Back in 2013, a Harvard Business Review analyst recommended brands and companies to “think apps, not ads”, professing a significant increase in apps-oriented digital marketing strategies and brand awareness campaigns. He was right. According to a recent Gallup survey, the average American spends more than two hours a day on the smartphone. Also, ¾ of the smartphone-owning population check their phones once every hour.
This doesn’t mean people actually use tens of apps each day. Latest research shows that the average smartphone owner uses a small handful of apps. There are many who play app games and many who would use an app just once a month for instance – but does this mean businesses should give up their endeavors of investing in apps?
The answer is, obviously, no. People do use apps and big companies invest in app development as brand awareness strategies, promotional strategies and business storytelling devices. If three-four years ago the use of mobile apps was deemed “innovative” in terms of brands’ business plans and marketing campaigns, now smartphone apps are the strategy du jour companies big or small use for various reasons. It seems that just having a responsive web design for your site won’t cut it anymore. You need to throw in some smart apps to keep your business growing.
What small and medium companies should understand at this point is that creating a useful app can push their financial benefits further – in case the app is truly, uniquely, useful. However, the paradigm of “think apps, not ads” means that businesses should see apps not as rainmakers but means to an end – get your brand and message out there, engage people, become more visibile, keep people entertained and close to you. Ads want to sell people something. Apps develop meaningful relationships between the brand and the end-user who might be converted into a client. This is the huge difference one needs to look closely at.
If you think you have to be Coca Cola or the Bank of America to come up with a witty, useful and engaging app, you might be wrong. Small and medium companies have developed their own branded apps throughout the years and some of them are amazing. From using an app to call a specific cab company to checking out the latest offers of your next-corner café, apps have taken the business world by the storm. But how do businesses benefit from the apps?
1. Mobile Apps Help the Business Engage its Customers in Powerful Storytelling
Business storytelling is all the rage right now in marketing and for all the good reasons. The more engaged and personal the relationship is between the brand and the client, the more chances that brand has to gain awareness, interactivity and, ultimately, revenues. Simply put, if customers really like you, they are more inclined to do business with you. Deemed a “strategic imperative” in business, storytelling through apps and mobile app games is probably the first thing you should put on your list.
HBO’s True Blood App Campaign
In order to promote their new True Blood series, HBO came up with an app that tapped into interactive storytelling, brand immersion and customers’ interactivity. As the consumer interacted with the app, he could notice blood dripping on the phone’s screen, accompanied by bloody fingerprints. This added element of fun, intrigue, mystique and novelty came as a new experience for the users – who were more than willing to share their discovery with their social media and friends. The app’s main goal was to keep the users engaged so they could be lead into viewing the series’ trailer through a thrilling CTA.
HBO witnessed an increased viewership of 38% with over 5 million people watching the season premier.
Lesson to Be Learned
While HBO has the reputation of thinking and doing things way out of the box, this success model can be replicated to small businesses alike. When considering developing an app just to engage the users and keep them close to your brand’s story, remember to:
- Spark interest in the consumers
- Offer an immersive environment
- Make an emotional impact
2. Mobile Apps Help the Business Build Brand Loyalty
One might think that huge global brands don’t need much marketing these days, as everybody knows them already. But no matter how big or small, all companies deal with the same goal: retain their customers and turn them into brand loyalists. Brand loyalty represents the emotionally-biased decision of a client to purchase products / services from a specific brand over and over again because he/she loves that brand and trusts it. You may think this is easy, but there is extensive research behind the psychology of brand loyalty and brands go to great lengths to keep their customers fully engaged.
IKEA’s Virtual Reality Game App
IKEA is a ground breaker by all definitions and its Virtual Reality app game turned a new page in digital marketing, business storytelling and increasing customers’ loyalty. The app mixed brand utility with customer service (two of the pillars building brand loyalty) and some hi-tech thrilling VR experience, making all its customers, old and new, rush towards the brand with open arms.
IKEA offered its users a VR reality perfectly mimicking its paper catalogue – the users had the chance of taking virtual tours in IKEA rooms, take real-life measurements, envisioning how specific furniture pieces would look inside their homes and… making IKEA meatballs inside an IKEA kitchen.
IKEA’s app eliminated the complicated process of purchase decisions, making its customers’ lives easier. Instead of calling IKEA’s experts, customers can see for themselves if a certain piece of furniture fits into their homes and matches the overall décor. The added fun element of actually feeling like you make IKEA meatballs in a brand-new IKEA kitchen taps into customer engagement, immersion, interactivity, emotional connection, storytelling and retention. The app has been downloaded 6.2 million times so far and counting.
Lesson to Be Learned
Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and headsets are still dwelling in the novelty departments of marketing because the costs are still big. However, keeping this example in mind, your business should focus on:
- Creating a business app that is useful to your customers, making their life easier. Usefulness is still one of the biggest best-sellers in marketing.
- Your app should offer the customers an experience. More than pushing sales or featuring discounts, the app should speak to the users’ hearts and sense of curiosity.
- Think about apps as if they were two-way Team Viewer alternatives: they let the customers take a sneak peek behind your curtains, while you can draw some powerful conclusions about what your customers want, who they are and what you can offer them in the future.
3. Mobile Apps Help the Business Drive Sales and Customer Retention
It is not hard to understand that customers become loyal to a brand and thus purchase more from that brand as long as that company speaks to the humans’ desire of leaving a mark behind, of being relevant. This is why some of the best marketing campaigns also included charity and social causes as part of their brand storytelling and engagement strategies. People want to be a part of something bigger, they want to contribute, make the world a better place.
