As of september 1, 2010, more than 6,5 billion mobile applications (“apps”) have been downloaded from Apple alone, for use on iPhones and iPads. Morgan Stanley, in its 2009 ‘Mobile internet report’, expects more users to connect to the internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within 5 years.
It seems that people not only seem quick to adopt new ways to connect to the internet (smartphones, iPads and other tablets), but they also seem to like the experience of using an application rather than a website to access information, possibly because the touch screen of most mobile devices invites more interaction than a classic website.
The difference of applications versus websites seem to be:
This presents new and exciting ways for marketers and PR people to get their brand in the hands of their customers.However, the limited screen real estate of mobile devices will undoubtedly engender some sort of a “bookmarks” race. Remember when everybody used bookmarks? And how these days, nobody doesn’t anymore, because it’s so hard to organize them? The bookmarks race was won by the five to ten bookmarks in the bookmarks toolbar. Apps will likely go down the same path.
The key word for apps is: relevance. Brands will have to come up with relevant applications that underline their corporate values. It will be important to find an application that is useful enough to not become one of the “clutter” apps that people will clean out from time to time. I think the best apps will prove to be the ones that add real value to day to day services and can be used on a quasi-daily basis – either in a B2B or a B2C context.
I can’t say that I have come across applications that will stand the test of time. A short look at a few apps:
Samsonite had a nice idea: an application to keep track of travel miles. When I first heard of it, I thought Samsonite had developed an app to keep track of frequent flyer miles, and I thought: great app! Unfortunately, it turns out to be a game to log travel miles – a bit like foursquare, but for 'distance covered' instead of 'times a location was visited'. Okay, you can win prizes, but still: I don’t think it will be engaging enough in the long run to keep the Samsonite app on the front page of smartphones or tablets.
Axa insurance went for a more useful application: a motor claims application (called “AXAdent”! Love it!). Says AXA in its press release: "It can be used to store personal and policy information, capture photos of any damage following an accident, enter details of any witnesses and exchange details with other drivers. Using GPS technology, the app will record key information about the accident such as the location and the time."
At first glance, I like this application better. It’s more useful and therefore more compelling than the Samsonite app. I think a lot of AXA drivers will actually be interested in this app, because it so obviously adds value to the insurer’s service. On the other hand, I’m not sure if people have accidents often enough to remember about the application. And I think in the confusion of an accident, most motorists will grab the paper motor’s claim in the glove compartment. Important: AXA did get some nice press coverage for this app.
The Houston based Larkin Law Firm released an iPhone app too – a very interesting thing to do for a professional service provider, I think. Unfortunately, the application is not well thought out, because it adds no value. It looks more like an “applicated” version of the firm website. The only real advantage is that you can find the firm location as compared to your own location. And – for the law firm – the fact that you can write a press release about it.
Supermarket chain Carrefour released the “Carrefour Cook”. There are two main advantages to this application: one is the ability to make shopping lists. Originally, I thought that it would be unwieldy to type shopping lists on those tiny smartphone and tablet keyboards. However, Carrefour elegantly solved this by preloading a lot of categories in their shopping lists. You just tap "Shampoo" from a list and it appears in the shopping list! Very nice - mostly for smartphone users, though, it's still a bit strange to carry a heavy iPad around in the supermarket. The other advantage is - like the law firm app - the ability to find the nearest Carrefour store.
Frankly, I’m surprised that Carrefour didn’t develop an application around its loyalty points program. People love to collect, and people love to check how many points they have earned. If you can somehow link the loyalty points to a database of “prizes”, so that customers can browse through the catalog and order their loyalty point earned bonuses, I think that could be a real winner. The same app would also be a great channel to distribute targeted coupons based on a customer’s personal shopping history at Carrefour – which could offer an incentive to use the app on every shopping trip.
The “marketing app” race seems to still in its early stages, and marketers are still looking to find firm footing.
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