Direct marketing? There’s an app for that

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The iPhone boasts applications for just about everything, from counting calories to editing photos and playing virtual musical instruments. As forward-thinking companies probe this platform for new ways to generate sales, engage customers and collect marketing opt-ins, there just might be a number of applications for direct marketing, too.

Though most corporate iPhone applications to date have primarily served as branding vehicles, Michael Radigan, VP-interactive and technology at Javelin Direct, said the platform has definite potential for direct marketing. What’s more, iPhone and other mobile application marketing campaigns actually require a healthy dose of direct response methodology to perform to their fullest potential.

“This is an addressable market,” Radigan said. “There are plenty of cool, hip companies that can deploy a very cool iPhone app. … But at the end of the day, it starts to fall flat because they don’t have the experience or intellectual knowledge to integrate that direct response technique.”

According to Radigan, many branded applications start out as a way to expand or enhance existing Web functionalities for a mobile audience.

“If [companies] have a store locator functionality, maybe they’re creating an iPhone app that has a store locator and can tie into GPS,” he said. “They’ll be able to see an ROI pretty immediately and … already have a lot of that backend infrastructure completed.”

But opportunities for more robust, sales-oriented apps are emerging.

“Sales-oriented apps can take many approaches, such as ‘configurators,’ ROI calculators or applications that give quick access to vital information,” said Arve Overland, CEO-executive creative director at Overland Agency.

Overland is currently working on one application that leverages the iPhone’s geo-targeting capabilities to take its client’s couponing to the next level.

“We’re … developing an app that targets coupons to people based on nearby, real-time store inventories. So people who live near a specific store that has a specific, relevant product may very well get an app coupon for that item, alerting them to local availability,” said Jiro Feingold, engineering and IT director at Overland. “That’s a win-win for the retailer and the person who wants to save on that item.”

Direct marketing titan Publishers Clearing House recently launched two iPhone applications designed to introduce the brand to a new audience of young, tech-savvy consumers. The first, unveiled June 2, is a trivia game produced in partnership with social media site Consumers who download the free app can test their knowledge in 14 different categories, earning points toward opportunities to spin a PCH Winning Wheel to win cash and other prizes.

On June 6, Publishers Clearing House released a second iPhone application, a PCH Slots game developed with Griffin Technology. The company also debuted an iPhone-optimized mobile Web site this month.

Publishers Clearing House collects e-mail opt-ins as part of the registration process for its iPhone applications. But at this stage, it does not plan to market to the audience aggressively. Rather, its goals for the iPhone focus mainly on engagement.

Alex Betancur, VP-general manager at PCH Online, said users who download Publishers Clearing House’s applications are playing them at least once a day. In addition, PCH Trivia users play an average of seven rounds each time they open the game.

In short, mobile consumers are interacting with the brand more frequently than their nonmobile counterparts—and they’re having fun while doing it.

“We have a very sophisticated and successful push direct marketing business, but these applications allow us to develop more pull-type marketing,” said Steve Brita, senior director of digital media and strategic development for Publishers Clearing House. “So far, it’s been very successful.”

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