report:

    Among your strongest marketing plays in the App Store is to offer a free trial of your game or application. Not only is the App Store designed for this, but also it’s the best way to reduce consumer risk in trying your application, with the goal of eventually getting that user to purchase the full version. Think: money. And from our data, it’s among the most effective moves you can make.

  3. Make a Good First Impression

    1/20th of a second. That’s how long you have to make a good impression on the typical web user according to Dr. Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ontario, Canada. Dr. Lindgaard published an article in Behaviour and Information Technology in which he describes that a visitor not only forms a cognitive bias in the first 1/20th of a second after visiting a web site, but that this cognitive bias, formally known in psychology as the “halo effect,” would also significantly influence the user’s opinions on the reliability and usability of the web site.

    In the words of Dr. Lindgaard:

    ...the strong impact of the visual appeal of the site seemed to draw attention away from usability problems. This suggests that aesthetics, or visual appeal, factors may be detected first and that these could influence how users judge subsequent experience.... Hence, even if a website is highly usable and provides very useful information presented in a logical arrangement, this may fail to impress a user whose first impression of the site was negative.

    While no studies have been published to measure the impact of the "halo effect" in mobile applications, it is undoubtedly an important aspect of the user experience. While a thorough discussion of design principles is beyond the scope of this article, consider the fact that proper use of color alone has been proven to increase brand recognition by up to 80%11. In visual mediums, color certainly matters. Give your users the right impression by abiding by the principles of color psychology shown below:

Color Psychology

Success is not limited to any single medium, and neither are your consumers. The companies that realize and apply that to their operations today will be the companies taking consumers into the frontiers of tomorrow. Be among them by placing the needs of your consumers first and then utilizing whatever technology is necessary to serve them.


  1. http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2009/04/24appstore.html
  2. http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefox#Market_adoption
  4. http://share.skype.com/sites/en/2008/09/celebrating_1_billion_download.html
  5. http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2009/09/28appstore.html
  6. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/google-expect-18-android-phones-by-years-end/
  7. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/09s1118.pdf
  8. http://macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/16715/
  9. http://www.theapplicationfarm.com/2009/07/just-how-much-does-a-lite-version-help-boost-sales/
  10. http://blog.flurry.com/bid/19375/iPhone-App-Store-Marketing-Give-it-Away-to-Get-Paid
  11. http://www.colormatters.com/market_whycolor.html