Mobile Apps Have Disrupted Your World, So Why Not Your Business?

If your business isn’t successfully leveraging mobile in some major way, you might as well lose both your toothbrush and your phone right now, because customers won’t be talking to you anyway.

You’re more likely to forget to brush your teeth than you are to forget your phone at home. There’s no study speaking to this, it’s just an intuitive fact. So if your business hasn’t either created a mobile application or isn’t successfully leveraging mobile in some major way, you might as well lose both the toothbrush and your phone right now, because customers won’t be talking to you anyway.

Check the weather, your flight status, the news, call an Uber because you just saw your friend tweet about train delays and then get settled in to your office for a day packed with meetings that result in more meetings focused on lagging sales and ways to keep pace in your competitive vertical (insert any vertical here). And then look at MasterCard.

In a sea of payment options, tucked inside a vertical faced with fantastic new ideas cropping up daily, MasterCard has managed to stay on top. How? By innovating apps that adapt and evolve as needs change–apps that accommodate mobile.

But MasterCard is a multibillion-dollar company and you’re a mom-and-pop or small or midsized business: How does this apply to you? First, let’s talk innovation–where all great ideas begin in any company:

The process for developing new ideas is a dynamic one at MasterCard, to be sure. It hosts competitive “Innovation Express” events around the world each year, challenging teams to prototype and present ideas, with the winning ideas brought to life. But just because you’re not doing that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all.

“Many companies today have set up innovation labs where a group is tasked solely with exploring new opportunities,” says Matt Greeley, CEO and founder of Brightidea, which created the enterprise software that powers MasterCard’s Aspire innovation platform. “But it really only takes one person to move an innovation program forward in a meaningful way, at least to start.” And he should know, as he’s been guiding businesses on exactly that process for the past 20 years.

Lesson No. 1: Designating at least one person to look to the future is important. And Ekta Sahasi, vice president of the business innovation center at Konica Minolta, offers, “Businesses that aren’t ready to capture and move their best ideas forward are placing themselves at risk for disruption. Car companies never expected Uber, for example–but shouldn’t they have?” Instead, they now face lagging sales and are struggling, along with taxi drivers, to compete for what was once a sure thing.

Lesson No. 2: Realize that “sure thing” you offer that customers will always need isn’t so certain anymore.

Lesson No. 3: It only takes one solid innovation to make waves in a variety of ways. A winning idea that came out of MasterCard’s Innovation Express program, and is now commercial, is a mobile application called Qkr! with Masterpass, which demonstrates that one idea can have many use cases. Qkr “enables consumers to seamlessly order and pay for goods and services via their smartphone (iOS and Android) without having to wait in line.” And it’s being used in retail locations in eight countries across four continents:

It’s being used in a variety of settings such as paying and splitting bills at restaurants; paying for gas and parking; in-seat ordering at stadiums, movie theaters and lounges; and paying for school and club fees, lunches and supplies. And it’s being used differently in different markets to remove friction in commerce and enhance consumer experience. The app makes mobile payment simple, convenient and secure.

How did MasterCard develop such a versatile offering? It didn’t happen overnight, and it’s something that John Sheldon, senior vp of innovation at MasterCard, refers to as a work in progress: The company created a culture of innovation in the organization. And it’s precisely that culture that has powered its mobile app success.

Sheldon offered three pillars that have been key to creating a culture of innovation at his organization, and that can apply to any company:

  • Find programs to tap into employees’ knowledge on a broad basis. Innovation shouldn’t be the exclusive province of innovation “labs.” Your everyday employees know where bodies are buried and understand the problems customers face. They’re the greatest source of new ideas, so encourage their participation in your process.
  • The tighter the brief, the better the result. If your problem statement is left too loose, you might end up with 500 ideas, but only six to 10 will be worthwhile. But if you create the right brief around a specific problem, one with a narrower area, the ideas you’ll receive will be much higher-quality, not to mention simpler to sort through–think 40 ideas submitted with 15 being worth a second look.
  • Rethink failure and success. Failing needs to not only be fast and cheap, but smart. Why did the failure happen? Understanding what went wrong helps it not happen again. And on the flip side, what happens when you’re successful? Celebrating all successes, even small successes, makes a huge difference to employee morale. Not everyone will be part of the million-dollar project, but steps along the way? Those folks are heroes, too. Be sure to recognize their contributions to the team effort.

According to Greeley, failure to create this culture is what looms as the largest stopping point for most companies:

I’ve seen multibillion-dollar businesses worrying about tomorrow because their innovation pipeline seems to have dried up. It hasn’t, of course, but maintaining a steady flow of worthwhile ideas takes consistent effort–it takes a culture of innovation where employees feel supported and heard.

And the longer you wait to capture the great ideas your people have, the more ideas you’ll lose out on and the more expensive it will be to catch up with competitors. Assuming you can.

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