YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- There might be an app for everything, but does everything need an app?
When it comes to brands, it's easy to wonder if the rush to get into the App Store is more about marketers snapping up the shiniest new wonder than thinking about apps as strategic-marketing tools.
Luckily, as the app business has grown, the apps themselves have grown up. While the Zippo lighter -- enormously popular at 5 million downloads and counting -- remains a bit of an anomaly, most branded apps have moved from the simple "wow" or novelty factor to include branded utility, relationship building and even sales.
Target, for instance, launched its Gift Globe, a cute cross between a snow globe and Magic 8-ball, last holiday, around the same time as it bowed its more direct and utilitarian gift-finder app, where you enter basic information about the recipient and are served up a number of gift ideas. Consumers can still download the gift finder, while Gift Globe is no longer in the App Store.
"What [marketers] really need to do is take a step back and ask: who [their customers] are, what are the [marketing] objectives, and how do they communicate with people?" said Appssavvy CEO Chris Cunningham. The best apps provide utility, deliver value or entertain. Another example of an evolved app is Benjamin Moore's Ben Color Capture. Users can snap a picture of anything -- a flower, tree, dog or neighbor's living-room rug -- and get an instant match from one of Ben's 3,300 paint hues. More than just a color gimmick, as one analyst put it, "It actually sells paint."
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"Ultimately what we've concluded is: Don't look at the latest technology and say, 'We gotta do this,'" said Forrester Research analyst Neil Strother. "Look at what your customers are actually doing on mobile. How many people in your target have an iPhone? If it's not many, consider waiting. Or maybe look at doing a Blackberry or other smartphone app. Or maybe not even on a smartphone, but on a regular phone, if that's where your customers are."
Now we know creating an app just to have one is a bad idea, but just what makes a good app? It's a bit like obscenity, per former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition: Hard to define, "but I know it when I see it."
So we asked app enthusiasts, creators and analysts what they're seeing. Here are the great (and not-so great) branded apps that add entertainment, utility, social value, brand extension and even commerce.
Cream of the crop
- KRAFT IFOOD
Rich, engaging and travels easily from pantry to grocery store to kitchen stove, all while building and strengthening brand loyalty.
- DUNKIN' DONUTS DUNKIN' RUN
Not just a coffee and doughnuts ordering tool, this app announces to friends/co-workers that you're on a run. Captures all orders and you, "the hero," pick them up. Clever combo of utility and social. Now if they'd just integrate a payment system so you don't get stuck footing the bill.
- BENJAMIN MOORE BEN COLOR CAPTURE
Using the camera feature on the iPhone 3GS, it snaps a picture of anything and finds a Ben paint color match. Closing the loop, GPS points renovators to the nearest Ben store.
New and interesting
- PEPSI ROCK BAND
This just-launched app is still fairly novelty-driven, with users putting their own mugs on the "Rock Band" cast. But it does play into the bigger Pepsi co-marketing campaign promoting the "Rock Band" game and gets kudos for good use of partnering with MTV.
- CHIPOTLE ORDERING
Pizza Hut was first with app-based fast-food ordering, but Chipotle's recently relaunched app has users raving as they bypass long lines for Tex Mex.
Oldies, but goodies
Between Amazon apps to download reading material on the iPhone (store and reader) and Kindle electronic reader, Amazon is everywhere if you've got a few minutes to read.
Brand extension pares down the big web experience, but keeps the Facebook essence in tact and, more importantly, always accessible.
- AUDI A4 DRIVING CHALLENGE
Some 370,000 downloads in the first two weeks set the bar for branded-app success. Its early move also set the tone for auto-industry driving-game apps.
Jury's still out
- MASTERCARD PRICELESS PICKS
Gets props for solid thinking that's spot-on brand, but initial execution drummed for too many door-buster deals and not enough truly "priceless" finds.
- CHARMIN SIT OR SQUAT
Great idea for finding nearby facilities, but the Charmin brand is completely absent from the App Store (you can't even find it by searching for Charmin). However, once loaded onto your phone, Charmin ads fly. Would love more transparency up front.
Not so much
- WARNER BROS. DARK KNIGHT
The app adds dark circles and snarly red Batman decals and scars all over your own or friends' faces when you "Jokerize" them. Harmless fun, but did it sell any tix? Not available anymore.
- PEDIGREE SHAKE AND BARK
Take your dog's picture, record its bark and you can ... shake to replay it? It's got a cute name, and dog lovers can take a piece of their pup to work, but the features feel a bit lame. Plus, doesn't it freak out the dog?