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Marketers, media find app ways to engage customers

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Hoover's, the online business database, introduced its Near Here mobile app for the iPhone and iPad last year. The app uses GPS technology to enable salespeople to find potential sales targets in a specified geographic area. The app appears to be working, both for Hoover's and its target market. James Rogers, VP-marketing at Hoover's, told the story of one salesperson who took advantage of a four-hour delay at an airport to use the Near Here app. “He used that application, identified another opportunity and closed a $30,000 deal before he got on that delayed flight,” Rogers said. In addition to b-to-b marketers, business media brands are developing iPad apps. International Data Group's Macworld recently introduced the Macworld Daily Reader, the first native iPad application for the brand. Epson America was the launch sponsor. The app combines elements from the print magazine with constantly updated content from Macworld.com. “It's more visual and more engaging than the website, and it's more up-to-date and more interactive than the print magazine,”said Ulla McGee, VP-business development at Macworld and PCWorld. Since its launch in January, the Macworld Daily Reader app has had more than 250,000 downloads. “We were all very pleasantly surprised,” McGee said. Marketers and media companies are still in the initial phases of experimentation with the iPad and other tablet computers. “It's early days,” said Ned May, VP-lead analyst of research firm Outsell Inc. “It's not clear what the job of the tablet is. That hasn't been figured out yet.” But Hoover's, Macworld and others aren't waiting around to see how things shake out. Betting these early days pass quickly, they are using this period of experimentation to get the jump on their competitors. Sales of iPads and other mobile tablet computers are surging. Apple has sold a reported 15 million iPads since the device's debut last year. Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Research in Motion's BlackBerry, Samsung and others are entering the market. Worldwide tablet shipments are anticipated to reach more than 58 million units in 2014, according to research firm In-Stat. As the users of these devices increase, b-to-b marketers are attempting to engage them with apps. “We want to be where our customers are,” said Tom Nightingale, VP-communications and CMO of Con-Way Inc., a transportation and logistics company. “We were seeing an uptick in mobile traffic to our website, a fairly significant uptick.” Con-Way developed an app with a number of tools designed to help customers who are often away from desktop computers. The app offers rate quotes, freight tracking, freight documents and a service center locator. It's an example of marketers using an app to engage customers not only with information but with tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently. Bimba Manufacturing Co. this month will launch an iPad app that will give its sales staff and distributors access to product news and collateral. Bimba's marketing manager, Tom Wood, said e-mail and other communications methods aren't as effective as they were in keeping Bimba's pneumatic actuators and other products top of mind with distributors. In tests, Wood said, the iPad app captured the imagination of distributors. “Pilot tests really helped us justify coming out with this app,” he said. Another b-to-b marketer, uTest, which crowd-sources software testing, introduced apps for the iPhone and iPad in January. The apps allow uTest customers (software developers) and its testers to access the company's Web platform from tablets and smartphones. In less than a month the app notched more than 500 downloads, Matt Johnston, uTest's VP-marketing and community, said. “That may not be as many as Angry Birds, but for a niche, b-to-b company like us, we were very pleasantly surprised,” he said. Johnston said the app has also brought an unanticipated benefit: A number of people who have discovered it have signed on as testers for uTest. “It's actually become a form of marketing,” he said. Other b-to-b marketers, such as CA, FedEx Corp. and Oracle Corp., have experimented with the iPad by advertising on apps for the device developed by general-business media brands. While News Corp. made a big splash this month with The Daily, a new newspaper designed expressly for the iPad, another News Corp. property, Dow Jones & Co.'s The Wall Street Journal, was an early adopter, launching an iPad app shortly after the device came to market last year. Since its debut, the Journal's app has had about 1.1 million downloads, said Mark Fishkin, VP-digital sales for The Wall Street Journal Digital Network. The app updates with new content every 15 minutes, and about half of the app's regular paid users visit it daily, he said. Pearson's Financial Times rolled out its app last May, and it already has had 480,000 downloads. “We're seeing [the app] drive our new digital subscribers,” said Stephen Pinches, group product manager-emerging technologies for FT. “Over 10% of FT.com's new digital subscribers are coming directly from the iPad. Additionally, advertising on the iPad generates 20 times more click-throughs for FT than similar ads on the Web. “That's huge,” said Jon Slade, global digital and strategic advertising sales director for FT, who said the elevated click-throughs came not from the novelty of the iPad but from the nature of how people interact with the device. While Web users search for a specific piece of information, print readers are more engaged with the entire product, including ads. The Economist launched an app late last year, and while it includes video and audio attributes, it is essentially the weekly magazine transferred to the iPad. Oscar Grut, managing director of digital editions for The Economist, said the goal was to not muddy the magazine reading experience with constant news updates from the Web. “What our readers tell us is that they like that there's a beginning and an end; there's a "finishability' to the experience,” he said. A number of vertical business media companies are introducing iPad apps that are similar to The Economist's approach of creating a souped-up digital replica for the device. For instance, Northstar Travel Media has debuted iPad apps for Successful Meetings and Meetings & Conventions using Texterity's software for creating digital editions. “That makes it easy,” said Tom Cintorino, exec VP-digital media at Northstar. Cintorino also noted a side benefit of the iPad app. “We've found a good presence of international users,” he said.
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