How to make amazing Branded Apps

Posted on 4th Nov 2011 by Scott Goodson in Blog

A new report has found that more than nine in 10 of the world’s biggest brands now have apps for things like smartphones and tablet devices.

The research, carried out by analytics company Distimo, discovered that 91% of the companies featured in Interbrand’s 2011 Best Global Brands chart have a presence in at least one of the major app stores. That’s up from 51% since Distimo last checked over 18 months ago. There’s 86% of top brands on Apple’s iPhone and 66% have at least one app for the iPad. There’s 59% present on Google’s Android but only 26% on Blackberry. The Nokia Store has just 9%.

What this report clearly shows is that leading global brands are waking up to the digital revolution. They have followed the herd onto mobiles and tablets to make sure they’re promoting themselves and reaching consumers on every available level.

However, these are just the figures. The Distimo report doesn’t take into account whether any of these apps are any good or whether they make an impact.

Looking at the 2,300 plus branded apps currently available and there are some definite winners. Just take a peak at the apps from MTV, the Wall Street Journal and Disney – all of them have won approval from critics and are extremely popular amongst consumers.

So what are these big names doing so well and how can other brands create amazing branded apps for themselves? It’s really quite simple.

First of all, you have to stop thinking of apps as another opportunity to direct market to your customers. Yes – the app should help lead to more sales but this shouldn’t be your primary focus. Apps aren’t for marketing; they’re to provide value or entertainment to people. Otherwise, what’s the point in creating an app if it’s uninspiring or useless? You also have to ask yourself if you even need an app in the first place.

There are plenty of bad examples. Remember Longhorn, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain launching an app that simply included a sizzling steak? And what about cosmetic brand Lancome – their makeup app was panned by consumers. These brands have failed to understand that apps are supposed to provide something useful.

Those who get it right include the Domino’s mobile app that lets users order and track their pizzas all from the comfort of their homes. It boasts ‘more than 1.8 billion pizza combinations all in the palm of your hand’, and its patented Domino’s Live Pizza Tracker lets customers follow the step-by-step progress of their orders.

Then there’s W Hotels. Sure, a number of hotels have introduced mobile apps, and most of them feign the ability to order room service in-app – they merely enable users to call room service from the app. The W Hotel Worldwide app, however, allows hotel guests to order room service, such as meals or fresh towels, via the app.

Elsewhere, shoemaker Merrell aims to revolutionize the way people walk, run, hike and play with the launch of its Barefoot app. Sure, people can buy the shoes, but do they really understand how they work and how to get the best out of them? This is how the retailer’s app goes the extra mile.

And then there’s the Jones Soda app that lets fans make a custom-labeled Jones Soda. You can personalize the label by adding a mobile photo, and can choose from 16 delicious flavors and order 6-packs or 12-packs – all through the brand’s own app.

Then what about eBay’s own offering? The app has a bar code scanner – an innovation that allows users to scan products in a store for price comparisons while shopping or even scan products that they plan to sell. In both cases, the app pulls up all relevant products and lets the user go from there.

There’s also Coca Cola who launched a live wallpaper app in 2010 as part of its Santa Claus campaign. The app might have been simple but it proved hugely popular with more than 250,000 downloads and a superb user rating of 4.2 out of five.

What about the inside track of app development? How do agencies come up with ideas and how do clients know which ones to invest in and get behind?

In my experience, working with my own agency StrawberryFrog, we gave birth to an app for Pampers called Hello Baby. The software has proved incredibly popular with parents-to-be and has received great ratings on the iTunes store, including the words of the Daddy Blogger who put it on a pedestal. At the outset, the Pampers Proctor & Gamble client team and I thought we needed something remarkable as a first step into this app space. The clients taught us about the consumer, and working together with them, the Hello Baby app rose to the top.

Collaboration with the client is critical. These days, clients sometimes know more about the consumers than agencies do. Inside StrawberryFrog, Jason Koxvold developed the amazing visual look on Hello Baby, with real photos and a visual simplicity for the app. Serena Connelly did a wonderful job copy-writing. Susan Liao helped marshal the app production with a great developer who worked in close collaboration with the Frogs.

One thing’s for sure, it takes a good team to create a breakthrough app.

So what does the future hold for apps? The future is being invented as we speak in the next generation of apps that are under development in studios across the world, including here at StrawberryFrog. They are taking things to a whole new level.

But getting back to the present and making branded apps, once you’ve satisfied your audience and created an app that’s helpful or entertaining, you have to take them on a journey. Essentially, you want to turn app users into paying customers, so make sure the app’s navigation is clear and logical throughout. You want your app to be a pleasure rather than a hindrance.

Then what about engagement? Too many branded apps fail to interact with their users, missing the entire point of the new digital landscape. Make sure your app is interactive and engages with its audience without expecting anything in return. The idea here is to show the friendly personality behind your brand.

Next, you want to encourage brand awareness. This means your app should have content that’s easily shared on social media, so you encourage viral marketing. Nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations, so it’s worth creating an app that makes a big impact.

Finally, you have to promote your app as much as possible because all that investment and hard work will go to waste if you don’t tell people about it. Of course, there are plenty of brands that are still getting it wrong. Despite this, 2011 has been the year that brands have started to embrace apps and everything they have to offer. Perhaps next year will see many refine their mobile and tablet offerings and produce apps they can really be proud of.

Photo credit: Lev Radin,

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