The big success of the success of the last year has been iphone's app store. Even Steve Jobs admitted that he was surprised by the runaway success of it. On the back of this success, numerous brands have looked at how they can use mobile to engage with their customers. The resulting apps have been varied in both their quality and success.
Everytime I visit a brand or an agency theses days their key interest in mobile is to create their own iphone app. It's interesting to see that the iphone is the focus of their attentions, even though the Blackberry has double the handset sales of an iphone (and the Nokia smartphones have double again).
Why do brands see the iphone as such an important platform? What approaches have they taken to creating these apps?
There are essentially two main approaches to brands engagement with iphone apps:
Within these two areas, there are a few fuzzy approaches that mix both of them.
Brand marketing iphone apps
One of the big, early successes was the ipint. The concept was very simple. Your iphone became a pint of beer, and using the accelerometer function you could 'vitrually' drink your pint of beer. In the UK it was branded for the manufacturer Carling. The great thing about the ipint was that it was totally viral. The ONLY reason you would download the app was to show it off to your friends ... iphone owners or not. It wasn't the kind of thing you would download in the privacy of your own home.
Other brands have offered something a bit more useful by creating branded applications. Nike has taken the lead in this with their excellent Nike Training Tools for women. This is a suite of useful training applications, such as the beep test and offers a great example of brand enhancement through mobile.
Other brands have taken a similar approach to the applications, with a varying degree of success. North Face have recently launched a snow report as an iphone app. Whilst it seems like a reasonable attempt at the app market, it leaves one wondering why they couldn't just produce a half decent mobile site?
This is a problem that occurs with many brands. When you look at their iphone app, you just wonder why they bothered! A number of luxury brands have developed their own iphone app: Hugo Boss, Dior and Channel, have done little more than a basic product catalogue or video site. They seem to be driven by the need to engage iphone users, but a poorly developed app simply fails to engage.
Perhaps the question that brands should ask before they develop an iphone app is 'what do we have to offer our customers that they will find useful or beneficial'.
Ralph Lauren is a luxury brand, who seem to have taken this on board. They have used their app as a way for customers to personalise their rubgy and polo shirts.
Nike, however have taken the concept of customisation to a new level with their latest iphone app, NikeID. This app uses a combination of augmented reality and customisation to allow iphone users to create and then order their own custom trainers.
Another fine example of focussing on the usefulness of the app rather than purely brand enhancement are LastMinute.com . They have created a number of quality apps through their lab, but I particularly like NRU (or Near You), which uses the iphone's GPS to provide a compass and search tool for the nearest bars, pubs and cafes. It does little to promote the brand directly, but rather works on the app first, and the brand awareness follow on from that.
So, why is it that everyone wants to create an iphone app for their brand? There seem to be a number of reasons:
So, from a brand's point of view iphone apps are useful and clearly have their place in marketing. However, the most successful apps are those that focus on the user's need rather than the brand's promotional aims or worse, the brand's vanity. The iphone is a limited audience and to gain the best response requires getting the most engaging apps.
It is interesting to note that whilst there are plenty of examples of good ROI in SMS mobile marketing campaigns, there are no case studies of iphone apps achieving any significant response or uplift.
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