Chipotle’s Scarecrow Mobile Game App and Video
The giant fast food chain Chipotle entered the app-centered marketing stage with a bang back in 2013. Their debut app was the “Scarecrow”, a mobile game accompanied by a video of the same name. The game follows a countryside scarecrow on its quest to save the world from processed, unhealthy food. Players have to take the scarecrow in a journey of gathering fresh food for the people. The video deepens the users’ experience with the scarecrow: as an employee of a processed food mass-production factory, the scarecrow can’t take it anymore. He begins to sneak fresh food from his farm and opens up a burrito stand next to the factory, convincing people that real, fresh and healthy food is the right choice for mankind.
Besides the amazing visuals and the not-so-subtle social commentary, the Scarecrow game app and video emphasized the brand’s values and transmitted them to people in a fun, entertaining, and heart-warming manner. The game’s motto “Cultivate a better world” caused a true frenzy and the results were more than amazing.
After the release, this free iTunes game app was downloaded by more than 500,000 users, while the video reached around 10 million views on YouTube. Besides drawing attention to a real contemporary problem and pushing the brand’s values, the mobile app game boasted the brand’s image, told a compelling story, engaged the users in a cause and built strong relationship with its customers. Around 60,000 people visited the stores and they all got a buy-one, get-one-free card for a Chipotle signature product offered as part of the game to players who earned one star on every level.
Lesson to Be Learned
There are dozens of subtleties and strategies in this particular campaign we can talk about for days, but the bottom line is this: brand awareness, customer retention, sales driving, connected subsequent reward programs (known to increase loyalty) and pure entertainment should be the triggers, ingredients and goals of any type of brand app.
4. Mobile Apps Help the Business Create a Direct Marketing Channel
What if you could have a branded app that helps you shop better from that company, keeps you in the loop with their discounts and offers, helps you find their stores faster and allows you to get better healthcare on the go? Apps and games tend to eliminate paper coupons, ads and website browsing by creating a new all-in-one direct marketing channel to trump all traditional channels, social media ads and newsletters included.
CVS Pharmacy’s App
While less groundbreaking in comparison to IKEA’s virtual reality experience or Chipotle’s adventure game, CVS Pharmacy’s app is a model of good practices for the businesses looking to tap into the murky waters of app-based marketing but not having the budget of building unicorns. The brand’s app takes points for its friendly and easy to use interface and its high-quality features.
The app allows the user to shop the virtual store and find specific items for specific conditions – our favorite is “skin care cream for dark circles”. The app also offers plenty of deals and it is perfectly integrated with the entire company’s pharmacy units. It is also connected to the CVS Minute Clinic feature, allowing customers to refill prescriptions, search for nearby clinics and review their insurance information on the go.
The design is simple, clean, uncluttered and attractive. The app itself is not meant to generate a feeling of awe; it is straightforward in its attempt to make the customers’ lives easier. Processing health care information is stressful enough in this day and age; therefore the app came as a blessing.
The app is available for iOS and Android and to this date it registered around 5 million downloads. The latest version has been updated in early 2017 and the 5 stars reviews are pouring in still.
Lesson to be Learned
- You don’t have to have Chipotle’s or Starbucks’ marketing budget to develop a useful app that drives sales and promotes customer loyalty.
- A simple motto like “Staying healthy. Saving time. Spending less.” can be adapted to almost any type of business, thus this model is easy to replicate and adapt to your own company.
- Always offer your customers a reward and we are not talking about discounts. Saving time, getting problems solved faster, putting a smile on people’s faces, sparking their curiosity or helping them have just one easier day once are all answers to real, concrete needs.
5. Mobile Apps Help the Business Launch with a Bang
Maybe we should have started with this one, but it is never too late to learn that a new business, product or service can be launched in a creative manner with a game app and maybe a video or two. Long gone are the days when a press release was enough to let the world know a brand was launching a new item. It seems that more modern social media-centric events, sponsored posts or buzz also pale in the face of a smart launching strategy.
The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Launch via the “Simulation Application for Nautical Maneuvering” Game
Back in 2011, Proximo Spirits Inc. wanted to launch their new black spiced rum in a novel, original and entertaining manner. In order to achieve this goal, they have created an app game by the name of “The Kraken: The Simulation Application for Nautical Maneuvering”, an iPhone game challenging users to steer a sailing vessel through hazardous kraken-infested waters. While the game play is basic, the amazing visuals, the score and the copy turned people into hardcore fans of the game. The game also came together with a chilling trailer in a black and white antique that gain praise for its art and whimsical approach to marketing.
Aimed to people looking for designer spirits and premium taste in liquor the Kraken game and video fully comply with a marketing strategy known as brand discovery. Launching a new product aimed to targeted groups by promoting the company’s true-and-tested values and approach was a good idea in this case. Today, the Kraken’s Facebook Page has over 500,000 Likes and the iTunes versions of the game gained an honorable 4.5 ratings.
Lesson to Be Learned
- Before investing in an app because everybody else is already doing it, think about your customers, your targets and your company’s history. Are you known for your humor, laidback attitude and friendly stance? You can come up with a crazy idea then which will further promote your brand in the right circles. If the app isn’t in full compliance with your brand values and its image, you might fail even with the most amazing app campaign.
- Big ideas don’t necessarily mean big budgets.
Even the simplest app or app game can become a marketing superstar for any business. Built to solve problems, push sales or simply entertain customers, apps build stronger connections between customers and the brand, enhancing trust, loyalty, likeness, social buzz, retention and, ultimately, profits. Any app should be a part of your overall business storytelling strategy as long as you remember that some stories are meant to drive sales, while others are meant to be shared.