Marketing Branded Apps

There are 300,000 mobile apps that have been downloaded 10.9 billion times. The average smartphone user has 22 apps, the average feature phone user has downloaded 10 apps. iPhone fans lead the way with an average of 37 apps.

Every one of them raises our expectations about content, connectivity and functionality. But in spite of the rapid development and proliferation of apps, we are still in the very early stages of app design and development. Too many consumers expect too much too fast for marketers and IT guys to keep up.

The idea of an app suggests connections, possibilities and uses that we can only dream about technically. We are just beginning to develop apps that use and leverage the native technology in phones – GPS, cameras and accelerometers and mobile payments are right around the corner. We are just scratching the surface in terms of user interface design and workflow management. And we have way too little understanding of how people actually think about and use these apps.

At the moment, many brands are struggling to package and develop the absolute minimum app content and functionality. The basics include a store locator, product specs and descriptions, availability and pricing, some kind of 2-way communications channel and basic facts and information about the brand. Consumers would be surprised at how difficult it is, from a systems perspective, to organize this fundamental data around a somewhat easy and intuitive navigation and design scheme.

Even if a brand can get this combination of content and functionality together, it’s a baseline, and possibly a “me-to” app. Connecting the dots and transporting the data is a huge technical and organizational challenge for most retailers. Data is usually siloed and collected, stored and secured in different formats for different purposes. The opportunity to create an app often exposes bureaucratic fault lines, multiple systems that don’t talk to each other and IT shortcomings that are understandable in context but frustrating to those eager to embrace and deploy the latest technology.

Joe Tedeschi recently reviewed a bunch of retail apps in the New York Times and concluded that some retail apps make the shipping process marginally less frustrating and costly. “The better ones suggest that they can help you find an item in the local store. Some also offer prices on those goods, but they’re often inaccurate.” After evaluating apps from Best Buy, Target, Home Depot and the Westfield Mall, he half-heartedly concluded, “The apps didn’t fail us completely.”

Its no wonder that 1 in 4 apps downloaded are never used and that a second app is probably used once or twice and abandoned

Given the evolutionary state of apps, brands need consumers to buy into the app development process rather than buy into the current release or current version of the app. Hyping the debut of an app will boomerang and most likely disappoint consumers with high expectations and slight technical knowledge.

Here’s how to enroll your customers in your app marketing program:

Set Expectations. Be humble and realistic. Don’t promote your app as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Present yourself as a pioneer and cue your customers to expect a good-better-best progression of services from you. If you can share the loose timeline, though don’t promise firm delivery dates.

Gather Customer Input. Borrow Google’s loose definition of “Beta Tester” and enroll your early adapters into the process. Solicit their input and ideas. Get your employees involved and talking about app development, too. Give associates and consumers guided tasks and ask them to give you feedback. Ask for suggestions on colors, labels, sequences, buttons and other user experience elements. They’ll know what’s intuitive and what’s easy much faster and better than you will. You’ll be surprised by how much energy and goodwill your brand has and how many good ideas you collect.

Be Transparent. Let your customers know your dreams but also your reality. Explain what you are going for and how great you expect the final version to be then tell them what it will take to get there and the challenges you face. People rally to reality. Many are more than willing to give you latitude and genuine help along the way. Consumers know that technology is evolving, is hard to master and is costly. Senior executives think this approach shows vulnerability and exposes potential weaknesses. But savvy marketers understand that investors already know the weaknesses, which are offset by how this tactic demonstrates the humanity of a brand and engages customers directly.

Communicate. Once you start app marketing, keep going. Issue progress reports. Expose the people working on the app. Share test data. Call out people using the app and merchandise their tips or work-arounds. Everybody likes to be part of building something great.

Apps are exciting and cool. Marketing them can also be exciting and cool if you are real about the process and open with your customers.

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One Response to Marketing Branded Apps

  1. Sugel September 6, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Increasing productivity saving time and reducing costs are all one of the positive results from a business that has opened its doors to collaborative communication between employees and consumers.