The tiny little squares all over the phone screen carry a world of information at the consumer's disposal. Alethia Tiang finds out if brands that own those apps have a killer strategy in place to deliver a checkmate.
In a way, it's a summary of our lives. For everything, there is an app. Looking for the best flight and hotel travel deals? There's an app. Need to do an urgent bank transaction? There's an app. Not sure where to get the best food? Yes, there's also an app for that.
In the US, 42% of smartphone users spend most of their time on apps. According to research by comScore, users spend four in every five mobile media minutes on apps.
In Singapore, a survey by InMobi found consumers spend more time on their mobile devices than on television. "On any given day, mobile web users spend 27% of their media time on mobile compared with 22% on TV," the survey said, citing availability, ease of use and privacy as the top reasons for this phenomenon.
Additionally, InMobi also reported 47% of mobile phone users cited mobile as their primary form of media influencing their purchasing decisions, with the same percentage saying they preferred apps as a source of receiving content.
And it's not only the mobile apps gaining traction among consumers. Tablet apps are mimicking the growth in smartphone apps, with more than 31 downloads per year, per tablet, according to a study by ABI Research. What's more, analytics firm Flurry found that in the last week of 2011 alone, 1.2 billion apps were downloaded worldwide.
"In Asia, over 47% of mobile users download apps at least once a month, and in 2011, 30 million apps were downloaded worldwide everyday," says Ashutosh Srivastava, CEO of Mindshare APAC.
It's no wonder brands everywhere are tapping into the apps market.
Auditing firm KPMG rolled out an iPad app in February this year, in line with the Singapore Budget 2012, to help businesses understand and keep up with the budget. Professional social networking site LinkedIn also launched an iPad app, building on its mobile app, to provide a more engaging experience for iPad users.
One of Singapore's largest telecommunications company StarHub also launched its LionsXII app to allow fans of local football team LionsXII to stream "live" football matches and keep updated on the latest scores and match reports. News agency Channel NewsAsia has recently rolled a new iPhone and iPad app to deliver its news to the public.
What's more, government organisations are doing the same.
Singapore's National Day Parade committee launched a mobile application called NDPOnTheGo as part of its digital campaign.
The app encourages users to share their nationalistic thoughts and keep up to date with events and programmes leading up to National Day on 9 August. Even the Singapore Police Force released its Police@SG smartphone app, providing useful police and crime information conveniently.
As consumers globally get more mobile savvy, thanks to the surge in smartphone usage, mobile apps are taking the world by storm. For brands it means yet another touch-point, perhaps more important than others, to engage the consumer. But what's needed is a seamless user experience.
So is it time for all brands to get app-savvy? Or should brands think twice? a mobile presence
As more and more people turn to mobile devices for their online activities and transactions, it seems a smart move for brands to tap on these opportunities.
And as Nicholas Ionides, vice-president of public affairs at Singapore Airlines, says: "We are aware of this growing trend, which makes maintaining a mobile presence to better serve our customers an important focus for us."
Singapore Airlines has launched its SQ mobile app to its target audience.
"In the development process, we always keep in mind our customers' present and future needs when deciding on the features that we would like to include as part of our suite of mobile offerings," he says.
Another well-known local brand StarHub boats a slew of apps such as My StarHub, LionsXII Live and FooD.I.Y. Iris Wee, vice-president of home solutions and content at StarHub, agrees with Ionides, adding brands need to outline their objectives before making their decision to release an app.
"Above all, the app has to create value for the user," she says.
If launched in a rush, without a proper strategy, the app could yield unwanted results, say media experts.
According to Yean Cheong, head of digital for Asia at IPG Mediabrands, a brand ought to launch an app only if it is clear on what the app can achieve.
Cheong says a brand that rushes to launch a mobile app to be the first among its competitors runs the risk of frustrating users, more than anything else.
As such, it's important brands identify what value the app will provide for consumers. From there, resources, budgets and content need to keep the app fresh and relevant.
"Owning an app requires the same level of maintenance and governance as that of a brand website. Once launched, it will become another communication channel for the brand, and that requires attention on an ongoing basis," Cheong says.
