Brand advocacy: It's the engine that drives successful marketing programs, especially in today's Facebook status update and tweet-driven world. It's why marketers are tasked with figuring out how to harness the power of social media to run successful multichannel campaigns.
But major brand advocacy can be difficult to achieve organically, especially in densely crowded industries with numerous brands competing for consumers' loyalty and attention.
Companies take various approaches -- some more successful than others -- but a newer method has emerged that enables companies to seep into consumers' minds without forcing their way in: corporate-branded apps.
Unlike more traditional mobile initiatives -- advertising, SMS campaigns, and check-in reward programs -- corporate-branded apps are designed to equip consumers with useful information or educational content about the company. Think instructional content, product tips and tricks, how-to's, and DIY information that help the customer learn how to more effectively use the product or integrate it in their life. This strategy gradually expands consumer affinity for the brand and ramps up the frequency of shared brand information via social networks.
Examples of corporate-branded apps
One popular corporate-branded app using such an approach is Robitussin's "Relief Finder," a simple mobile app that helps consumers quickly identify the right over-the-counter cold and flu product based on their symptoms. Paint seller Benjamin Moore employs a similar app that lets home improvement do-it-yourselfers easily match the color palette of an image stored on their device to the brand's 3,300 paint colors.
In some cases, branded apps are less directly tied to the company's product or service offerings. For example, State Farm's "MoveTools" app gives consumers an interactive planner to orchestrate the complex details associated with residential moving.
Although "MoveTools" contains a clickable section for State Farm's branded sales content, the button is inconspicuous and secondary -- the app's primary purpose isn't converting sales, but generating positive experiences that users will attach to the State Farm brand.
At its core, the concept of a corporate-branded app is rooted in educational marketing and the notion that an educated consumer is an engaged consumer. Using app technology, brands outfit consumers with the information they need to appreciate the brand's value and ultimately recommend the brand to their personal networks.
Key marketing benefits of corporate-branded apps
Although the anticipated outcomes tied to corporate-branded apps must be tailored to organizational objectives, apps can be used to achieve specific benefits in the marketplace:
Corporate-branded apps present brands to the right people at the right times. The apps are strategic in the sense that they create targeted brand exposure at calculated moments. For example, even though State Farm's "MoveTools" app is available to any mobile user, it targets new homeowners -- many of whom are in the market for a new home insurance provider.
The most successful corporate-branded apps are offered to consumers free of charge despite the company's investment in development and deployment. Why? It's important to install the app on as many mobile devices as possible and to measure ROI in terms of brand advocacy gains and other measurable conversion points in the app, rather than attempting to offset costs through the app sales.
Corporate-branded apps result in new brand advocates. The app design and development process presents many opportunities for brands to wander off course. Often times, this is when the app's primary purpose is sacrificed for a range of additional features and auxiliary outcomes. From start to finish, the creation of a consumer-focused app needs to be centered on a singular end-goal: creating new brand advocates.
If the corporate-branded app is focused on filling a market niche and solving a unique consumer problem, the app will inevitably deliver a new generation of brand advocates. But because many apps are abandoned soon after they are downloaded, effective corporate-branded apps need to be designed to have lasting value and feature easy-to-use social sharing tools that streamline the acquisition of new brand advocates.
Corporate-branded apps reinforce the brand's core qualities. A well-designed corporate-branded app features clear and consistent brand messaging. In today's marketplace, it's more important (and more difficult) than ever to maintain brand integrity across multiple marketing channels, including branded apps that have been designed to further the organization's brand advocacy agenda.
Corporate-branded apps that attempt to introduce new brand characteristics or traits usually end up overreaching and turning consumers off. Ideally, corporate-branded apps reinforce the qualities that consumers already associate with the brand. As a result, the consumers' perceptions about the brand are confirmed and their connection to the brand is strengthened, making it easier for them to recommend the brand to others.
Corporate-branded apps differentiate the brand in the market and the industry. Even successful brands struggle to be heard above the roar of today's competitive marketplace. Because mobile content delivery is still a nascent technology, corporate-branded apps automatically deliver competitive advantages against the large number of companies that aren't currently using apps to connect with consumers.
More importantly, corporate-branded apps can be used to communicate critical and unique brand elements to a broad cross-section of consumers. In many cases, the educational and information capabilities of a robust corporate-branded app can simplify complex product offerings and position the brand as a consumer-friendly alternative to other companies operating in the same space.
Corporate-branded apps provide real-time, actionable analytics. It's important for marketers to remember that apps can facilitate a two-way flow of information. While the app presents valuable information to consumers, it can also deliver actionable analytics back to the company.
Incorporating analytical tools into the app-design process produces visibility regarding the volume of consumers who use the app to visit the company website or make a conversion. Instructional content or product information that is accessed more often than other pieces of content in the app may shed light on messaging or training deficiencies in materials the company produces. Other analytical functions, including Owl.ly and similar social media tracking tools, can be used to help the brand achieve even greater gains in the areas of brand exposure and advocacy.
Connecting the dots
The connection between corporate-branded apps and brand advocacy has already captured the attention of companies like State Farm, Benjamin Moore Paints, Nike, and Reebok.
However, deployments of corporate-branded apps are still too few and far between, and consequently, many brand-conscious companies are literally leaving money on the table when it comes to the potential gains that could be achieved through expanded brand advocacy.
Companies interested in launching corporate-branded app development projects need to approach the process from a consumer-centric perspective, populating their apps with content that is relevant, timely, and actionable.
At the same time, these companies need to focus on strengthening the brand's core characteristics and communicating value propositions (sometimes subtly) to the brand's customer base. Companies that fail to maintain brand consistency in the deployment of branded apps run the risk of alienating segments of the marketplace.
It is critical for brands to incorporate strong analytics and tracking features. Armed with detailed information about the ways consumers interact with both the branded app and the brand itself, companies can become better equipped to create new brand advocates through opportunities in the mobile space.
Chad Udell is managing director of Float Mobile Learning.
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