Why we need to build better branded apps

Think about your smartphone for a moment. Of all the apps you have downloaded, how many are “branded”, i.e. mobile apps created by a brand you like or admire? Now ask yourself something else: in the last three months how many of these apps have you used more than once? Does the answer surprise you?

Mobile marketing, as a marketing channel, has experienced substantial growth recently but its effectiveness as a means for brands to create more valuable and lasting relationships with customers has to date been utilised by only a few. By following several key strategic steps, some brands have discovered ways of using mobile technology to deliver real customer value and build brand loyalty.

A little market research…

Recent statistics indicate that while the landscape of mobile applications is indeed vast, the usage rate of most apps is much lower than expected. This not only speaks volumes about the lack of customer value provided by these apps but also paints a poor picture for the brands that are trying to build a consistent relationship with their customers.

The size of the mobile app market is indeed impressive when you look at the statistics. In June this year, Apple celebrated 50 billion iOS App Store downloads. In addition, their largest competitor Google recorded a higher number of downloads in the last quarter achieving a 10% margin over Apple for the first time in history.

Looking a little deeper at Apple’s iOS App Store, we can draw some conclusions about the competitive landscape of the mobile apps industry. Presently, there are over 500 million active Apple iOS accounts. Therefore with 50 billion downloads, we can then assume that each user has downloaded approximately 100 apps, on average, onto their mobile device (in the case of Apple). Games dominate the share of revenue for both app stores, with Google at 80% and Apple at 75%. This is closely followed by Communications, Social Networking and Music. With such intense competition for customers’ attention, is it any wonder that brands find the mobile app landscape daunting, challenging and increasingly competitive?

More interestingly, according to Deloitte, 80% of branded apps have been downloaded less than a thousand times, with only 1% actually exceeding a million downloads. Again, comparing this to Apple’s 50 billion iOS App Store downloads, branded apps are failing to attract attention. While the picture painted is specific to mobile apps, it reflects the state of mobile marketing as a whole — ripe with opportunity but an ever-growing graveyard of failure.

The few brands that have managed to achieve app success may or may not leverage the newest technology, but we find they do share one simple characteristic: customer-centricity: adding tangible value to peoples’ lives in seamless and consistent ways.

Adopting this approach requires two critical shifts in the way brands view mobile engagement with customers:

Shift 1 — Change focus from generating transactions to fostering relationships.

Example: Domino’s Pizza

Mobile marketing efforts are valuable in using innovation not necessarily to pioneer the use of new technology, but to recognise human behaviours to solve simple and pressing daily dilemmas, frustrations or inefficiencies.

One recent example of this was Domino’s Pizza who reinvented the entire pizza delivery experience by creating not just another order placement alternative, but a real-time tracker that enables customers to follow their order from the assembly line down to the exact delivery time. Coupled with an interactive and customisable menu, a built-in game to amuse the customer, and mobile coupons for them to redeem against their next purchase, the application proved not only to be a success, but provided the customer with an enjoyable distraction while awaiting delivery of their order.

Thanks in large to the advances of mobile capabilities, the once inconvenient activity — searching around for a menu, being held in a queue on the telephone, combined with the uncertainty of the time taken to deliver your purchase — is now a seamless and enjoyable customer experience. Daily transactional issues were not only addressed and refined, but a useful customer tool was created, bringing both tangible and emotional value to the overall customer experience.

Domino’s Pizza adopted a tailored strategy that focused on attraction, engagement and retention. They provided a convenient and intimate experience centred around their customers’ needs without deviating from their brand mission; shifting from ‘the quickest pizza delivery service on Earth’ to ‘the quickest delivery of pizza that’s made with care’.

Shift 2 — Evolve from selling a lifestyle to serving a memorable experience.

Example: American Airlines

From booking a flight, to arriving at the airport, checking in and boarding a plane, until landing and eventually sharing experiences online, travellers are continually evaluating their experiences with airline brands. These soaring customer expectations continue to put pressure on airlines to deliver a standard of service throughout the entire airline travel customer journey: from booking to beach.

Borne out of the recent brand revitalisation programme, American Airlines created a unique concierge journey — embodying the American spirit, as it is perceived today, of progress, entertainment and technology.

Leveraging off American’s positioning, the airline embedded the role of mobile in the overall customer experience consequently heightening service standards throughout the customers’ experience. This resulted in the creation of a complementary mobile app that addressed customers’ needs as they progressed through crucial milestones of the flying experience –from travel booking and flight detail tracking, through to providing a virtual boarding pass, entertainment, and finally into the airlines’ customer loyalty programme.

Developing a mobile strategy in isolation from the brand experience inevitably results in wasted opportunities for connecting with customers in meaningful and valuable ways. How brands effectively respond to what people want today and need tomorrow requires marketers to stop thinking of mobile as a lone channel or initiative and recognise it as one of the many touch-points within a customer’s ecosystem of brand experience.

When businesses think more about long-term value to their customers, future brand success will be attributed to responding to people in smart and engaging ways. Today’s generation thrives on connectivity, and a needs-centric approach to innovation in mobile marketing can give a fresh perspective on how to avoid the pit so many brands have already fallen into.

Great brands view mobile as just one of the means to make people’s lives better.

Successful brands will be those that create a better future for their customers, resolving tensions between what people want today and need tomorrow. The implication is that mobile does not connect brands to potential customers; rather, mobile connects people to experiences that leave a positive impact on their lives.

Mobile devices are and will continue to be inextricably linked to human experience. As such, to be a successful brand requires the implementation of strategies that focus less on short-term gimmicks and more on long-term, sustainable and commercial creativity.