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To App or Not to App? Branded Apps Drive User Relationships

  |  May 5, 2011   |  Comments

Tips for brands that want to connect with customers on smartphones.

Fifty percent of mobile phone owners in the United States will have a smartphone by the end of 2011, predicts Nielsen. A total of 63.2 million people in the United States owned smartphones during the three months ended December 31, 2010, up 60 percent compared to the same period in 2009, according to comScore.

There's no avoiding it - apps and smartphones will affect how consumers connect to brands. And Facebook is a phenomenon onto its own.

"Mobile applications are the sure-fire way to extend a brand," Rebecca Flavin, CEO of EffectiveUI, said in a statement. "It's time for organizations to understand how to fully leverage the mobile channel and optimize a user-centered approach to drive adoption, as well as reinforce and drive brand loyalty." Consumers expect brands to have apps to make interaction with the brand easier. According to a survey of 781 adults in the United States, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of EffectiveUI, found the vast majority (76 percent) of mobile app users thought that all brand name companies and organizations should have mobile apps to make shopping or interacting with them easier. Apps are an intimate way for brands to connect with consumers.

Where to Begin

According to the EffectiveUI survey, 38 percent of mobile application users said they were not satisfied with most of the apps available from their favorite brands; 69 percent said a brand name mobile app that isn't useful, helpful, or easy to use results in a negative perception about the brand.

Here are some guidelines to ensure your branded app's success:

Know your consumers. Your app should be fun but it must provide a utility to the consumer to be successful. What feature can you tie to your product that will solve a problem in the users' lives? Analyze the users' needs and motives for using your branded app, and develop an app accordingly. Weber, the manufacturer of gas and charcoal grills, understands that its users are passionate about barbecuing. It launched a successful app, Weber's On The Grill, to provide recipes, steak timer, how to videos and shopping lists.


Keep it simple. Initially your app should focus on basics. One of the most successful branded apps is the Zippo Virtual Lighter with more than three million downloads. It offers users the ability to wave a virtual flame at concerts. Now available for Android.


Determine the platform. What devices do the majority of your consumers use? Although iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) have a head start, Android is growing quickly and is projected to penetrate the global market faster due to the openness of the platform. Low cost Android phones will be readily available on the global market. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and plan your functionalities accordingly. A smartphone app will not be successful if you just repurpose features from a website. Users of mobile apps are much more linear than website visitors who accustomed to drilling down.


Kraft was very successful with its app, iFoodAssistant, launched in 2008, available for Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and RIM's BlackBerry, providing users access to over 7,000 recipes. Kraft realized that the iPad could support more functionality and launched a new app, Big Fork Little Fork in July 2010, targeting parents in their 20s and 30s with children ages 6 through 12. It has a virtual library of 300 recipes, along with games, how-to videos, and other interactive elements that appeal to families interested in healthy eating.

Quick development tips. If it's important to keep development costs low, consider using HTML5 as much as possible with native code, if necessary, only for key aspects of your app. For example, camera access and push notifications for iOS need to be written in native code. Rich (2D or 3D) animation is at least 1.5 years out for reasonable performance in HTML5. Developers should use native code for such apps or development tools like Unity. I have a strong preference for Unity on game apps because it will soon be supported on Facebook (without a plug-in) and is already supported on Android and iOS. Be cautious when interviewing developers who claim to be experts in Unity. Be sure to ask the developers to show you examples of their work.

Test. To avoid a bad brand experience, the app should be thoroughly tested. Some app developers release the app in a market like Canada first to garner user feedback to fix major bugs before launching the app is the U.S. market.

Market. With more than 370,000 apps in the App Store, you need a launch plan for your app. Tips on app discovery can be found in my column, "Top the iOS App Store Rankings by Getting All Your Ducks in a Row." Like product launches, using advertising to increase installs is effective. Consider pay-per-install advertising so that you know the cost per install. Don't forget the social element - make your app easy to refer to friends. Update your app frequently to keep it top of mind with users. (Disclosure: My company offers multiple distribution channels for app distribution.)

Measure. There are several metrics to measure important variables of app marketing.

  • Discovery: Total downloads, e.g., how many installs did you get; app users, e.g., number of unique app users at a specific time such as daily active users; active user rate, e.g., the ratio of app users to the total number of downloads; app store rankings.
  • Retention: Visit ratio frequency, e.g., the number of visits compared to the number of users over a period of time; depth of visit, e.g., number of screens viewed on average compared to the number of visits; duration, e.g., the average amount of time spent in the app; bounce rate, e.g., a ratio based on the number of user visits that had a single view event compared to the total number of visits.
  • Lifetime value: The net present value of the cash flows attributed to a user. Very useful in media buys.

Whether the purpose of your branded app is to improve communication on the move, locate or research something on the move, or entertain, there must be value to people so as not to tarnish your brand image.

Do you have a tip about developing or marketing a branded app? Please leave your comments below.

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Rob Weber

Rob Weber co-founded W3i in 2000, growing W3i to be a leader in app user acquisition and monetization. For 42 consecutive quarters the company continues to be profitable and has grown to over 120 employees. For more than a decade, Rob worked to create solutions to increase distribution, drive revenue, and heighten engagement for app developers, such as DeNA, Gree, Kabam, PocketGems, and many other indie and public developers. Under Rob's leadership, W3i recently launched a mobile offer exchange that includes partnerships with leading offer providers.

Rob's business philosophy is to provide a collaborative environment developing solutions that provide value to app developers, advertisers, agencies, and ad networks.

In addition, Rob shares his passion for apps, digital media, and entrepreneurship by serving on the board of several tech companies. Rob recently presented at MobileBeat, GamesBeat, GDC, GDC Online, APPNATION, iPhone/iPad App DevCon, and also judged Start-Up Weekends.

Rob is an angel investor in a number of game, social media, music, video, and mobile app start-ups.

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