Small Business Philosophy 101: Making waves in a sea of competitors

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This is the next commentary from guest blogger John Craig, a veteran of commercializing mobile technologies. We welcome your feedback.

By John Craig

One thing that has guided Purple Forge more than anything else since our inception is our product philosophy. We develop mobile applications around a high-level concept called mobile community engagement. Sound catchy? Well, as it turns out, it is and has become both a point of market differentiation and a guiding mantra for those customers we choose to work with and the business verticals we target.

In 2010 the mobile application market was filled with companies offering custom mobile application development and do-it-yourself development services. It was a “Is there an app for that?” culture and everybody had a hot app idea they needed you to build. The problem was that when you dug a little deeper into the idea, there was no guiding philosophy. Over and over again, customers would tell me they wanted the same thing – a flashy, five-star app that would make them millions of dollars. These customers all had what I call “Angry Birds envy,” which is a condition where you think you have an app idea that is simple and addictive like the massively popular game Angry Birds.

Now we all want to make money, but as Richard St. John points out in his book The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common, you don’t make money without serving people something they want. This is where having a product philosophy comes in. Embracing mobile community engagement has allowed us to guide our customers into a mode of connecting with their target audience and serving it with something it wants so they can make money.

Mobile community engagement is a philosophy that organizations need to broadcast their news, events and videos to their target audience, who in turn will share this with their friends using email and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. But the most important objective of mobile engagement is to get people to perform a real-world task that is in line with the real-world goals of the organization: charities want donations; politicians want votes; tourism boards want more heads in beds.

Building modules that would help these customers achieve these real-world goals kept us focused on building things that organizations would pay for because the value could be expressed and tracked with real-world returns.

This in turn kept us focused on serving customers who aligned with our philosophy. If a customer came to us asking for a pure video game, we would take a pass. If the customer came to us looking for a back-end database integration to mobilize their company for an intangible productivity gain, we would also pass. Our philosophy was to engage organizations looking to engage a target audience to perform real-world activities with measurable results.

Green engagement

A great example of this was the work we did for the Green Party of Canada in the 2011 Canadian federal election. The party approached us about building a mobile application to engage with Canadians and accomplish three goals: attract volunteers, collect donations and get people to vote for the Green Party and its leader, Elizabeth May.

The application had modules to collect volunteer information and also to challenge people who downloaded it to sign their friends up to support the party. In return, the volunteers were given points shown on a national scoreboard, creating a healthy competition between them. Donations could also be collected online through the application’s mobile optimized donation page. All of this effort helped Elizabeth May become the first Green member of Parliament elected in Canada. This was a tangible example of mobile community engagement.

As we developed our customer base, other organizations then recognized the value of our philosophy and how they could apply it to their own marketing campaigns. These visionary customers then helped us to jump from serving politicians to serving event organizers and then municipal and federal governments.

Tying Purple Forge closely to the philosophy of mobile community engagement has made us recognizable in a sea of mobile app development firms who will build any app they are asked to build. Our philosophy has focused us to build features that excite real-world activity. Instead of suffering from Angry Birds envy, our customers experience Purple Forge bliss.

Image: Balanced WorkLife

John Craig is the co-founder and VP of Sales and Marketing for Purple Forge.

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