Monday, September 28, 2009

Kicked-Up Marketing with Apps

Ad Age hosted an Apps for Brands conference last week that produced some interesting advice and case histories. There’s no doubt that apps for Apple’s iPhone represents market leadership with, according to last week’s email, 75,000 apps and 2 billion downloads as of today (the CNET article says 85,000 apps; I took Apple’s word for it). To marketers a more interesting issue is what other firms are doing in the space since few of us have a brand that can attract developers like the iPhone.

First, a couple of layperson’s definitions. An app (application) is software designed for end users. A widget is a graphical interface that allows users to interface (easily) with the application. In practice, the two are often indistinguishable from one another, since marketers are delivering a lot of apps, especially the mobile ones, as widgets. Examples from the conference include:

The Kraft iFood Assistant

Bank of America Mobile Banking

Benjamin Moore’s Catch-a-Color

Ad Age advises that apps must be real time and easy to use and to pay for if not free. They point out that people will pay for value if the apps are useful enough. They also point out that people are even more annoyed by intrusive advertising in the mobile environment than on the desktop as Major League Baseball found out. On mobile, click-through isn't the only metric that matters. Are people recommending your app? Or trashing it on Twitter? "We measure click-throughs, but we don't measure pissed off," said Mr. Bowman, referring to when MLB put an intrusive ad into its At Bat app.

They also point out that apps need to be part of an integrated marketing message, although people are most likely to learn about apps by WOM. Their recipe for success is utility, frequency and viral. Good advice.

Each of the apps above has a demo page; they are all worth looking at. The Benjamin Moore color app clearly wins the prize for most creative, but the other two offer genuinely useful services, and that’s really what it’s all about. The three firms above are all trying to sell a product or a service. Only Kraft charges; 99 cents. The MLB At Bat app (see it on their home page) is $4.99 at the Apple App Store; they are offering a value-added service. Make sense?

But is this another strategy that’s only for corporations with big advertising budgets? Not necessarily—more about that in a few days.

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