Want a Deeper Connection? Apps Are Where It's At

Marketers Go Beyond Text Alerts, Mobile Websites to Offer Richer, More-Engaging Experiences

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Richard Ting
Richard Ting
Got time to kill?

Use your phone to catch up on the latest news from The New York Times while waiting in line at the grocery store -- or in the service-free subway. Trade stocks while spending an afternoon in the park. Immediately find the best restaurants within a five-block radius while traveling in an unfamiliar city. Or pass the time doodling on a digital scribble pad during those late-evening conference calls.

All are examples of mobile applications that are making our lives more convenient -- and amusing -- by providing easy access to information and entertainment. In our busy lives, applications make us more efficient and make time pass more enjoyably.

And while many mobile marketers are focusing on creating SMS-text-alert programs with marginal impact and shallow mobile campaign sites, savvy marketers are realizing that mobile applications can be a great way to create significant lifts in brand affinity, brand recall and future purchase intent.

Providing this value creates deeper connections between brands and their customers. As the capabilities of mobile applications have become more advanced in the past year, brands and agencies have positioned themselves to create more-compelling user experiences on mobile devices. These branded applications, in turn, help enrich service offerings that handset manufacturers are already providing to customers, such as Apple's App Store on iTunes and Nokia's WidSets.

As a result, handset manufacturers are creating easier-to-use software-development kits -- which provide the infrastructure and tools developers need to create cool applications -- and easier means of distribution to provide brands and ad agencies with the tools needed to create richer, targeted experiences.

Limitless opportunities
The opportunities will become limitless. Brands that leverage the full power of mobile applications will be able to integrate features directly with a mobile phone's contact list, embedded GPS, camera and other native capabilities. That's the big difference between building an application for an operating system and a device and building a mobile website. Additionally, because mobile applications can take great advantage of a phone's memory and processor, they will provide better data-streaming capabilities for users to consume high-fidelity content.

When creating branded mobile applications, the goal should be to provide true service and utility to consumers, not to inundate them with disruptive marketing messages.

One strong example is the recently launched AOL Radio for the iPhone. This free download from Apple's App Store allows users to easily discover music by getting access to more than 200 radio stations and 25 genres streamed directly to their phones.

Richard Ting is VP-executive creative director of R/GA's Mobile and Emerging Platforms Group. He carries a Nokia N95, an Apple iPhone and a BlackBerry Curve. His favorite applications are Nokia's Step Counter and Sports Tracker.
Just imagine you are a huge New York Knicks fan, and you are traveling for business in Portland but you can't wait until you get home to hear fan reaction to the Knicks' latest trade. Well, thanks to the burgeoning world of mobile applications, now you can crack open your iPhone, launch your AOL Radio application and tune in to your favorite New York sports radio station, 660 WFAN, as if you were still walking the streets of Brooklyn.

And even though this mobile application doesn't directly affect any commerce sales for AOL, continued engagement with it can generate increases in brand affinity, brand recall and future purchase intent for AOL's new and existing consumers.

Another great example of branded mobile applications is Widgetvine, created by the Vodafone research and development group and based on the Nokia Web Run-Time platform. Widgetvine is a suite of mobile widgets (aka applications) available for free download on any S60 Nokia device, and they serve as an invaluable tool for Vodafone consumers and Nokia-device owners. The various widgets allow users to stay up-to-date on the latest news, buy movie tickets, or check departure and arrival times for different airlines.

As the mobile-application world grows, handset manufacturers and wireless carriers will play instrumental roles in driving the growth, creation and adoption of mobile applications. Just recently in the U.S., T-Mobile announced plans to open an iPhone-like app store for every phone on its network. Like the handset manufacturers, wireless carriers see mobile applications not just as a great service offering for consumers but also as a huge opportunity for additional revenue streams. As a result, wireless carriers are also working to clear the runway for mobile applications to take off.

Overall, this is fantastic news for brands and ad agencies looking to strengthen their brand presences and relevance through mobile applications. But in order for agencies to be successful, they'll need to start staffing up with designers and developers who are equipped to create the next generation of relevant mobile marketing vis-à-vis service-oriented mobile applications.

The consumers are waiting.
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