smart phone

Big brands go mobile – even if they don’t know why

smart phoneThe list of brands out there with an app has a lot of girth to it, and is growing faster than a snotty little girl who just ate the 3 course dinner piece of gum. Unfortunately, not all of them are doing something unique, usable, or even all that interesting, and ends up being another case of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” The most successful apps serve a purpose, fill a void, are radically different than anything else (Flipboard), or are successfully aimed at the community (Alien Blue)in which it was meant to serve. It’s a simple formula to imagine, but it’s incredibly difficult to hit center-mass, and most miss even the most carefully placed dog-targets.

It’s easy to look at huge numbers and say these are the brands that uncorked a whopper, I mean just take a gander at some of these numbers (which are likely out of date):

  • Barclaycard – Waterslide – 9,800,000
  • Zippo – Virtual Lighter – 6,000,000
  • eBay – Marketplace – 4,600,000
  • Audi – A4 Driving Challenge  – 3,500,000
  • Bank of America – Mobile Banking – 3,000,000
  • Coca Cola – Spin the Bottle – 870,000
  • IBM/Amex – U.S. Open – 450,000
  • Stanley Works – Level – 400,000
  • North Face – Snow Report – 300,000
  • vitaminwater – Sound Lab – 250,000
  • Zipcar – Zipcar App – 170,000

At first glance you would say these guys all got it right, but you have to look a little deeper, and relate those numbers to the size of the user base, and the size of that Brands community. Naturally those companies with huge communities and ubiquitous brand recognition are going to have massive downloads. How else can you explain all of the downloads Coke, Spin the Bottle has received? That app is only slightly better than the iGlow stick app.

Now look at the Kmart and Sears apps, which are nothing more than another way to shop on your iPhone. What value does an app that all but replicates the shopping experience in Safari add to that brands community? Not much, and their 2.5 star rating reflects that.

So who has gotten it right? Zippo is an easy target for a brand that hit the mark. They have more than 6 million downloads on an app that basically does nothing, and provides no real value other than entertainment novelty. I know that sounds like a slam, but it doesn’t really have to be. It was something that fit perfectly into their community, and what a lot of people were looking for as a fun way to show their attachment to the iconic pocket lighter. Gap is another example with their 1969 Stream iPad app. It’s a well designed, well functioning advertising piece that is just fun to look at and flip through, and has a companion website; or the app is the companion to the website – either way, good jaeerb guys!

There are tons more, too many to list in fact, and a lot of them are really well designed and developed, and a lot of them are junk; but that’s okay. Even the failures are doing their job, and hopefully the brands are learning from them and working on doing a better job for the next rev. See, that’s the key here.

Everyone wants to be the next Angry Birds, or Victoria Secret Pink, but what they lose sight of is that they really need to just be themselves, and be true to the personality of their brand. Getting caught up in being the next “big thing” is only going to get you so far. Failure is always an option.

So what am I saying here? I’m saying do your homework, and eat your veggies. Do the research. Spend some money, and build something your kids would want to use. Find a void and fill it with your app. Do something ridiculous and borderline crazy just to see what happens. But know why you’re doing it, and it can’t be because your competitors are. If that’s the only reason, then you might as well just follow the rest of the Lemmings……