Branded apps are everywhere! Some of them can help your business in dramatic ways, and some of them will have little impact on your brand or sales. What makes the difference between a successfully branded app and one that fails to make an impact? Branded apps are most successful when they meet a customer need, on a frequent basis. Many companies race to build an app without a clear purpose in mind. They think that simply building an app will help gain exposure for their brand and subsequently increase sales. But, it’s not that simple. The app has to serve a purpose in the customer’s mind and also must entice the user to open the app over and over again.
The first step to identify if an app can help your business is to identify if there’s a clear need for it. What does your business do, and how do you interact with your customers? Take Starbucks, for example. Customers come in and get a cup of coffee several times a week or more. Starbucks has created a truly useful app that gets used over and over again. Their app allows the customer to pay for their coffee, track their Starbucks card balance, e-gift Starbucks funds to friends, and so on. The app serves a useful purpose while building and extending the brand at the same time. This is an app that will get used over and over again while providing convenience to the customer.
Another good example is Chipotle. Chipotle provides an app that allows you to locate the nearest Chipotle restaurant, order food, and pay for it from your iPhone. The benefit to this app is that you don’t have to be on your computer to order your lunch or dinner. You can order from your phone and pick up your order later, avoiding the long lines that come with lunch at Chipotle. The app makes ordering from their menu convenient and fast. While it may not be used quite as frequently as the Starbucks app, it will reside on a person’s phone as a reminder to go back to Chipotle again for food.
Perhaps one of the most notable examples of a branded app is the Bic lighter app. This app has seen millions of downloads because of its simplicity and cool concept. The app is a nice virtual lighter and basically serves the same purpose if you’re attending a rock concert and don’t have a Bic lighter. It’s a fun replacement for a real lighter and yet it keeps the Bic brand in front of you. Bic has been very successful keeping people aware of their brand.
But, let’s say you are a small furniture company and you think it would be great to have an app. The litmus test before you build that app is to ask if your app will meet a customer need on a frequent basis. Having an app that lets me order furniture from my phone may meet a customer need once in a while but certainly not on a frequent basis. I don’t order furniture very often, and downloading your app to make a purchase is unlikely. Sure, you may provide a map of your store’s location and let me browse your merchandise, but I doubt I’ll download your app to do that. You’re better off having a nice website to order furniture rather than building and maintaining a costly iPhone, iPad, or Android app.
Believe it or not there are even cement apps on the iTunes App Store! These are apps that promoting various brands of cement. You know, cement for your landscaping or patio or driveway! I understand the concept of trying to tie instructional information with cement products (or any product) within the app, but it doesn’t work too well. People are looking for useful or fun apps to load on their phone. Even though you attempt to bring together “how-to” info with your product, the number of downloads you’ll get are miniscule! You are better off spending your app development budget on other types of marketing that are more directed to this type of buyer.
The idea of building a branded app should be evaluated by all companies, but it should not be implemented by all companies. Unless there is a clear user need for your branded app and unless it will be used frequently, such as once a week, you are going to waste a lot of money in app development with poor results. If you can create a fun concept (such as the Bic lighter app), an app can help extend your brand. But, Bic is an exception! Car companies have had some success creating apps that let you test drive or build your own car. These are fun ways to get customers involved with your brand, but again, they will not use the app over and over again.
Your goal as a marketer of any product is to evaluate all mediums to see which ones will work for your brand and products. The mobile phone can be a great extension to your brand if there’s the right fit. Make sure you determine if your brand is the right fit before your launch lead long into what could be a costly development cycle with marginal results.