Given the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and social networks, it is not surprising that many companies are extending their business beyond the corporate website in an attempt to engage their customers on the channels they use daily. Extending your presence into the mobile, desktop, and third-party web channels can deliver real value to your customers. But as with any technology initiative, you may run into pitfalls and uncertainties along the way. These basic tips will help guide you as you develop your extended channel application strategy.

Note: These tips are based on the WorkLight white paper Top Ten Considerations for Extended Channel Applications.

1: Incorporate multiple channels into the roadmap

Make sure all three major channels — mobile, desktop, and web — are in your plan. You cannot afford to alienate a subset of your customer base that is present, or more comfortable, with one channel versus another. Make sure you can have a presence on all major smart phones, desktop and web widget and app environments.

2: Determine relevant business needs

Identify those business units that would benefit most from the apps. This may be your online team, your marketing team, or another business unit. Each has its own set of priorities and business needs, and apps are a great way to provide a rapid, highly targeted solution for each need. For example, if your organization is hurting from decreasing customer loyalty, you may want to extend an app that drives services to customers. Make sure you identify an ally in the business unit and other stakeholders who would benefit most from the app and then push the project through.

3: Define and justify the app’s functionality

Scope out a business use case and then build the requirements around it. A common mistake is to try to include too much function and too many components, making the app too complex for the customers. Just keep it simple and tightly connected to a business need and a highly targeted set of goals. Then, test it to see if you are on course.

4: Develop efficiently

Adopt an approach that ensures ease of delivery across all channels — mobile, desktop, and web. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to prioritize channels. Instead, opt for a cost-effective, efficient way of delivering a single app across multiple channels to all customers. Make sure your widget is not dumbed down to the lowest common denominator but rather takes into account environment-specific capabilities, such as the mobile GPS system or the camera, the desktop’s docked mode, and so on. And make sure you are ready to support new devices and updated operating systems.

5: Carefully plan and execute your app’s rollout

Consider that you are extending another arm of your marketing and business operations to your customers. Make sure you support this with all relevant marketing and rollout strategies. Although these apps are inherently intuitive and viral, you will still need to make sure your messaging gets across to people and that they are educated and feel comfortable with using your app.

Extending your reach

New communication channels are introduced to the market each day, changing the way products and services are delivered. Consumers no longer spend their time browsing aimlessly through the sea of digital data. They expect direct access to personalized information and offerings in the context of their daily activities.

It’s important to start now and gain experience or you risk competitors moving beyond you. These apps extend your company’s services — going beyond your company website — to reach consumers wherever they are.

Yonni Harif is Marketing & Alliances Manager at WorkLight.