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Catch a Rising Star?

Three things to know before launching that mobile app

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July 14, 2014

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on July 10, 2014.

By Tom Collinger

Three weeks into the experiment of "Rising Star," ABC-TV execs are counting on the latest brand of live audience integration and mobile apps to pay off in brand awareness and loyalty. And they may be disappointed.

The debut with 5.1 million viewers saw improvements in the second week as a giant wall of photos of regular folks rose from the floor symbolizing mobile votes for the performer on the talent show. But the second week also saw a drop in ratings of 20 percent.

Lessons learned from ABC's launch include the complicated reality of time zones -- a California viewer is jumping in on the preferences of East Coast viewers after the fact -- as well as system crashes. The show's execs used the West Coast delay to create drama instead of disappointment this past Sunday as singer Shameia Crawford was "saved" by West Coast voters.

On the positive side, prior to airing, the free app jumped to number nine among free apps in the iTunes store. The show also scored the highest rating for the network of a summer debut in two years.

The fate of the show and its app are tied together, and the stakes are high for both. Researchers at Northwestern University's Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications show that consumer dissatisfaction with a branded app can silently lose customers.

But there can be good news. In the Spiegel NU study of the Canadian Air Miles program, researchers found that those who used the branded app in the 10 days prior, made 6.17 purchases per month, compared to those who did not use the app in more than five months prior, making 3.5 purchases per month.

Yet, while the innovation and successes of mobile apps are recognized with the 2014 Global Mobile Awards -- that honored apps from ATT& T to a vaccine project in Zimbabwe -- branded apps are not universally successful.

The reach is wider and the stakes are higher than you might think. According to Portio Research, in 2012 there were 1.2 billion app users globally, with 4.4 billion projected app users in 2017. Nearly half of those users are expected in the Asia Pacific. Another recent study shows that consumers spend 89 percent of their media time on mobile apps.

There is no denying the importance of the mobile marketplace. In 2012, 43 billion mobile apps were downloaded worldwide. That number doubled in 2013, and is projected to double again this year. In three years, the prediction is 200 billion app downloads per year globally.

Just last week, McDonald's Corp. launched testing for The McDonald's Mobile Ordering App, in 22 markets, free to customers who pay by credit card in advance for their fries, shakes and Big Macs.

Some apps are time-saving solutions from "new brand" providers, such as Flipboard; or games like Angry Birds. But of greatest interest to those in marketing communications are those apps that are increasingly known to be important customer engagement tools that simplify the customer's ability to do business with them.

And, ideally, these apps stimulate engagement to grow the value of that customer. Recently
So, do these apps deliver and if so, by how much? And do the apps come with any real risks to marketers?

Yes, they deliver -- in some cases by quite a lot -- yet they also come with risks far greater than the simple feedback, "It didn't grow a customer's relationship."

But there is also bad news. The recent study from the Medill IMC Spiegel Digital & Database Research Center found that a customer experience with an inferior app can not only result in not using the app, but using the brand less, or even, not at all.

Research shows access to two sets of data in two entirely different categories. The data includes all customer's purchases from the company prior to downloading the brand's app, and then after the app was downloaded. The results were mixed. In some cases, the consumer disengaged.

No doubt, the consequences of actually losing customers as a result of a bad app -- one that is difficult to use, understand or benefit immediately from its use -- is sobering. Such a misstep would call for a new strategy. All of this challenges the notion that "early to market" is always the best strategy. To that end, here are three considerations before launching an app for branding:


1. "It's the experience, stupid."

Recognize that an app is not a communications strategy but actually part of the customer experience. Meet, (and if possible, exceed), the expectations your best customers have for your brand's experience, and then monitor performance particularly among your best (most valuable) customers.

2. Model the outcomes.

Most scenario modeling of marketing initiatives does not plan for actual losses of an unsuccessful campaign. At worst, the scenarios merely consider relative sized gains. Armed with the insights from these studies, plan models that contemplate some customer attrition. The tradeoffs of quality vs. speed-to-market can also now be modeled with greater reliability. What may be lost by not being first in the market can now be assessed in combination with potential customer retention gains from a more universally valued app.

3. It's a team, baby!

Because an app delivers a customer experience, not just a communications, marketing, product development and engineering share the consequences of the outcomes with all departments. This is a good thing.

The Rising Star outcome may well add support for our research if the app supports the brand as intended. Or it may serve as a cautionary tale. As they say, "stay tuned."

- Tom Collinger is an associate professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University.