App-ortunity knocks: Are apps the next customer engagement battleground?

10th Jun 2010

As the new iPhone is unveiled, Russell Buckley explores the explosion in apps - and examines what the opportunities are for brands to engage with their actual and potential customers using apps.

You’d have to have been off-planet to miss that apps have become a major topic in marketing in the last year or so. The first to hit the headlines was Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, which together have generated over 4 billion downloads to date. If that seems like a big number, Gartner estimates that 70 billion apps will be downloaded by 2014 as other mobile phone platforms, such as Android, hit their stride.
With reach like this, it’s not surprising apps have caught marketers’ attention. But what exactly are the opportunities for brands today to engage with their actual and potential customers using apps?
One way is to create an app especially for your brand. There are many, many brands who have successfully gone down this route already, ranging from driving games from BMW, a sneaker customiser and ordering platform from Adidas, Barclaycard’s famous Waterslide game based on their TV commercial – even a virtual flame from Zippo! In many cases, this has generated downloads in the millions. Barclaycard, as an example, enjoyed over 2 million in the first two weeks and the total now stands at well over 10 million.
Generally, branded apps that succeed either offer customers entertainment or utility – they’re useful to have on your phone – and perhaps utility is the easier goal to achieve and certainly stands more chance of being kept over the longer term. A good example of such an app comes from US paint manufacturer, Sherwin-Williams, which at first thought seems an unlikely candidate for an app.
However, by using the iPhone’s built-in camera, it was able to offer customers something very useful indeed. When the customer sees a colour that inspires them, they snap a photo of it and the app then matches it to the equivalent colour in the Sherwin-Williams range – and then tells them where the nearest stockist is. So if you’re into DIY or interior decoration (the ideal target customer for Sherwin-Williams), this is a very useful tool indeed.
Before you go live with your app, there’s an invaluable service that you can use to pre-test it and make sure it stands the best possible chance of succeeding. One of the key variables for maximising downloads is the user ratings, which range from one to five stars. Many consumers simply won’t try an app with poor ratings, so it’s important that you score well.
Mob4Hire is a crowdsourced testing service, which means that it has thousands of mobile testers all over the world that can first try and then rate your app, very cost-effectively. Based on their feedback, you can improve your app before you launch and this could be the difference between success and failure in this highly competitive marketplace.
Planet of the apps?
Once you’ve launched your app, the next phase is getting it discovered. With over 185,000 apps in the App Store, it’s very easy to be overlooked and that’s where marketing comes in. The critical goal is to sell in sufficient numbers to get into the top-selling apps lists – either overall, or within your category. At that stage, the number of downloads generated organically will far outweigh any other marketing you might be doing.
The most effective way of catapulting your app to the top of the charts is to invest in a short burst of in-app advertising. Just as the most efficient way to promote a website in on another website, so it is with mobile and it’s very easy to set up and run a campaign in other apps via a platform such as AdMob. Over 11,000 app developers use AdMob to run ads in their apps, so there are plenty of opportunities to run campaigns to promote your app. Continuing the Sherwin-Williams story, it ran a US$15,000 campaign over two days and got its app to number 18 in the charts. It continued to be highly placed and thus highly downloaded even after the marketing spend ended.
However, you don’t have to have your own app to benefit from this new route to market. Some brands feel that it either requires too much investment (a bespoke app project normally costs tens of thousands of dollars) or they don’t think that it’s appropriate for them. But with billions of customers using the mobile channel to interact, it’s almost certain that you should have a presence there too.
The best way to mobilise for brands is to create an action-oriented mobile website, which you can then drive traffic to on an ongoing basis. What that website should contain is hard to generalise about, but it’s about engaging with your customer and then helping them towards an objective. As an example, most car manufacturers’ mobile websites would contain a video showing the car in action, product specifications, nearest dealer details and possibly a click-to-call button to encourage customers to book a test drive. This simple formulae creates test-drives at 1/7 of the cost than via the PC web, which makes mobile the most efficient marketing channel for cars to date.
Another example is Reebok, which again features rich video, a store locator, product information and an icon to send details to a friend, to encourage the viral effect.
Once you have your mobile website up and running, you can now use mobile advertising to drive traffic from both other mobile websites, as well as via in-app advertising as described above.
There’s some discussion in mobile marketing circles about whether apps are going to be around for the long-term, or if the mobile web will eventually take over completely. Either way, mobile is now a proven, successful channel to market and smart brands are starting to invest serious budgets to achieve their customer acquisition goals.

Russell Buckley is a leading practitioner, speaker and blogger on mobile marketing. The VP of AdMob, he is also Global Chairman Emeritus at the Mobile Marketing Association.

Replies (2)

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By jimeffect
20th Sep 2011 02:50

I love this article. Apple is what I like. I think applications are the next big thing everywhere. It's true. They are popular and many are downloading apps. Just like previously web design effects sites were in demand I think apps are wanted by most now. In fact many web sites are already talking and discussing about apps.

Jim -



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By businessphoneco
22nd Nov 2011 08:22

Apps are changing the way people interact with their environment, and as more and more companies jump onto doing business on the phone so to say, consumers and users of business phones and smartphones alike are likely to benefit as they can access information in a more timely manner as exhibited by the examples made in this article. Excellent read, thanks for sharing!

Tony -


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