Best Practices: How to Use Apps to Drive Loyalty and Revenue

Lessons from Three Brands That Have Been Successful with Mobile Apps

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"The best marketing doesn't feel like marketing." This is a quote from Tom Fishburne, the famous "marketoonist" who knows first-hand how marketing sneaks into consumers' everyday lives. In our highly connected world, everything is marketing, or has the potential to be. And the most adept companies utilize non-traditional avenues for the best and most effective marketing strategies.

The best brands pair tried-and-true marketing strategies with cutting-edge app innovation to engage consumers like never before, bringing a high level of engagement and good old-fashioned buzz. Starbucks, Nike and Sephora are brand innovators that use branded apps as a platform for connection, brand loyalty and most importantly, to create a unique and exciting consumer experience.


Starbucks is a company that is winning at mobile. Roughly 21% of its total revenue comes from mobile payments alone. These are numbers meant for a tech giant, which Starbucks is mimicking pretty darn well.

Starbucks mobile app
Starbucks mobile app Credit: Starbucks

Starbucks assembled an all-star technology team to create a payment system that uses a 2D barcode scanner in the app that works with POS systems at each Starbucks store. The Starbucks app goes hand-in-hand with the "My Starbucks Rewards" loyalty program, which currently holds $1.2 billion of customer funds. Customers can load money onto it and when used, they earn points (called "stars") and other rewards, promotions and offers exclusive to members.

The Starbucks branded app allows customers to load money, get exclusive deals and even pay for coffee or baked goods before they get to their local Starbucks store (then jump the line when they arrive). Within the user's "feed" in the app, there are announcements about new drinks and the option to order them within the app. There are promotions for Starbucks' exclusive music and the option to listen to samples of songs, directly within the app.

Starbucks geniously takes traditional brand promotion with its loyalty program and combines it with forward-thinking app innovation to create diehard customer loyalty. Starbucks gives consumers a feeling of exclusivity with the app's original content and level of rewards given. This creates a unique customer experience that keeps consumers engaged and excited for more.


In the 80s and 90s, one of Nike's biggest marketing strategies was sponsoring big-name athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Now, with Nike's history of success with branded mobile apps, marketing is all about connecting directly with consumers in order to inspire action.

Nike first developed a branded app a decade ago, in 2006, for the iPod. It was a tracking software and sensor for runners. Between then and now, Nike has developed a few other apps: Nike+ for runners, Nike+ Training Club and Nike+ Fuel Lab, which all assist runners and athletes in tracking their progress by setting goals, tailoring workouts and the ability to socially share their efforts with their online community.

Collectively, these apps boast a user base of over 28 million people. That is 28 million people to which the brand has direct access. With this greater customer intimacy, Nike gains invaluable insights and information about its user base. With access to all this information, Nike could have used it to aggressively drive sales from the app, but instead has brilliantly created a real athlete community by means of its apps. Through this genuine community Nike has built from the ground up, it fosters intense brand loyalty which translates to revenue down the line.


Beauty brand Sephora has raised the app bar to impressive heights with its innovative and highly interactive app experience. The two latest features have gotten a lot of attention: the "Beauty Uncomplicator" and the "Swipe it, Shop it" feature. The "Beauty Uncomplicator" is a fun, fill-in-the-blank approach to finding the right beauty product. The "Beauty Uncomplicator" uses Tinder's design, whereby users can swipe left or right if they like the "look" with which they are presented.

The app's other interactive features include the "Product Try-On" and "Virtual Tutorials" by which users can virtually try on products like false eyelashes and lipstick to see what different products would actually look like on their faces. Deborah Yeh, senior VP-marketing for the beauty brand, says these highly interactive features on the app aren't just part of a marketing campaign, but all about the user's experience. No matter what interactive feature the user is playing with, there is always an option to purchase the product within the app.

As Snapchat continues to capture the younger generation's attention with silly interactive augmented reality, Sephora understands consumers' desire for AR in real purchasing decisions, which it delivers brilliantly in its interactive and feature-rich branded app.

This is the future

Starbucks, Nike and Sephora show us (and the world) how branded apps can be a sales, marketing and customer engagement tool all in one. These three companies strive for old-fashioned brand loyalty by means of their innovative apps with features that range from an advanced ecommerce payment system to augmented beauty reality to fitness tracking systems. Brands that wish to grow can't ignore their innovation strategy in regard to mobile apps.

However, having a branded app is not the only way top-tier brands can thrive in this mobile and app marketing age. Always remember the end clientele, the context of your product, why it is used, what benefit it brings, and what pain point it eases. These classic marketing questions are key, as ads have become more intimate than ever, entering the sanctuary of our mobile phones. With companies competing for limited consumer attention, we will see more and more original and cutting-edge branding strategies vying for loyalty, swipes and clicks.

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