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Holiday apps can be risky

With the Christmas season upon us, brands in every industry are looking for ways to capitalize on the holidays – particularly in the mobile space. A lot of businesses are rushing to create a seasonal app that offers a fun or unique holiday feature – like carols, pictures or easy ways to shop and share, in an attempt to gain exposure during this festive time of year. However, many don’t understand that creating a seasonal app that lacks a plan for longevity is actually more damaging to brand equity than having not created an app at all.

There are a number of reasons why season apps that are rushed to market can be risky for a brand, including:

  • Post-holiday obsolescence: When companies stop updating an app after the holiday is over, the icon sits idle on a user’s device until deleted. Apps that are visible but un-usable can create a negative association with any brand.

  • Rushed timeline: Holiday-themed apps are often based on short-term thinking and not necessarily quality. Submitting something that isn’t polished to the App store, for example, can damage your reputation with Apple and taint future submissions of your more long term projects.

  • High cost: Brands that change their apps to fit each season can get themselves into a costly cycle – if you want to change the icon of your app, you have to change or update its function too. It’s not as simple as swapping an icon image.

  • Loss of primary market: If you develop an application that is simply not strong enough in polish, quality, entertainment value or longevity, the user will delete it from their phone. After that point, no matter how many fixes you did after the fact (remember you rushed it to market) those users are already gone and will not see your update. The biggest downside is not just the bad impression you left, but those users whom were the first to download your app are often the most likely to have brand affinity, those whom are motivated to get your application on day one. Those are not the people you want to discourage further interaction with.

While brands should carefully consider how a seasonal app will resonate with consumers, a well thought out, successful app can increase brand interaction. Some advice for the holiday season:

  • Respond to a holiday not be the holiday: Successful applications change as the seasons or holidays appear, but are not one-off events. Great examples are retailers like Target whose applications change for Christmas, but that same application moves into more of a utility mode until the next themed time such as Valentines or Father’s day.

  • Highly personalized social content: Holidays are inherently social events. Applications that allow for fun or cute pictures that are personalized see better results than stock images or canned material. For example, the sending of an e-card that is branded is old news, where as inserting the end user into the photo that goes on the card and is wrapped in a nice shell that is easily shared on Twitter, Facebook and email is a better plan. Even better is if the outgoing message encourages the recipient to respond in kind.

  • Leverage incentivized downloads: Maybe your best response is not to write or commission an application yourself, but to give a gift or incentive within an existing application. Many games for example have ad systems where the end user can receive the in-game currency for either downloading your main application or watching a holiday themed ad you produce. Why not drive your main business instead of a throw away application you might regret. Get started by looking at companies like Tapjoy and flurry.

  • Real world rewards: Think about providing real rewards to other applications. In this rather new scenario, mobile gamers can achieve real rewards from your brand, for completing objectives within the game. Your consumer feels good for obtaining the reward and you see response rates without the development cost of the application itself. Companies like kiip is a good place to start.

To ensure success, marketers should brainstorm seasonal apps in advance and work the mobile strategy into the bigger marketing plan in order to budget accordingly and prepare for potential limitations.

Having worked in software development and project management for over a decade, Scott focuses his technology insight on the quickly changing Apple market. Scott has worked with many Fortune 500 companies to bring their products to the mobile space...

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