Brands on the move

Victorinox's iPhone application allows users to try watches on virtually.

How smart phone apps can boost your business now.

Victorinox and Boucheron have one, Rolex has disputed one, but everyone is talking about brand building with mobile apps. If you don’t know your SMS from your smart phone, read on and let Andy Downham guide you through marketing of the future.

It seems that every business is jumping on the mobile app band wagon these days in an attempt to increase revenue, awareness, or in some cases just to keep up with The Jones’.

Because of this influx of companies trying to keep abreast with mobile technology, app stores play host to a raft of pointless and bug-prone programmes that should never have seen the light of day, as well the truly innovative mobile applications you would expect. So is it better to invest in a well-constructed but pricey application, or rush one out on the cheap so you at least have a presence in the store? Well, let’s just say that a badly executed app is as damaging to a brand as a great one is a benefit.

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The key to success is creating a simple-to-use, content-rich environment for users to explore. The choice is whether to spend money on short term-use applications, such as games, which can be effective for creating brand awareness, or to invest in developing smart systems that integrate with existing digital content, such as your website or promotional videos.

Many apps out there have suffered from a lack of engaging content, which can be pricey to create, but if you already have great content on your website you should be able to design an equally impressive mobile application that will grab your audience on the move.

Creating a commercial app is about the marriage between aesthetics and functionality. Images are vital in a product-focused industry, and using little tricks such as pictures that scale automatically to show more detail can be the difference between a good app and a great app. Victorinox has done this well; its iPhone app allows users to try on watches virtually by holding their iPhone, showing an image of a life-size watch, to their wrist.

Once the content is sorted, the next thing to think about is how to convert a fun app into sales. For brands, this could mean adding a store-finder function that directs customers to their nearest stockist using GPS. For retailers, this could be a transactional function that allows shoppers to buy from an online store through the app – a specialised function is needed for this as shopping as websites that are not formatted for phones are difficult to use via mobiles, making customers less likely to buy through their phones.

Many big brands have chosen to flaunt their wares through iPhone apps and some of the braver ones are exploring the newer app stores from the likes of Vodafone and Nokia. These new stores provoke an interesting dilemma: should you focus marketing spend on the established iTunes app store, which now has more than 134,000 apps but which are only compatible with a few devices, or opt for one of the new stores where apps are available for virtually any handset?

It’s worth mentioning that in sales terms Apple has only 1% of the overall device market share globally and Blackberry has 1.9%, according to the most recent figures from Deustche Bank. At the other end of the scale, the market leader by a huge margin is Nokia with 38.6%. Also, Vodafone sells handsets from many of these manufacturers, so theoretically if the Nokia and Vodafone app stores can capitalise on their huge existing market share, the smart money would be on them, but this diversity in devices is also a curse.

Despite its small market share in devices, Apple currently has a near monopoly on apps. The reason for this is simple; the other manufacturers have too many devices, they all have different sized screens, data capacity, speed restraints, and different hardware under the hood. One size fits all doesn’t work in the world of mobile apps, with some rare exceptions like Facebook and Twitter. The more you compromise on the function of an app, the worse it works, and usually looks. Apple is so successful because it has one set of rules and sticks to them. Every device is pretty much the same and therefore works the same – no compromise.

The devices we use somewhat determine the kinds of apps we download; productivity apps for business phones and more visual and entertaining apps for media devices. It’s still too early to forecast the popularity of the new app stores and the apps sold within them but I would imagine most will end up with lots of mediocre applications and a handful of well-planned, well-designed and well-executed programmes that we can all enjoy. It’s up to each business which camp you wish to fall into.


APPS ALREADY ON THE MARKET

Victorinox
This iPhone app allows fans of the brand to keep up-to-date with Victorinox news, scroll through its watch collections, view some timepieces in 3D, locate their nearest store using GPS technology and try on watches virtually by placing images of life-size timepieces against their wrists. The brand is planning to extend the app by developing a wireless application protocol website that will allow other types of mobile phones to access the tool in spring.

BOUCHERON
Like Victorinox, users who download the Boucheron iPhone app can try on jewellery and watches virtually but the brand takes it a step further by allowing users to apply the product image to a photo of themselves that can then be emailed to friends. This handy feature is a quirky way for shoppers to drop hints about presents and could lead to extra sales. It also has a fun feature that allows fans of the brand to add an image of its Paname watch to the desktop of the iPhone that acts as a clock.

NET-A-PORTER
The iPhone app by luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter, which sells jewellery brands such as Erickson Beamon and Marni, has a strong commercial focus. It is specially designed so that shoppers can quickly access a version of the site specially designed for the iPhone. Users can zoom in, check out edited picks, create wish lists, get fashion news updates, share content with friends, and, most importantly, buy through the iPhone on the move.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
While app developers will no doubt answer this question with an analogy about a piece of string, creating your own app can cost from £5,000 to £50,000 and up. It is a serious investment, but don’t be tempted to charge for it, allow customers to download it for free.

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