Take advantage of mobile applications

More consumers are using smartphones — so mobile apps are a great way to directly connect with your customer. Four experts share the best strategies marketers can use to maximize the use of this channel

Julien Theys
Analyst, Screen Digest

Mobile applications can have many uses. They can act as a container for traditional content such as videos or games, or as a gateway to a brand’s multiple services and offers. They can also provide additional services related to a brand’s core business, such as a bar locator for Smirnoff or arecipe book for Kraft. But most importantly, mobile applications are connected with con­sumers in a real-time, intimate way, and therefore allow for immediate and precise consumer feedback and insight.

The trend towards integrated app stores within smartphones is significant. Screen Digest estimates 150 million smartphones were sold in 2008, and more than 500 mil­lion applications were downloaded from Apple’s App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch alone.

Free applications that provide additional value to the end user are much sought after. Whether it is entertainment, useful services or a coupon, the application works best when it is related to the brand: don’t bother offering a karting game if you sell detergent. There is a fundamental difference between sponsoring a third-party application and taking part in the design of software in line with the brand’s values.

There is a lot of talk today about location-based advertising, but the ad inventory to back the hype is not available yet. Intro­ducing location-based services through a dedicated, useful app, such as a store locator with coupons selections, helps build trust in an otherwise intrusive technology.

Brands should also keep in mind the mobile phone remains — above all — a com­munication device. Address books on our mobile phones can be thought of as the ancestor of today’s social networks, and its capacities as a viral communication tool were proven long ago.

Of course, opt-in is paramount. Forget­ting this cardinal rule will have disastrous consequences. That is why the added value must be compelling enough for the user to act on the opt-in proposition. Also, an application that can be customized to better suit the needs of the user will have a longer lifespan. Brands should keep in mind that, even with a useful and free mobile appli­cation, they are still competing with other forms of services and entertainment on a very small screen.

The rise of app stores offers marketers the potential to reach consumers

Jonathon Linner
Co-founder and CEO, Limbo

There are several factors to take into account when designing a mobile applica­tion, especially for iPhone owners, who tend to be early adopters of mobile applications and are also more aware of mobile advertis­ing. This audience presents a tremendous opportunity for companies looking to set up iPhone-specific mobile ad campaigns.

The first thing to consider is why con­sumers will use the application instead of a mobile Web site or just plain text messaging. What additional benefits will your applica­tion provide? For instance, location-based applications can pinpoint a user’s exact loca­tion, providing value and opportunities that mobile Web sites cannot.

Next, be sure to use a rich and engag­ing interface. Leverage the cool things that the device provides, such as iPhone and iPod “shaking,” touchscreen functionality or device tilting to grab users in the first twenty seconds of trying your application. If the user doesn’t instantly “get it,” there is a strong chance they will abandon the application and never return.

Now think about longevity. Many people will use a lightsaber or a beer game just once because it’s all about a single experience, and because free mobile applications are highly disposable in the eyes of the consum­er. When designing an application, think about what will keep a user coming back. Also, listen to your users by giving them channels to feed back ideas and take those concepts to make constant improvements to your application.

Lastly, do not rely on partners. With more than 20,000 iPhone applications to compete with, the success of your applica­tion cannot be driven by deck placement. Good placement is a reward for success, not the other way around. Remember, carrier decks and app stores are large meritocratic ecosystems, so the best applications rise to the top. Paying careful attention to design, user interface and ergonomics is critical to the success of your application.

Consider your target customer in every step of application development

Eswar Priyadarshan
CTO, Quattro Wireless

The Apple iPhone revolutionized the mobile industry in 2007 by launching a full-featured portable computer complete with a built-in cell phone and high-speed Internet connection.

Apple’s subsequent launch of the App Store and accompanying application devel­opment platform took the revolution to the next level — the app store now has more than 15,000 applications in every category imaginable. Other mobile device vendors, like Research In Motion, Google, Nokia and Microsoft, have all quickly followed suit with their own mobile application stores and development platforms.

However, you cannot just build an app and expect people to come to it. The success­ful build of a mobile application demands best practices.

For example, the best iPhone apps usu­ally succeed at doing one thing very well: they promise the end-user a specific piece of functionality and deliver on it in a simple yet comprehensive manner. Whether it is a tip calculators, a portal for US histori­cal document archives or a two-player air hockey game, these apps succeed because they promise and deliver on one very cool or very useful thing.

Second, a great app isn’t just a repur­posed Web site with a slapped-on iPhone graphic user interface. Typically, the best ones are built from the ground up to be rich, fast, personalized and very interactive, and fetch content from the Internet only when they have to.

These apps leverage the touchscreen user interface, capitalize on the brilliant and crisp display, dare to be fun by encouraging users to shake it with the accelerometer and unobtrusively slip out and fetch new content from the Internet.

Finally, a great app is working hard to establish a clear brand identity from all the other me-too apps out there.

The good news here is that if you fol­lowed the first two pieces of advice, you are likely to garner great user reviews for your app, which is great leverage in staying ahead of the app pack.

Mobile applications should be compelling to the user and follow best practices

Dan Abelon
Founder, SpeedDate.com

IPhone development is all the rage these days. While the platform is smaller in terms of population than social network platforms like Facebook or MySpace, the iPhone offers unique advantages for both individual developers and larger companies looking to expand their reach. IPhone users tend to be relatively affluent, and the platform offers possibilities for creating uniquely engaging applications.

But how do you actually attract users to your iPhone application? My company, SpeedDate.com, recently launched a suc­cessful dating iPhone app. Here are our top five ways to drive traffic to your app:

Have a lot of users already. That’s right. The best way to generate iPhone users is to already have a lot of people downloading your app. If your app has a high velocity of downloads, it will show up higher in searches by users and they will be more likely to download it. Tough strategy if you’re just getting started, but getting to the top should be the goal of any iPhone app campaign.

Create a great product. Great apps generate word of mouth that can lead to significant downloads. The iPhone is a particularly exciting development environ­ment relative to the Web because of cer­tain aspects of the platform: mobile, GPS, touch screen, and the accelerometer. We focused a lot of energy on creating an excel­lent user experience for daters using the SpeedDate app so people would recommend it to their friends.

Take advantage of PR. IPhone is one of the few platforms on which PR can actually help create sustainable traffic. If your app gets covered in a variety of mobile and tech related blogs, you’ll see a spike in down­loads. If this spike, combined with other initiatives, causes your app to have a high number of downloads, you can generate significant traffic from being ranked highly for searches in the iPhone store.

Use advertising. This can be expensive, but can be used to supplement other initia­tives, especially during a launch period.

Finally, use existing channels. If you have access to users, you should let them know you have an iPhone app. We promote our app to users of our Web site, SpeedDate.com, as well as our social networking apps.

User a variety of marketing channels to drive traffic to your mobile application

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