Is the Time Right to Join the App Fray?

As Apple’s App Store continues to roll out over 5,000 new apps each month, digital marketers are left wondering whether the time is right to join the fray, or whether this is simply a case of too much of a good thing. As demonstrated last week, apps have the promise to become a colossal digital branding opportunity, and are worth exploring if they can be made relevant to your brand. I said if.

For every relevant, memorable app there are probably a dozen others that fail to entice and engage consumers. When it comes to ensuring usage, that’s a major concern. According to research from rich media mobile ad network Greystripe, the average app is accessed only 20 times before the consumer abandons it. Other data on free apps has found only 20 percent of consumers return to an app the day after they downloaded it, and AdMob has reported that 40 percent of iPhone customers employ just four to six apps per week. Only 5 percent use more than 20 apps on a weekly basis.

In other words, a branded app has to resonate with consumers or it doesn’t stand a chance.

One way to improve its chances is to design your app as part of an overall digital marketing campaign. With support from other media, apps are both more likely to generate immediate attention and more likely to have staying power. Consumers simply need to be reminded — by TV spots, print, e-mail, or banner ads — that their apps exist, and that there’s a good reason to use them.

In September, adventure footwear and apparel company Timberland launched an integrated marketing campaign that included print and display ads, commercials on, customized Pandora radio stations, in-store promotions, and iPhone and BlackBerry apps. The “Expedition Timberland” apps aim to provide what consumers need for an urban adventure — maps, hiking trails, music, and the like — and, naturally, are also designed to drive them to Timberland stores.

Designed to extend its “Under the Cap” promotion, Coca-Cola Co.’s Sprite brand in December launched an iPhone app that allows customers to listen to and then remix music after making an offline product purchase and submitting their Sprite “cap code.” The long-running program is already promoted through various media outlets, which will now include mobile sites and other iPhone applications.

Consider for a moment the role that the applications play in each of these campaigns. In the case of Timberland, the “Expedition Timberland” app is relevant to the product but also delivers value above and beyond product information, and dovetails nicely into the brand’s existing multi-platform advertising effort. Sprite’s offering, meanwhile, was designed to be an integral part of the promotion itself, such that brand and function are neatly intertwined.

If you aren’t quite ready for your own app but don’t want to miss out on experimenting with this trend, another way to use the channel to enhance your marketing campaigns is through in-app advertising. This is what Burger King did around Valentine’s Day last year when it introduced an interactive ad that consumers could touch to pop the heart-shaped bubbles that floated around the brand’s mascot, “The King.”

The ad was deployed by Greystripe and appeared to consumers when they downloaded select free apps. The result was an engaging branded mobile gaming experience that surpassed display ads in typical interaction rates. Greystripe has reported that 14 percent of the consumers who saw the ad chose to interact with it, spending an average of 16 seconds with the game.

As these examples and countless others illustrate, there’s more to app marketing than meets the marketer’s eye — and more than enough time to explore its potential further. This, my friends, is your year to begin.

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