Just as when selling traditional products, it's about successfully creating buzz and building demand, something that Brian Levin is an expert at. Levin is the former CEO and co-founder of Mobliss, the company that, in early 2000, built the voting system for American Idol. "I'm extremely familiar with interacting with brands from a mobile standpoint," he says. Today, Levin is "chairman of the herd" with Perky Jerky, in the Denver area. Perky Jerky provides an upscale, healthy alternative to traditional jerky sold in gas stations, says Levin. The company is using mobile as a driver to help people develop a stronger relationship with the brand.
Boosting the odds that your audience will find and interact with you, requires communication to raise awareness and generate interest, which is no different than with any product launch. Perky Jerky is using QR codes to drive people to the app. "We have a big bus driving around the country and we're doing promotions all over, at events, or at Wal-Mart," he says. "We have our QR codes on the side and the back of the bus."
Perky Jerky approached this from a very strategic standpoint, making sure that when the QR codes are scanned users are taken to something meaningful-not just the home-page on the website. QR codes are also varied depending on the audience's experience with the brand. For instance, Levin explains, "We use a different code on a sample bag that we've given to someone versus something that is on our bus, understanding that when someone has a free sample bag in their hand, they will have already tasted our product." That, he says, is an entirely different call to action than what is used for those scanning the code on a bus.
While most app developers turn to the highly trafficked app stores provided through Android and Apple, these widely used tools present some risks to developers, notes Salz. "This is something that content companies have to get right. When you go to the app store, it's set up so you will see advertising for similar apps. There is no way to guarantee that people who finally make that decision to download your app actually do download it. This is going to be hugely important going forward," she notes.
There are solutions already springing up to address this. Salz points to GET.IT as a means of circumventing this issue. GET.IT links drive users directly to your app where they are not distracted, and perhaps tempted, by other options.
Once they've found you, and interacted with your app, the next question is whether or not users will come back. Levin recommends making the user interaction as easy as possible. "Test, test, test. Check what the experience is whether it's iPhone or Android. Make sure you run through it on as many different devices as possible. There's nothing worse than a consumer having a bad interaction with you on mobile."
While growing use represents opportunity, the proliferation of competing apps represents a significant challenge, notes Salz, who points out that reports indicate that most users actually rely on only a handful of apps regularly. "We will actually only ever love a handful of apps-three to five," she says. There are other limitations on the number of apps that users will maintain, like the memory and the speed limits of their devices.
Making your app stand out requires connecting with consumers in a meaningful way that will not only keep them coming back for more, but will cause them to spread the word about the app in viral ways. Media Multiplyer helps users monetize their content through the use of coupons delivered through iFrames, which allows content to be pushed by clicking an embed code on a brand's page, much as YouTube video is embedded. "Because we're able to control the pagination, the content, it's viewable via mobile and tablets," says Allen. Users can readily pass the frames-or coupons-on to others, as well as click through themselves to make a purchase on a site such as Amazon.
It's All About the Customer Experience
"When we looked at mobile, in general, we didn't want a game, we didn't want a web interface and we also didn't just want an app," says James Burgess, director of partner training at J.Hilburn, Inc. Understanding mobile as an overall business strategy is something that we can monetize going forward." He has seen apps from other retailers that may be "fun apps," but they just "don't go anywhere."
His No. 1 recommendation for others is to "know your goal before you go into it." That way, he says, "you can steer clear of anything that doesn't stick to the path."
Recognize, as well, the importance of ongoing feedback and the reality that your app is likely to change over time, based on that feedback. "We have an internal design department that allows us to make quick adjustments based on sales feedback. Also we want the user experience to be as good as it can be. If we get feedback from the field we want to be able to adjust things as fast as we can." That said, he also stresses the importance of prioritizing these modifications. "There are a million things that mobile business can do for you, but it comes down to what do you need right away and what resources do you have," Burgess says. He suggests that those developing apps start with the basics and then layer on additional functionality as they receive feedback from users.
"Analyze performance: what is it doing for you, where are there opportunities for improvement?" Burgess asks. Performance data can help site owners identify the content that is generating the most interest and interaction, the types of free content that may lead to premium sales, as well as the content that may be most shareable.
Philip Rooke is the CEO of Spreadshirt, based in the Berlin area, an ecommerce platform for selling items through virtual shops on a just-in-time production basis. "All of the products are virtual; nothing is created until it's actually ordered by the customer," he says. Over the last 12 months, 45,000 shops have been established.
"If you're going to be good in e-commerce, or anything online, you really have to understand the user experience of your customer and their motivations and what are they trying to do and how they are trying to use you," says Rooke. For content providers, he says: "If you weren't doing a lot of mobile transactions a year ago, your customers are expecting you to do them now. It's a big game changer."
Mobile apps, says Salz, will go the way of websites-they will become a must-have for content providers that hope to remain viable. In fact, they may already be there. The challenge is developing and maintaining an app that resonates with the audience so they keep coming back for more.
"The good news for the content industry is that one of the ways we will use our apps is if there's a fresh reason to do so," says Salz. "Breaking news is an awesome reason to do so." And, she adds-this content doesn't have to be specifically "news"-it could be "whatever content we agreed [upon] when I downloaded your app in the first place."
Unlike retailers that are dealing with the increasing prevalence and threat of "showrooming," content industry companies "don't have to scratch their head and think about how do I engage with my customer or how do I get them to use the app because, by default, it's all going to be fresh and new and interesting."
Content providers also have a built-in ability to be constantly refreshing their content, which is key, says Salz. "If you have timely content and you can push it out to an app, that makes a lot of sense.
"It's also very important and studies have shown that if you are going to have an app it needs to be refreshed. It's almost a perfect match with content provider strategy," she says.
From a usability standpoint, Rooke says: "We're very much finding that it's a browsing experience. They're looking for ideas or they're looking for something to purchase around their hobby, or a gift or to buy for someone.
"What we've found through mobile is they want to browse, not necessarily to build," he says. "People want to be able to actually find things." Frequently they are doing this through a "second screen" experience where they may, for instance, be watching something on television while they are simultaneously browsing via their mobile device.
For businesses hoping to monetize the mobile experience, he says, the ability to change the browsing experience to be mobile-friendly is critical. "We have to make it easy for them to browse."
But, importantly, before users ever have the opportunity to experience an app, they must know that it exists. That awareness is often left to chance.