Secrets of Success for Branded Apps

Millward Brown Ng MarieThe world’s biggest brands are investing in apps, but what separates the branded apps that work from those that never make your home screen? Marie Ng, vice president, mobile innovation at Millward Brown, explains.

Everyone loves an app. Millions of us have played Angry Birds and Candy Crush so it’s no wonder that brands are also keen to gain a slice of this new consumer time. But while Angry Birds and its ilk are highly successful globally, few of the thousands of apps produced each year will ever succeed to the same degree.

The challenge for brand apps is even more difficult. Not only do they have to be compelling enough to win a place on the home screen; they also have to create a meaningful impact – whether that’s communicating or reinforcing a certain message, or persuading consumers to try, or continue using, the brand.

That hasn’t stopped advertisers from trying. In fact, 89 of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands in 2013 have designed and launched at least one app.
Apps face challenges that other media do not; first getting “on device”, by generating enough interest to be downloaded, then staying on device by being compelling or useful. A place on the home screen must be earned, and this is no simple feat when you are competing with feisty birds and evil pigs.

Successful examples include Chipotle’s Scarecrow app, an arcade style game that offered players the chance to earn a buy-one-get-one-free offer for the restaurant chain, and Coca-Cola’s Freestyle app that lets consumers explore new drink flavours available in the brand’s dispensers. Poor quality apps, by contrast, suffer from low download numbers and even lower usage, and in the worst case may, long term, damage perceptions of the brand.

Metrics for success
Fortunately, the metrics for success in this space (which go far beyond simple download numbers) also provide a helpful guide to the development of successful apps.
Before investing in an app – and remember that the development cost is typically all upfront – brands need to ask themselves five key questions:

  • Is the app engaging? Does it draw users in and provide them with an enjoyable experience?
  • How does the app perform from a usability perspective? Is it intuitive? Can consumers find what they’re looking for?
  • How does the app perform from a technical perspective? Is it reliable? Does it do what users want it to do?
  • What is the brand’s role in the app? Does the app leave users with a compelling impression that is linked to the brand?
  • Does the app encourage users to continue using the brand or to take some specific action?

Brands that can’t answer these questions confidently should be wary of apps. They might also remember that the additional cost of communicating their new app will be wasted – or worse still, damage the brand – unless consumers are likely to download the app and enjoy the experience of interacting with the brand.

Real value
Apps provide a new and exciting opportunity for brands to communicate with consumers. However, the promise of this new medium will be realized only by those who provide real value and implement them with sensitivity to the personal relationship people have with their mobile devices.

Brands need to test, test, and retest to ensure that every version of their app is providing the best possible experience for consumers and delivering the best possible impact on their brand.

For long-term success, app development must not be a one-off process. Apps need to be constantly refreshed to keep consumers interested and to continue to earn space on the home screen.

The good news is that consumers are open to this. Many of us are accustomed to receiving app updates on our phones – the question we ask each time we see one is: does this app still provide value to me? Brands need to invest in continuous research to ensure that they answer in the affirmative.

Marie Ng is Vice President Mobile Innovation at Millward Brown