Is 2010 Your Year for a Mobile App?

As we embark on a new year, it behooves us to remember the old one and take from it whatever lessons we can. 2009 was the year of many things: the launch of Microsoft’s Bing, the race to gain 1 million Twitter users, and Facebook gaming (believe it or not, FarmVille now has more players than Twitter has users).

Another significant trend was in smartphone usage. Global smartphone sales went up by 24 percent compared with 2008 — and bear in mind, that was in the midst of a recession. Some estimates put the number of iPhone and iPod Touch devices currently in market at 34 million, equal to about 10 percent of the total U.S. population.

Increased consumer usage of these mobile devices has resulted in increased usage of the applications made available for them. We all remember Apple’s September announcement that it had surpassed 2 billion app downloads. Apple says that there are now over 85,000 apps available in its store, from some 125,000 developers. But did you know that there are expected to be 300,000 by the end of this year? Or that apps for Google’s Android smartphone operating system will increase by five times or more? According to recent research, by the year 2013 more than one in three phones sold will be a smartphone and there will be an astounding 100 million consumers using mobile-application stores.

As a digital marketer, you can approach this information in one of two ways. You can take the “glass half full” approach and view these conditions as ideal for throwing your own hat into the ring. Create your own branded app and take your rightful piece of the consumer usage pie. Alternatively, you can see this as an already oversaturated market that’s about to get even more cluttered. You can take the stance that everything that’s worth doing has already been done, and ask yourself what you could possibly have to offer on behalf of your brand.

Both are valid positions. Whether you choose to build an app to complement your digital advertising campaign, or you question the value of a potential offering, you should know that this digital marketing opportunity isn’t all about timing and circumstance. It’s really just all about relevance.

If you look at some of the popular and memorable apps to date, you’ll see the truth of this statement through and through.

  • “SitOrSquat,” sponsored by Charmin: Helps users locate the nearest public restroom and allows them to record their own entries, wiki-style. For everyone who still toilet-papers the seat (especially if they also do the household shopping), it’s a branding slam-dunk. This app has scored mentions on “The Today Show” and “The View” — both of which attract the target audience described above.

  • “Virtual Zippo Lighter”: Replicating the experience of using a Zippo lighter, including the windproof flame that sways as you move, this app surpassed 5 million downloads in April of 2009. It’s particularly fun for concert goers (and, according to Apple’s customer reviews, 14 year olds who are too young for a real Zippo). Honestly, when your product is a lighter, what better app could possibly be produced?
  • Hardee’s “iBurger”: To promote its new Hardee’s burger, CKE Restaurants last spring launched this app that allowed users to take virtual bites of the product by smacking their lips in the phone’s microphone, all while gazing at an image of the mouth-watering meaty creation. The app was used in conjunction with Microsoft’s Tag-It Technology, allowing consumers to download coupons for sides to go with a real burger; to redeem the coupon, they need only show their phone to a Hardee’s cashier.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to build a branded app from scratch or partner with a developer to sponsor one, as long as the outcome is completely and utterly relevant to your brand. If it is, you’ll find your niche among those millions of app users, and stand out to them from among those hundreds of thousands of other applications.

Of course, this small win doesn’t guarantee a successful campaign overall. Next week we’ll delve into how to incorporate an app into your interactive marketing campaign, along with why and when you should do it, and whether 2010 is indeed destined to be your year for an app built to brand.

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