iMedia Connection

How 10 apps became indispensable to moms

iMedia Editors

These days, moms and mobile apps go together like peanut butter and jelly. If that's news to some app developers, it shouldn't be: Moms may not be the classic early adopter demographic, but they are a powerful force when it comes to mobile...And the numbers are impressive.

Last year, eMarketer and Baby Center, a network of interactive properties geared to the mom demo, teamed up to study how moms were using smartphones. The report found that 60 percent of moms were smartphone users, compared to just half of the general population. More importantly, moms were actually using the capabilities of their smartphones at a higher rate.

"Mothers were significantly more likely to access games, social media, and health information, and somewhat more likely to check the weather, listen to music or shop via mobile," eMarketer reported.

But while moms are certainly heavy smartphone users -- spending an average of 6.1 hours per day with their phones -- their use patterns aren't the same as other demographics.

"[Moms] underindexed on accessing content like maps, productivity tools, and financial and business information, suggesting they're sticking to activities to help -- or help occupy -- their families," eMarketer reported.

Of course, that information begs the question, which apps do moms really love? We found ten examples that really speak to the mom set. Some are mom-specific, while others may surprise you. Some are branded and some aren't. Either way, if you're a mobile marketer and you're not thinking about the mom demographic, it's time to start, and these ten examples will help you nurture that big idea.

Kraft iFood Assistant

Kraft's" iFood Assistant" has long been a favorite among mobile moms. But the app's popularity isn't surprising. For the most part, Kraft made a functional product that helps busy moms organize their shopping list and plan weeknight meals. That part was a no-brainer, and Kraft knocked it out of the park.

But the app is also a good source for inspiration because it integrates chef Marcus Samuelsson's recipes from his family cookbook "Big Fork Little Fork." Here's Samuelsson talking about how culinary apps can help moms bring their kids into the kitchen.

While it's easy to see why Kraft's "iFood Assistant" is a hit with moms, it's actually a little surprising to that the app got widespread distribution in the first place. When Kraft first launched the app several years ago, it charged users a few dollars for the privilege of engaging with branded content. Despite bucking the conventional wisdom back then, Kraft managed to pull off something of a coup. In 2009, Ad Age reported that" iFood Assistant" was not only one of the "coolest apps" on the iPhone, it had actually become one of the most popular paid apps, landing at No. 2 in the lifestyle category.

"With its endeavor, Kraft is pulling off a rare trick: getting consumers to pay a one-time 99-cent fee for the app and also sit through ads on it. And in the process, it's collecting useful data for targeting them more closely," Ad Age reported. "The lesson: When a marketer creates something that's actually useful, consumers don't really see it as straight marketing, or they're at least willing to accept advertising as the payoff."

Today, however, the app is free. And in the three years since Kraft cracked the iPhone's top 100 paid apps list, the real takeaway is utility. Kraft proved that it could charge for a branded product, but perhaps more importantly the brand proved that it could make a product worth charging for.

Target for iPad

Virtually all of the big box stores have mobile apps, and a lot them are aimed at moms. But "Target for iPad" is especially noteworthy because it closes the loop so well. Using a dedicated mobile experience, Target allows moms to claim ads sent to their mobile devices, add the item to their shopping list, and check out (without using cash.) Taking mobile one step further, Target also rewards moms for using the brand's mobile channels by regularly throwing out mobile-only deals.

Other popular features include "voice recognition", which helps moms go hand-free while shopping; and "find in store," which can save busy moms the hassle of a fruitless trip by allowing them to see whether or not the item they want to buy is in stock. If the item isn't available at your local store, the app will tell you which nearby store does have it, and what aisle you can find the item in. The app is also incredibly functional for moms who want to dig deeper on a particular product. "Target for iPad" features and easy to use price-checking tool and it integrates reviews from other Target shoppers so moms can crowd-source quality before they buy.

Target launched the app back in 2010. At that time, Target.com president Steve Eastman identified the weekly ad and the app's list-making functionality as key features that the brand hoped would help it connect with it customers, especially moms. While Target managed to hit the ground running, the app has been successful because it continues to build on those core functions. In fact, the app is so functional that one reviewer who rated the app as five stars, had only one complaint: "The app doesn't integrate with the wedding registry," she wrote. Naturally, there's always room for improvement, but Target has won moms over by recognizing that and delivering more and better functionality with each version. Take a look at the screen shot below, and you'll see that weddings are now part of the app.

Starbucks

Starbucks isn't a brand that markets exclusively to moms, but that doesn't mean moms can't appreciate their products because, whether they're coffee drinkers or not, Starbucks is a big part of the daily routine for many of today's busy moms.

To start, "Starbucks" just plain makes life easier with a mobile payment system that turns a mom's smartphone into her wallet. That's a feature any mobile user can enjoy at a Starbucks store, but the app also works at Starbucks kiosks located at Safeway and Target stores, allowing moms to construct -- and pay for -- the beverage of their choice while doing their household shopping.

