Apps: Who Foots the Bill?

App development can cost anywhere from $2,000 to more than $50,000, depending on the concept and pricing model. That said, "you could quickly turn this cost center into a revenue source through various sponsorship or merchandising opportunities," says Trevor Roald, manager of sales engineering and product experience for Vancouver, British-Columbia-based app developer QuickMobile.

App sponsorship already has become commonplace -- nearly all QuickMobile clients are working with sponsors in one form or another, says Roald. The New York City-based Cardiovascular Research Foundation elected to seek support from a single sponsor, acknowledged with a banner ad that appeared each time the app was started up. That deal alone offset development costs and turned the CRF app into a revenue source, says Johnnie White, CMP, executive director of meetings and educational services for the foundation.

Selling an app the first time it's used isn't always easy, however, notes David Weil, vice president of event services for Chicago-based association management company SmithBucklin. "A lot of the sponsors are dipping their toe in the water, trying to determine how many people will use the app on a regular basis at the conference," he says. One way to entice them is to package the sponsorship with something else, Weil suggests. "If you have a sponsor that wants to be in the on-site program or on-site directory, you could add in the app as a value-add and get more dollars out of the sponsorship."

One of the big draws for sponsors is the data analysis you can provide afterward. "You have true business intelligence on what people are doing," explains Roald, "such as how many times ads are exposed, how many times people go to different sponsors, where they are going in the application. So the meeting planner can actually go back to the sponsors and say, ‘This is how many exposures you had. This is how many people went to view your ad.' Sponsors have no correlation to that with the printed guide or the big sign in the hall."

Such metrics certainly make it easier to sell sponsorship in future years. Suppliers to the event apps market also are developing metrics of their own, historical averages that now can be used to entice new sponsors. For that reason, says Roald, most of QuickMobile's clients are seeing strong interest from sponsors.

The challenge comes, however, when event organizers don't give themselves enough time to sell. "Unfortunately, one of the trends we've been seeing with a lot of our clients is that lead time is very short --the mobile app is almost an afterthought of the overall event plan," says Roald. "In reality, it needs to be looked at as part of your core marketing strategy. Because there are a lot of opportunities to help extend the life cycle of the event by using mobile technology. Often, by the time they come to the decision that they need an app, they've already closed all the sponsorships."

Another money-making opportunity that is still in the early stages: conducting mobile commerce through the application itself. QuickMobile has integrated a mobile bookstore for clients, for instance, through which an attendee can purchase the keynote speaker's book and have it shipped home, simply by clicking through the app.

That functionality remains nascent, more so from an attendee perspective than from a technological one. Purchasing through a mobile device is "just not yet part of common user behavior," notes Roald. "But that's all going to change in the next two or three years."