How Mobile Apps Can Nurture Brand Loyalty: Stories From SXSWi

Brands may think they’ve got it made when they’ve enticed a customer to download and install their mobile app. After all, they’ve gotten a coveted spot on that ever-present mobile device. But there’s so much more opportunity when it comes to nurturing customer loyalty. sxsw-interactive-logoThat’s the conclusion of a panel of mobile experts who spoke at South By Southwest Interactive in Austin on Saturday.

The session, titled “Mobile loyalty lifecycle: a battle for screen-time,” featured Michael Griffith, director of user experience at WPP app development agency Bottle Rocket, along with Ken Todd of Showtime Networks and George Mudie of News Corp. UK. Alyssa Meritt, mobile strategist at agency Urban Airship, moderated.

For adults who didn’t grow up in the age of mobile phones, today’s smartphone is practically a “magic” device, says Bottle Rocket’s Griffith. But now, he says, “the magic is gone.” Users’ expectations have risen along with the new capabilities of technology, he explains. And brands must step up and deliver on those expectations.

Loyalty Redefined

Loyalty needs to be redefined in the current marketing and technology environment, Griffith contends. Rather than the consumer being loyal to the brand, he says, the brand now needs to be loyal to the consumer.

One example of being consumer-loyal would be providing hyper-customized customer service, such as using all the data now available — purchase data, behavioral data, location data, etc. — to meet consumers’ needs, perhaps even before they are aware of them.

Griffith suggests that airlines, rather than sticking with their current antiquated rewards programs, could use real-time data to identify frequent fliers more quickly — and treat them like platinum flyers immediately, rather than waiting until they hit a certain mileage level.

Rewarding Customers For Their Engagement

And rewarding consumers may be easier than you think. Showtime Networks’ VP of digital content syndication and mobile development Ken Todd said his company has seen great success using gamification within its SHO Sync iPad app, rewarding users who engage and share content by giving them points and badges.

The application is intended as a second-screen experience that users engage with when they’re watching Showtime programming on TV — it even works with time-shifted shows as well as with DVDs. Users can access additional information about the actors and engage by answering polls, predicting what will happen next, or doing a variety of other things.

The company also rewards engagement by sending out swag like t-shirts or coffee cups branded with the names of popular shows like Homeland or Dexter. “These super fans are our best advocates,” says Todd, “and they are likely to be influencers in their own communities…. Everything is shareable.” The most popular badge, interestingly enough, is the one you get for sharing.

Always Be Testing And Iterating

Those gamification elements came about only in the third generation of the SHO Sync app, however, as Showtime learned more about what its users wanted — in part by observing their behavior, but also by observing social media interactions and interviewing users about their experiences.

The company’s first tablet app had much more informational content — nearly duplicating Showtime’s web site — and Todd says, “we found that it was too much. You need to focus in and have a clear purpose for why someone would use this app. If it’s everything and the kitchen sink, they might not use it at all.”

Another panelist, News Corp’s director of digital in the UK and Ireland, George Mudie, agreed about the need for iteration and flexibility. He explained that the company originally rolled out very similar products for readers of The Sun and The Times, but found that the audiences were very different and sought different experiences.

For example, Times readers were more tablet-centric, and wanted an experience that mimicked a traditional newspaper interface, where users turn the pages. Readers of The Sun, by contrast, are more likely to use apps on a mobile phone, meaning the app’s interface had to be tailored to that smaller screen.

Bottle Rocket’s Griffith noted that it’s all right to have a product roadmap and imagine where you’d like an app to be in 12 months’ time, but as soon as the app hits the app store, you need to pay close attention to ratings and reviews and adjust your development plans accordingly. “Some of those best laid plans can go away,” he said.

The Value Of Curation

Though all of the panelists praised the power of data and personalization, they also agreed that the human touch — curation — is more effective than algorithms in delivering an effective brand experience.

“I would love to see a return to more of that curated content, bringing content to people that is guided in its purpose — to really make connections with users and to make a brand statement,” said Griffith. “Curation is part of the brand statement.”

News Corp’s Mudie agreed, giving his company’s The Times tablet app as an example. Rather than let readers customize their news experience — checking boxes so they receive news about sports but not about business, for example — Mudie says Times readers appreciate a curated experience, like that in a traditional newspaper.

times-and-sunThe editors decide what appears where, and in what order, and the readers appreciate the guidance. “Personalization is a light touch, “ said Mudie, “they don’t want the content to be personalized — they want the creator to curate the content.”

And every aspect of an app’s user experience — functionality, look, interface — also reflects the brand, which is one reason why the panelists favored apps over mobile web sites. Our focus on “brand experiences often leads to a very native approach,” said Griffith, “But I’m open [to mobile web sites], as the technology gets better.”

Just Starting Out

It’s easy to talk about learnings when you’re on your third, or greater, iteration of an app, but what about if your brand is just starting out in the mobile arena? What functionality and content do you build in? Bottle Rocket’s Griffith said it’s not an easy question to answer.

“Sometimes we have to push our clients to think about the brand equities and the brand promises that they already have in place,” he said. Marketers have to ask themselves “what space does our brand have the right to own?”

Once the app is developed and launched, both Mudie and Todd stressed the importance of utilizing existing media, rather than depending on app store discovery, to make potential users aware of the app. Mudie says each newspaper promotes apps both in the paper publication and on its web site, while Todd says Showtime has promoted its SHO Sync app during the valuable airtime just before a program runs.

But Showtime is also experimenting with promotion within other mobile apps — the official SXSW app is sponsored by Showtime, where it’s promoting a new series called Penny Dreadful. Showtime is bringing SXSW app users some experiences that are in line with the show’s themes, while also seeking to be genuinely useful.

For example, the app asks people if they’d like to turn to tarot cards to determine what to do next at the festival. It pulls in real-time data to suggest panels or recreational activities. “We added some utility but it was also fun,” said Todd, “kind of a new way to expose and bring in potential new customers.”

What’s Next?

Griffith suggests that mobile apps have a great opportunity to integrate themselves into people’s real lives, not just their digital lives or media lives.

He gives an example of a hypothetical bicycle shop that could use location data and information from in-store visits to push notification about an upcoming bicycle ride. Then, while the ride was in progress, the bike shop could use iBeacons to trigger rewards delivered via push notifications when the rider got to designated points along the way.

“Apps shouldn’t be stand alone experiences,” Griffith contends, “it should be an integrated experience…. brand experience should tie into real life environments.”

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile Marketing | Content Marketing | SXSW | Top News

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About The Author: is executive features editor of Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported on, written about and worked in digital media and marketing for more than 10 years. She is a previous managing editor of ClickZ and has worked on the other side of digital publishing, helping independent publishers monetize their sites in her work at Federated Media Publishing.

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