The app also allows moms to store their favorite drinks, making it even easier to make that purchase. And to reward users for using the app over and over again, Starbucks has a loyalty program that offers free drinks for those who accumulate enough points. Lastly, the app is also a good resource for nutritional information on all the food and beverages sold at Starbucks, making it easier for busy moms to keep an eye on what their family eats and drinks.

But it's not all about utility at Starbucks. With the goal of "surprising and delighting" its customers during the holiday season, Starbucks launched a family-friendly augmented reality app that animates the brand's iconic cups with one of five characters -- an ice skater, a squirrel, a boy and a dog sledding, and a fox. Here's a video demonstrating the app. While it's clearly accessible for any Starbucks customer, it's easy to see how this quick, bit-sized piece of mobile branded entertainment would be a big hit with moms who want to keep their kids occupied and engaged while they recharge with some caffeine.

Hashtag Mom

It's ten o'clock, do you know where your kids are? Moms who use the "Hashtag Mom" app do.

While it's not a branded app, "Hashtag Mom" is one of those deliciously simple ideas that borders on brilliance because it solves an obvious problem -- how does a mom check in on her kids when they're not quite old enough to fly solo, but a few years past needing mom for every social outing? In fact, the app is so simple and straightforward that it begs the question -- why didn't a mom-focused brand think of it first? After all, had a brand built "Hashtag Mom," the app could have scored them a free media bonanza on sites like TechCrunch, MSN, and CNET, to name just a few.

Here's how the app works. Using FourSquare's location-based service, the app allows kids to check in anywhere with the message "#mom." After that, mom gets either a call or text -- her choice! -- to let her know that her child is safe.

Any app that helps moms and their teenage kids avoid scenes like the one depicted below has got to be indispensible. And for brand marketers looking to use mobile to connect with moms, this relatively simple, straightforward app is a case study in utility. Reportedly, the app was built as a "fun side project" to help the developers who made it wrap their heads around the Twilio/Foursquare APIs that power it. But it just as easily have been built by asking a group of moms what their top five concerns were about their teenage kids and then building a solution to address that enduring question: Where are my kids?

Doodle Kids

Sometimes the best apps for a busy mom is the one that can keep her kids entertained and engaged while she's doing one of the million other things she needs to do. While there are a lot of kid-friendly apps that offer mindless entertainment, "Doodle Kids," a bare bones color drawing program, has a couple of unique things going for it.

First, a 9-year-old kid invented the app. That's a pretty cool story in its own right. But that simple fact speaks volumes to any mom who wants to know whether or not her kids will actually like it. Secondly, the graphics, which mimic Apple's old IIGS computer, have a distinctive retro look that manages to engage and amuse kids while giving today's moms a feeling of nostalgia.

But at its core, "Doodle Kids" is instructive for any brand trying to connect with mobile apps because it proves that you don't necessarily have to be flashy to be a hit. Instead, "Doodle Kids" does one thing really well -- it lets you draw. That's it. The app works because it has a laser-like focus on its core function, and doesn't try to be all things to all users. And from a mom's perspective, that makes "Doodle Kids" incredibly simple to vet.

Most entertainment apps come with a universe of options. But that tends to mean that they require some serious investigative time for moms concerned about content. "Doodle Kids," by contrast, allows for an unlimited number of drawings, but in a uniformly G-rated experience. And it encourages active creativity, making it an entertainment app with serious education credentials. The only question is, why didn't a marker or pen brand get their first?

BabyConnect

A mother's intuition can't be replaced, but it can be augmented with some serious data. That may sound a little too geeky for some moms. However, "BabyConnect" does a good job of making a data-driven tool for child rearing accessible. Or, as one mom blogger described the app, "it's pretty slick."

In a nutshell, the app allows moms to track things like food, drink, diapers, sleep, mood, activities, and temperature. That information can be used to chart a baby's development over time, and the app can generate a range of reports and charts for the geekiest moms. But the app is also a valuable tool for working moms because it allows caregivers to post the information, which is then published to a feed moms can access from the office. The app also stores important contact information relating to the child, so that doctors, grandparents, and anyone else a mom might need to reach in an emergency is available at the press of a button. And if things are going well, the app also allows caregivers to share things like photos and updates of the baby in real time.

But what makes "BabyConnect" such a hit with moms isn't just what it does -- which clearly speaks to a practical need -- it's that the app is ridiculously simple to use. Clear icons and a logical user experience mean that "BabyConnect" does a lot without asking a lot from moms who may not have the time to learn the quirks of a new app.

Mint

Kids are expensive and time-consuming, so a free app that helps manage your finances is a godsend to any busy mom. There are a lot of financial tools out there, but "Mint" was the only one to make the "best apps for moms" on the She Knows Parenting blog.

