For most business owners, mobile apps are an irrelevant medium or even a distraction. But today, smart brands all around the world are realizing the true value of the app and creating high-quality app experiences that users love. And the studies show that this strategy – brand building through app development – is paying off. One Indiana University study found that consumers were more likely to buy products from certain brands after using branded apps. Large corporations like Starbucks, Nike, Best Buy, and 7 Eleven are using branded apps to build and maintain awareness – and these international brands wouldn't continue to invest in apps if they weren't seeing returns. The Starbucks app, for instance, has been downloaded over 10 million times. So how can a mobile app help you to build your brand and increase consumer awareness? Here are just a few ways that an app can get the word out and create a compelling brand experience.
The Emerging Market of “Benevolent” Business Apps
Businesses today are creating valuable apps as a means of interacting with their target markets, for the same reason that they created and distributed company calendars, refrigerator magnets, and other memorabilia in the past. An app serves as an additional platform for engaging with your target market, and just like giving away free calendars, these new apps are created as a means of fostering trust. Benevolent apps contain few (if any) advertisements, and instead focus on providing useful information and helping users make decisions.
Building Trust from the First Use
Building a strong brand is all about creating trust. The more your target audience trusts you, the more receptive they'll be to future sales pitches. When it comes to mobile apps, a great company app can help you to demonstrate your brand's commitment to your audience. A great app will have a splash page (an additional screen that is displayed upon first use) that gives the user vital information about how the app behaves. This splash page is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your brand value and your app's value. With a well-designed and properly written splash page, you'll show your users what your brand stands for, how your business helps consumers, and why people should trust you – in other words, you can show users your whole brand in just one page.
Unique Value: The Key to a Great Brand-Building App
When creating an app to communicate your brand, it's important to always ensure that you offer great value. If people have made the effort to download your app, it means they're looking for an immersive and convenient experience – one that they can't find on your website. If you can't deliver on that expectation – if your mobile app is simply a reiteration of your website – then you'll quickly see your users abandon your app, which undermines the goal of fostering trust. You'll want to give your users a reason to keep coming back to your app and a reason to feel your app is valuable. That means instead of sending push notifications full of irrelevant offers, you'll want to create an app that offers something your audience wants. Your push notifications and other in-app messages should contain highly specific, individually customized messages that users will find relevant – such as special offers or useful hints that relate to the user's most recent purchase or most recently viewed product.
The Value Hierarchy: Information, Function, Entertainment
When it comes to creating an app that gets shared, builds brand awareness, and actually engages users in a novel or exciting way, it's important to understand the mobile app value hierarchy. Researchers at Indiana University and Murdoch University in Australia have found that there is a specific and well-defined hierarchy that emerges when users are engaging with an app.
Using measures of user engagement like heart rate and skin conductance, the researchers found that informational apps provide more engagement than simple games or entertainment-oriented apps. The researchers say that an informational app elicits a deeper user connection because it causes the user to reflect on his life and apply it to the app.
One Kraft app, for instance, provided users with cooking advice, while a Target app allowed users to access deals and product reviews by scanning bar codes. The researchers also studied an app by The Gap, which allowed users to dress a virtual model, and a BMW app, which gives users the ability to create and drive a virtual automobile. The study found that the Kraft and Target apps drove higher engagement than the Gap and BMW apps, probably because the Kraft and Target apps were more useful and practical.
To build a great brand experience, then, businesses should focus on information and function rather than entertainment.
The Paradoxical Effect of Giving Away Information for Free
Most traditional marketers and business owners would argue that simply giving away valuable information about an industry is poor business – after all, clients pay for that kind of information during consultations, and it's said that giving away information can undercut business. The common example is that of a towing company that provides free information about how to avoid car accidents.
But there's something remarkable that happens when you give away information for free. It convinces your target market that your business is reliable and positions you as a knowledgeable expert. The average consumer is a busy person and doesn't typically have the time, skill, or interest to apply the information you might give them in an app. But they will remember that you provided that information, and they'll trust you as a result. And when you combine brand awareness with consumer trust, you get inquiries.
Building a brand is a challenging feat, but there are lots of new and emerging technologies and media that can make it easier. A quality branded app is just one way to demonstrate your business' value proposition, build consumer trust, and provide value. With a high-quality mobile app that provides users with useful information and practical functions, you can boost brand awareness and complete half the sales process before your prospects even walk in the door.