Brands that gathered at Adobe's Digital Publishing Symposium demonstrated how mobile apps are helping them reach new audiences.
Fashion retailer Express found a way to freshen its image and encourage e-commerce. Celebrity Cruises found a better way to explain its product to potential first-time customers. And the University of Alabama discovered new revenue sources. What binds these three organizations? All are using mobile apps to help them achieve their marketing goals.
With more than 80 percent of users preferring mobile apps to the Web (according to Flurry Analytics) and tablet usage soaring, use of mobile apps is growing in importance, said executives gathered at Adobe's Digital Publishing Symposium in New York last week.
"We wanted a better blend of commerce and content," said Scott Wabnitz, director of e-commerce development at Express, explaining the fashion company's relatively recent decision to develop a mobile, shoppable app.
Several years back, the company's online catalogue was "not a great experience," according to Wabnitz. It was difficult to find, offered no interactivity, and required users to click on links outside the page in order to shop. Nor did it work on tablets or mobile.
"That's not what you want to reach 20- to 30-year-olds, with tablet usage so tremendous in this age group," said Wabnitz, referring to the brand's target audience. With 600 retail locations across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada, the fashion chain has about $1.6 billion in sales annually.
So Wabnitz was hired to put together a multi-disciplinary team to better target consumers. The team created a digital lookbook, designed to offer viewers inspiration for the upcoming fashion season, while also letting them shop and engage with interactive elements.
For the app, Express repurposes beautiful photographs the company has already taken for its print catalogue. "The amount of imagery we don't use is astounding and wasteful," Wabnitz said. The company can also see from the app which photos or elements get the best responses and make changes accordingly.
The app was developed with tablets in mind, but is designed to work on desktop as well. And although it enables users to shop right from the app, it strives to be less promotional than an e-commerce catalogue.
"Creative wants to tell the brand story," said Wabnitz. For example, one recent lookbook featured a section enabling users to see the runway from a model's perspective.
Although he didn't give hard e-commerce numbers, Wabnitz said the app for iPad averaged 1,000 new users a month in its first year, and today has 500 unique visitors a day across all channels (online and mobile). On average, each user viewed 10 products from the Express website through the catalog. And best of all, the app has seemed to promote itself, without much outside promotion. An integration with social media is forthcoming.
Celebrity Cruises has also recently developed an app designed to help it attract new consumers to the world of cruises, as well as bring repeat ones back.
"If you are considering booking a cruise that costs thousands of dollars, you want to know what you can expect there. We wanted our app to tell that story of what you do on the ships," said Tina Alexander, associate vice president of digital and Web marketing. The app also aims to keep users connected to the brand after they've booked a trip, providing ways to relive the experience. "Each step of the potential vacation is captured," Alexander said.
Like Express, Celebrity also had unexploited photography from its brochures at its disposal. The Adobe Digital Publishing Suite enabled the cruise line to "appify [their] brochures," she said.
Unlike a traditional brochure, though, each user can go on their own self-directed journey through the app, which provides a mix of images, videos, and interactive maps showing where the cruises take place.
The app can also be updated to reflect itinerary or price changes. So when the cruise line recently dropped Ukraine from its destination list, that could be easily changed - saving the company substantial money since they didn't have to rush out a new brochure.
There have also been some surprises in terms of mobile usage, Alexander said. "At first we thought, no one is going to book a cruise on a phone," she said. But some 47 percent of users begin looking for cruise information on a mobile device, and some 15 percent on a tablet.
University of Alabama
The University of Alabama was similarly surprised about the power of its app to drive sales via mobile. First developed as a digital game day program for fans two years ago, the Alabama Gameday App has now expanded into a campus-wide communications tool.
"We didn't think people were going to buy tickets over a mobile app," said Milton Overton, senior associate athletics director at the University of Alabama.
Well, not only are they doing so, but the app has also been a major vehicle for bringing in post-game merchandising revenue, once drawing in as much as $1 million via sales of merchandise - everything from computer accessories to signet rings - within a few hours of a successful game.
"This was a killer for us," said Overton. "Print game program sales were declining, and this has allowed us to generate more income."
The free app, which has had some 1.6 million views, offers fans game notes, rosters, highlight videos, features, and statistics, as well as helpful information on travel routes, traffic, parking, and closed streets for the day of the game. It also occasionally offers digital coupons that can be redeemed upon purchase.
The University of Alabama has also adapted the app to serve the needs of other groups such as recruiters and fundraisers. Recruiters in the field like having an iPad app that is not dependent on Internet access, Overton said, as do those who solicit donations for the Crimson Tide Foundation, which awards student-athlete scholarships.
An enterprise version of the app geared toward university donors also delivers them unique content, such as human interest features about individual athletes. Such unique content can also be delivered to "super-fans," whom the university identifies by incorporating CRM data, such as data from its fan loyalty program, into the app.
"We are trying to develop a relationship with each fan, by capturing the data and giving a value to that customer," said Overton.
Adobe Digital Publishing Suite Update
Being able to integrate CRM more fully into such apps is not reserved only for the University of Alabama, however. To cap off its symposium, Adobe announced that, starting in early June, the next version of its Digital Publishing Suite will enable users to incorporate CRM data directly into their mobile apps.
David Schmidt, senior solutions marketing manager at Adobe, demonstrated how customer information from Salesforce.com profiles was integrated right into the app, enabling salespeople to call up contact information on a user, or managers to see which pieces of content in a sales presentation used in the field were most popular.
Schmidt said that Adobe's APIs would enable developers to incorporate information from Salesforce as well as other CRM systems into the app. Adobe is expecting feedback from its customers on the APIs, and will incorporate that into future versions, which are released to the public roughly every nine weeks.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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