I recently wrote an article for the Irish Marketing Journal about how brands should approach mobile apps. It covers all the key areas that should be covered from the point of view of a brand, highlighting where brands fail and where they can succeed.
Knowing your Apps from your Elbow
Mobile Apps are the latest craze and brands see the unique value of this new medium. But before a brand dives into this already swamped market there are a few very important areas they need to be aware of to get any real value from their investment. Understanding these key areas will provide a brand with the starting point to create an app that engages and benefits its users.
Knowing Whats Possible
Before you can start generating ideas you should get to grips with what is possible technically. Having a better understanding of how apps are built and what technologies are used will help you come up with better ideas that will be more suited to your brand and its customers. Even if you’re not anyway tech savvy you can still learn more about the potential an app can bring to your brand. Look at other apps that are out there, currently there are over 350,000 in the Apples apps store so nearly all conceivable ways to use current smart phone technology have already been done. This is basic R&D and is invaluable in helping you determine what will be the right app for your brand.
What Users React To
Knowing what a smart phone is capable of is a key step in forming the right idea for an app but knowing what users reacts to is even more important. Mobile Apps as we know them today have been around for the last 3 years. Over this time trends have formed showing what users favor most in apps and also how long they will keep that app on their smart phone. The apps that users use the most are ones that are highly entertaining or very useful in their day to day lives. This is the most important piece of information to know before taking the leap in to app development. The idea is key and it has to really benefit the user or they just won't engage with it. Due to the fact there are hundreds of thousands of apps you need yours to stand out from the crowd and not just be another gimmicky branded app that has no real benefit to its user. Good apps provide a real benefit to its users and this makes them use it consistently, which will in turn engage users with your brand. A good example of this is the Heineken Cup iPhone app that was released last year, this app provides valuable information to people interested in the Heineken Cup and using its in built Match Tracker allows fans to follow live audio and text commentary of selected games anywhere the user may be. The brand has become a content provider putting the focus on the content the user is interested in.
Apps and Mobile Web
The mobile medium has developed considerably in the last few years thanks to the enhancements made in mobile technology. One of the key reasons why we've seen the explosion of more and more smart phones on the market is because of what they are now capable of. The features that smart phones now come with rely on applications to really show there potential. With this in mind we know that to create the best user experience for a brands customers we need to build an app. The problem here is that to reach all smart phone users we will need to create 5 apps. At the moment the 5 most used smart phone operating systems are iOS (iPhone Operating System), Android, Blackberry, Symbian (Nokia's Primary Operating System) and Windows Phone. This would require a very large investment to reach all these potential users. At the moment the most popular OS in the world is Symbian but it is on the decline and other 4 are gaining ground. As we can see decisions need to be made as a brand will have a limited budget but there are options. As mentioned the last few years have shown the enhancement in mobile technology which also includes the mobile web. Mobile browsers have far a greater ability than previously; many features that a smart phone uses with apps can also be used on a mobile site. With this knowledge a brand can way up their options; can their app idea be just a mobile web app and reach larger portion of the mobile market? Can the idea be built for one device and other devices use a stripped down mobile web app version? These are trade offs that a brand manager will have to make.
Getting an App into the wild
Like with any business if your customers don't know you exist or where you are you don't have a chance. The same rules apply here like with promoting any new campaign, you'll need to make people aware your app exists. The benefit with the mobile medium is that with any advertising the user can check out the app straight away as they always have there phone with them. To increase the chances of the user downloading an app the use of in app advertising is recommended. As a user is already using there device the number of actions they need to make is far less as the advert will bring the user directly to the download page for that app. Using all the conventional advertising mediums will assist in promoting an app but as mentioned above the idea is key. If the app itself is a really good idea and it has real benefits for users it will be spread by word of mouth. This is the ideal way for your app to reach users because each time the app is suggested by a friend its a personal recommendation. An example where this worked extremely well was with the app Angry Birds, nearly every person that owns an Android phone or an iPhone knows about the game. Taking this into account your app needs to assist with this process by spreading the word via social networks, where word of mouth travels digitally. You can have simple features that share the app by email or on a users Facebook or Twitter account but like I mentioned previous the app needs to benefit a user, to help spread the app it has to be seen to benefit a users friends and not be an annoyance.
Simply to promote the app well it needs to stand out, there are tons of apps to choose from and brand apps already have a negative image of being gimmicks.
Tracking / Feedback
Getting your app out to the public is only the start of the process. As mobile is a highly used medium and will be used more and more your brand needs to develop an app with the intention of becoming a fixture on a users smart phone. Following the guidelines detailed previous you have already come up with a great idea that users engage with regularly and benefits their day-to-day lives or they find entertaining. To ensure your users stay interested you will need to monitor their interactions and get feedback to see what is and isn’t working. Just like many websites that use Google Analytics to track visits any app should have the equivalent. There are a number of services out there that provide analytics for mobile apps such as Flurry, Localytics and Google Analytics for Mobile. Using these will provide you with a wealth of data that will help you improve how you should communicate with your customers.
A mobile app represents your brands image in the mobile medium, the benefit with this medium is that if you develop the right app you will always have a place on your customers phone and communicate with them more directly than before. As long as a brand can create an app that is something a smart phone users really wants to use then their app will be successful and hopefully not be deleted to be never seen again.