Keeping things fresh
Work definitely doesn't end after the launch of an app, a mistake some brands have unfortunately made.
What needs to be done next is to keep the content fresh so the app doesn't end up being a white elephant for the marketing department.
Mindshare's Srivastava identifies that brands need to be clear of the role of the app and put themselves in the shoes of the consumers. It is unfortunate but true that app download stores contain more than 80% of apps that have been downloaded less than a 100 times. Singapore Airlines' Ionides, sharing the company's strategy to keep its app relevant, says prior to the launch of its latest apps through social media, it invited KrisFlyer members to provide constructive feedback.
Additionally, the air carrier also made plans to introduce more features coupled with a host of activities to successfully market the app.
"We are mindful the mobile arena is a fast moving one and we have to be flexible to adapt to changing needs and expectations," he says.
Adds Wee: "The key lies in the execution and how the brand can sustain the app."
For example, StarHub's FooD.I.Y app for food lovers and cooking fanatics keeps itself updated with fresh content because it is designed to allow interactive features to engage users.
Furthermore, the telco has also aggressively marketed the app to gain more publicity and these efforts have proved successful - the app has since seen a 150% jump in downloads for iPhones and iPads.
"We ran TV spots on channels such as Asian Food Channel, BBC Lifestyle, Food Network Asia and TLC. We also garnered publicity by engaging the traditional media and blogger community through a hands-on cooking session using the app," Wee says.
The app was also promoted through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Similarly, StarHub for its triple hubbing service, together with its agencies DDB and Mindshare, designed a game whereby players had to use their smartphones in a quest to reunite StarHub's mascot, Sparky, with his love, a poodle named Kiki Brown.
An app was created named HUB IT! to support the campaign.
The campaign comprised Singapore's first-ever interactive commercial, transforming its target audience into target participants, and an integrated media approach - utilising FTA, cable, OOH, radio, magazines, digital and mobile. (It won the MARKies for the Best Use of Apps in Marketing's Agency of the Year awards 2012.)
According to Arvind Sethumadhavan, regional practice leader of social and ROI analytics at Isobar Asia Pacific, brands need to recognise what utility value the app is able to deliver to consumers.
Another example of an engaging app is the adidas miCoach. The app constantly offers relevant content for its target consumers and leverages on its own site miCoach.com.
"Mobile consumption is similar to snacking, in that consumers dip in and out to check or post on social networks and forage for deals and directions. We need to keep this in mind to ensure that brands have an ongoing conversation, which incrementally improves brand engagement."
App 101: Asking the right questions
As with any other marketing investment, brands need to ask themselves the right questions when planning to launch an app - whether the app will reach and interact with the right consumers? What it will do for them? Does this further promote the brand? Is it easy to use, and so on.
With Singapore Airlines, the brand understands an app will provide more convenience for its customers.
"Our primary objective for our mobile apps was to enable our customers to access on-the-go services, such as checking flight schedules and status; making and amending flight bookings; checking in for flights; saving their mobile boarding passes on their phones; etc," says Ionides recognising that customers are constantly on the move.
Adds Sethumadhavan: "Brand owners should first ask, why mobile in the first place?"
The Nine Network in Australia, for example, forayed into the app space because of the interaction opportunities an app could have for the TV network.
As such, it rolled out its iPowow app to interact and engage its viewers during the 2011-2012 summer of cricket. Hence, the app granted the Australian network a chance to engage its millions of viewers.
"Mobile should be viewed as a marketing channel, then depending on the brand, you can decide what the best engagement strategy is," Sethumadhavan says.
There's no one formula to a successful app because each brand can use an app differently.
Instead, Srivastava suggests brands should shift their perspective to that of a consumer.
IPG Mediabrands' Cheong also urges brands to evaluate competitors' apps and identify which are popular and which aren't, and why, for more insights on the consumer market.
"To learn and emulate from the successes achieved by category players would increase the chances of your app being successful in achieving downloads and regular usage from your audience," she says.
"It's therefore worth capitalising on cemented habits than attempting or demanding consumers to create new ones."
In time, marketers can also expect that apps will not be the only way to get brands going on the mobile and tablet platforms.