Where Brands Go Wrong With Apps

Apps are turning into the modern-day microsite, and that’s not a good thing.

With 650,000 apps in the AppStore and almost 600,000 apps in Google’s Play app store, there’s no doubt that brands have become app happy. But experts say that not all brands have the right approach to apps. Some are too content-heavy, and others don’t serve a need for users. Some brands are creating apps that are a replica of their mobile site. Also, disposable apps, created for short-lived campaigns, are a big problem since they don’t get repeat usage.

“If you’re creating an app for every single campaign, then you’re not fully leveraging browser-based devices,” said Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet, an app and mobile website developer. “The companies that do this are likely not investing into a multichannel infrastructure and are using apps as a placeholder for that. It’s like app spam. It drives me crazy when I go to an event and they’re asking me to download the app. I’m not going to use this when I leave here, so why would I download it? So it clutters my phone? Send me to a URL. With HTML5, app-like experiences are very possible on the mobile Web.”

Another mistake a lot of brands are making is creating an app that mimics their mobile website. There’s no point in that, considering people could just visit your mobile website. The act of downloading an app, which is going to take up real-estate and memory on your device, is a statement that the consumer makes. The consumer is saying, “I like your brand and want to have access to you.” People who download a brand’s app are loyal customers.

Loyalists have a different mentality than prospects. Loyalists want extra features and functionality, and they deserve it. Prospects, on the other hand, are looking for your location, possibly researching your products and are likely doing so on the mobile Web.

“Too often, the focus on building an app is simply about making something cool,” said Christina Koshzow, CMO of Branding Brand, another mobile app developer. “Sexy can be exciting, but sexy without substance is a one-night stand. If you want to keep users coming back, you have to provide a quality experience that caters to brand loyalists.”

Promotion is also important. You can’t build an app and expect people to automatically find it. A brand has to educate its audience online, in email and in store. The most successful apps are the ones with marketing support.

Top performing branded apps have scanning, detailed product information, real-time product reviews, store locators and commerce. From there, it becomes about identifying what is unique to your brand and determining how that can translate into an experience that leverages native features and gestures, according to Koshzow.

A good example of this is the Crate & Barrel app, which uses the camera on an iPhone to replace traditional hand-held registry scanners. The app was immediately featured by Apple upon release. Another example of a good app is Ritz Carlton’s, which is actually a dual-mode app. It targets two types of loyalists, those at home and at a Ritz Carlton property. For people at home, looking to book a vacation, the app serves up the Ritz Carlton properties by location. Then once you’re staying at a hotel, there’s a concierge feature, which helps find places to eat and activities to do nearby. There’s also a scanner in the app and QR codes at Ritz Carlton properties that can be scanned for more information about that particular hotel, its amenities and other information meant to improve the guest’s stay. Last, push notifications send users special event notices and deals.

The Ritz Carlton app is full of various features. But Chia Chen, mobile practice lead at Digitas, warns that brands should not create apps that are heavy, with too much content. It should not just be a showcase of your products. The app should meet a specific need or solve a problem for users.

“Your app should not just offer content that people can use Google to serve up,” Chen said. “People aren’t going to download your app to see if you carry a certain product. They’re going to Google it. They’re programmed that way.”

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