So what makes "Mint" such a winner? First, the app takes only about five minutes to set up. That's huge for moms on the go. Second, the app is capable of centralizing all of your financial information (banking, investments, credit cards, and budgets) onto a single platform. But there's a third factor working in the app's favor -- it has gotten amazing coverage from publications that include CNET, The New York Times, ABC News, and Money. That's impressive, and obviously it speaks to the app's functionality. But it also says something to anyone building an app that touches a consumer's wallet -- it needs to work, and it needs to be trustworthy. So while it's great that "Mint" provides so much utility, its success is really about peace of mind -- something all moms crave. That's not to say that a brand couldn't build its own "Mint" competitor (a lot of financial services companies do just that.) But what peace of mind really means in this context is that moms don't just have to rely on the word of the app-maker before handing over their purse strings, they can vet the app's reliability through an overwhelming list of trusted media sources. 

Bravado

Bravado makes nursing bras, so it isn't surprising -- or a reach -- for the brand to have a mobile app that helps moms find locations that are friendly for breastfeeding. In fact, it's a perfect example of an app being totally on brand. But three things really set "Your Breastfeeding Friendly Locator" apart and make it a hit with moms.

First, the app serves an obvious need. Finding places to breastfeed isn't easy. And the difficulty of breastfeeding while away from home is something a lot of moms talk about, even though few brands take the time to listen. That's where Bravado won big with this app. They listened to an ongoing conversation moms have been having for a while, and then the brand took specific action to address a common concern: Where can you easily breastfeed while outside of the home?

Second, the app's content is driven by moms, for moms. Locations are selected and rated by the user community, which also has the ability to share tips and reviews on some of their favorite finds. Crowdsourcing makes the information highly useful, but it also gives moms a sense of the wider Bravado community, which in turn fosters a deeper connection to the brand.

Third, Bravado really understands outreach to mom bloggers. While the brand regularly gets a lot of love from the mom blogosphere, the company also makes an effort to connect with those bloggers through its own website. Bravado regularly features dozens of guest posts from well-known mom bloggers, who share their experiences with the Bravado community. The posts offer useful tips for new moms while going easy on the marketing message. But readers who access those posts are never more than a few clicks away from downloading Bravado's app, sharing their own insights, or buying one of the company's bras. 

Hipstamatic

"Hipstamatic" isn't just an app. It's a phenomenon, one that's scored big with all kinds of groups. But while media outlets ranging from Nerdist to The New York Times have heaped a lot of praise on the app that gives digital photos that classic, analogue feel, mom-friendly publications have also endorsed the product. Parenting.com rated "Hipstamatic" among the best paid apps for moms. Likewise, mom bloggers have wholeheartedly sung the praises of "Hipstamatic." But beyond the media endorsements, the app's ability to resonate with moms should be apparent to anyone with mom friends on Facebook, where "Hipstamatic" family photos have become a content staple.

The app, which sells for $1.99, gives photos a pleasing, nostalgic style that resonates with today's moms because it elevates a seemingly thoughtless shot into something worth preserving. But the app also succeeds with moms because it makes it easy to share those photos online -- something that's a constant for any parent today. Because moms are much more likely to want to make some photos even more special by printing them, "Hipstamatic" wins again with a feature that easily lets users order physical copies of their photos.

But while "Hipstamatic" has certainly won over a great many moms, the app works hard to keep its hipster credibility intact. The creative images and copy for "Hipstamatic" speak to the hipster identity and little else. Moms, like any other group, are welcome to indulge their inner hipster and define that term however they like, but the brand's messaging is pretty straightforward. One might be tempted to tinker with that and target moms with a hip take on motherhood, but that kind of approach might just backfire. Instead, "Hipstamatic" wins big with moms (and any other group) because it maintains its cool and lets the trend setters within the mom clique find the app, rather than the other way around.  

PBS Kids

Today's moms more than likely grew up watching PBS programming. But today's kids don't just watch PBS, they interact with it thanks to the "PBS Kids" app.

The free app features thousands of clips from popular PBS shows, and according to one mom blogger it's easy for kids of all ages to navigate. Even better, the clips are tailored to bite-sized pieces of content so kids can consume them in short bursts while their moms are running errands. In fact, it's little wonder that the app is regularly part of informative local stories on how moms can keep kids occupied -- and learning -- on long road trips.

The app features content from PBS shows such as "Curious George," "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That," "Dinosaur Train," "SUPER WHY!," "Sesame Street," and "Wild Kratts."

But to win today's moms over, PBS doesn't just rely on its established brand name. Instead, PBS routinely invites mom bloggers inside the brand to see how it develops content for children. Just as important for moms in today's data-driven culture, PBS regularly shares insights on the value of getting kids to engage with educational apps. And while the primary app from "PBS Kids" features a treasure trove of video goodies, it's particularly noteworthy that the PBS brand is quickly expanding its arsenal of kid-friendly, mom-approved apps. According to this Forbes story, PBS announced two new apps at the 2012 SXSW.

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