Mobile apps act as tools for business users

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Most media apps fall into one of two categories—news feeds in text and/or video form or digital replicas of print products. These apps enable audiences to access the content of their favorite media brands wherever and whenever they choose. Because of their intimate knowledge of the specific ways their audience members and advertisers conduct business, though, business media companies also have opportunities to build mobile applications that act as tools to help users perform specific business functions. Ascend Integrated Media, Farm Journal Media, Farm Progress Cos. and Hanley Wood, among others, have introduced such apps. ??Ascend Integrated Media: Attendees and exhibitors are beginning to expect mobile apps at large conferences and trade shows, said Scott Harold, VP-digital media at Ascend Integrated Media, which has produced custom apps for more than 30 events in the past two years. These tools can provide show-goers with preconference scheduling tools; exhibitor lists and maps; conference programs and materials; the ability to sort exhibitors by relevant categories; connections to social networks; and alerts of program changes. After identifying more than 60 vendors that provide mobile apps for events, Ascend selected Sherpa Solutions. “We went to the effort to create a solution that takes advantage of [mobile devices' ability to know] where you are and what time of day it is,” Harold said. One example is a “here and now” function within the app that highlights current activities at the event site. As a custom media company, Ascend can create a single content database that seamlessly feeds such multiple media as printed show dailies, exhibit floor maps and online resource guides that stay live long after an event. Ascend can also sell sponsorships and advertising for show organizers. ??Farm Journal Media: Even though smartphone and tablet usage is growing fast, Farm Journal Media is doing very well with a product that can be accessed on a basic mobile phone. Commodity Update is a paid text-messaging service that provides multiple alerts each day on commodities prices from the Chicago Board of Trade. “The mobile phone is still a huge medium; 96% of mobile phones can send and receive text messages,” said Mitch Rouda, president-e-media at Farm Journal Media. Commodity Update subscriptions cost $100 per year per user, but a large portion of those subscriptions is paid for by sponsors as a benefit to customers and prospects, Rouda said. The end user can choose among nine alerts per day, and each will include the name of the sponsor. Sponsors are also able to send a small number of additional text messages about their own products and programs. ??Farm Progress Cos.: Among the seven apps Farm Progress currently offers is the Farm Progress Growing Degree Days (GDD) app for smartphones using Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Research In Motion's BlackBerry operating systems. GDDs are a measure of heat accumulation used in agriculture. Farmers use the index to plan when to apply fertilizers and pesticides, as well as to predict the optimum date for harvesting a crop. The GDD app—the first mobile app Farm Progress launched, in October 2010—uses a smartphone's GPS to calculate the GDD for a specific crop in a specific location. The app generates data, updated daily, for locations in the 48 contiguous states. Data displays include comparisons of the current and prior years' GDD stats. Jeffrey Jackson, national accounts manager at Farm Progress, said GDD is one of the company's most successful apps in terms of user adoption and revenue. Developed by iNet Solutions Group, the app is monetized by a single sponsorship from Monsanto Co. “The addition of apps to our product line delivers more options for our clients and a new profit center,” Jackson said. ??Hanley Wood: Hanley Wood's Remodeling launched its Remodeling Cost vs. Value iPhone/iPad app early last year. Its content is based on the “Cost vs. Value Report” Hanley Wood has been publishing for about 25 years in association with two partners, said Rick Strachan, group president-residential remodeling at Hanley Wood. The app has a single sponsor, Marvin Windows and Doors. Using the app, a remodeler or consumer can compare the average cost for 35 different remodeling projects (from a bathroom remodel to a two-story home addition) within 80 different geographic markets (from Albany, N.Y., to Worcester, Mass.). Along with the average cost of a given project in the selected city, the app provides the average increase in home value the homeowner can expect to recoup at resale, making the Cost vs. Value app a powerful selling tool for remodelers when they are meeting prospective customers in person. By having third-party data to show, the contractor can give the consumer a level of comfort with the price of the job, as well as the improvement in resale price that helps justify the cost. The app was built by Decision Counsel. “The development was definitely more complex than a news- or magazine-type app,” Strachan said. “But we were looking to develop mobile apps that could be used as tools. If we didn't already have the data in this form, it would have been much more expensive.” The sponsorship price covered the development costs, and the sponsor has already renewed the program, he said.
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