There’s a thin line between success and failure in the modern economy. Lately, that difference is increasingly tied to technology and a company’s willingness (and ability) to adopt it. The most obvious example today is that of mobile applications.

A few years back, having a mobile app was something of a novelty for most businesses. Many companies had them of course, but very few relied on them to do anything but expand brand awareness. Although there’s no way to quantify it, I would wager that most apps were launched without any real definition of what “success” might look like. There was certainly no widespread reliance on mobile apps to impact the bottom line – but that’s starting to change.

There can be no question that the mobile landscape has evolved technically. There are more mobile apps on more devices and operating systems than ever before. No matter what metric you look at, the mobile experience is improving every day. Today, however, we’re beginning to see how the mobile landscape is evolving strategically and financially. As a result, many large enterprises and small businesses – which have built their marketing and operations strategies on desktop and web platforms – are now feeling the heat from the mobile boom.

In the past, the path to mobile monetization wasn’t always so clear. For many, it appeared as though the only people making money from mobile apps were game developers. Today, that path is becoming much clearer for businesses of all sizes and in all industries, as evidenced by development firm Mubaloo’s CEO Mark Mason, who told the TabTimes:

“An increasing number of businesses are preparing a suite of apps, both for internal and customer purposes. I think that this is really the end of the [app] gimmick and that we’ll see 2013 as the start when businesses really start to understand the value of apps.

A great example of a business that saw the potential in mobile (long before most) is Internet retailer eBay, who has seen their revenue increase by 15% in the past year largely as a result of their willingness to embrace mobile platforms. For reference, Steve Yankovich – eBay’s VP of Mobile – has stated that 1.8 million new users made their first eBay purchases on mobile in the first nine months of 2012.

Like eBay, Go Daddy also saw an opportunity to revive its business through mobile. But unlike eBay, GoDaddy’s mobile success would not be as closely tied to their own mobile app, but rather those of their customers. Go Daddy has just recently launched a mobile component to its Website Builder, offering businesses both mobile commerce services and tools for building mobile websites. Operating Executive Investor for Go Daddy at Silver Lake Partners, Jason Rosenthal, told TechCrunch:

“The way we think about it is, where is the market today and where is it going? We’re hearing loud and clear that mobile is becoming a huge channel for our small and medium business customers, so we want to be there.”

Even search engine giant Google now considers itself a mobile-first company. Three top Google execs at the 2012 Open Mobile Summit told Jim Edwards of BusinessInsider that:

  • Mobile will be the primary way people access Google in 2013.
  • Mobile searches have increased 200% to-date in 2012.
  • On YouTube: 25% of traffic and 40% of views on now come from mobile devices, a 300% increase in 2012.
  • Total mobile traffic to YouTube may soon surpass 50%, as it has already in Korea.

With Google leading the way to a mobile-first business model, it is easy to assume countless companies that haven’t already gone mobile will follow.

Maribel Lopez of mobile market research and analyst firm, Lopez Research, focuses the majority of her research on the corporate understanding of enterprise mobility and its effect on businesses. According to Lopez:

“Mobile is another Internet channel, so not being a part of it puts you noticeably absent from the commerce sphere. The challenge for a lot of companies is that on average there are about 75 apps on people’s phones and they use about 11 of them. When a company is designing an app they need to figure out their business strategy -what will drive people to use the app and what will they do on it. Dunkin Donuts’ mobile app makes a lot of sense because they maintain both a brand and retail presence. However, a company like Kraft could design a mobile app, but would face a big challenge defining the app’s consumer need.”

For many large enterprises and big consumer brands, launching a successful mobile app can directly impact growth. For others, “success” can be a bit more indirect. Lars Albright of VentureBeat actually generated an equation for business app success – Success = downloads + loyalty.

Albright says:

“So the real question becomes: what are you doing to find your power users (best customers) and keep them loyal? This is still a pretty new concept to mobile, but it’s a tried and true formula for the rest of the world. For example:

  • American Express has its Membership Rewards program to give loyal users points for every dollar they spend — points they can redeem for concert tickets or home electronics.
  • Virgin America rewards its loyal customers through its Elevate program — not only for flying but for using the Virgin credit card, staying with partner hotels, and so on.

…In most major industries, the focus on power users is a given. That’s why the average household belongs to more than 14 loyalty programs.

And that’s why the best way to turn your app into a thriving business is to invest in your most active users. Focus on keeping them happy and you’ll not only grow their usage and loyalty to your brand, but you’ll make them more likely to go out and recommend you to other potential power users.”

Chief Communications Officer at Dunkin Brands, Karen Raskopf, says Dunkin Donuts’ centers the company’s mobile strategy around driving loyalty:

With the consumer adoption of mobile continuing to increase, we are focused on having a mobile strategy that makes the consumer experience at Dunkin’ Donuts even better and drives loyalty. The goal of our mobile strategy is to provide a benefit to our consumers with both technology and through offers that are only available to those consumers who have the DD Mobile App. The launch of our DD Mobile App in August 2012 provided consumers an even faster way to pay in our restaurants, and we have recently launched Mobile Offers that are only available to consumers that have downloaded the our Mobile App.”

Mobile matters. When a major player like Google considers itself “mobile first”, then every business large and small needs to examine (or re-examine) what they are doing to thrive in a mobile world. When the web was first introduced, companies scrambled to launch a web application. The rush to get into the game produced some very poor quality web sites and web tools. History is repeating itself as companies are rushing their mobile strategies and mobile executions. While forming a mobile strategy is critical for most businesses, businesses should take care to engage developers and testers that are focused on quality. The evidence is mounting, and with a sound mobile strategy that is executed correctly companies can enjoy measurable growth.