My big fat mobile app

Oct 22, 2010

By Vanessa Horwell

From Mobile Marketer

As the marketing clock inches closer to Thanksgiving and the holidays, it seems that the rush is on to bring out yet another mobile application – which has become almost as ubiquitous as the mobile device itself.

There are roughly 250,000-plus applications in the Apple App Store, ready and waiting for download to the more than 30 million iPhone subscribers.

But it is not all about Apple.

The average Android user has, at any given moment, about 25 applications on that device, and the number of applications downloaded by any smartphone user across any platform – BlackBerry, iPhone, Android – has increased almost 23 percent since December 2009.

However you slice or dice it, that is a lot of applications.

For advertisers and marketers, that is a lot of impressions and interactions. And those, of course, are worth a lot of money.

What led me to explore the explosion of applications in this column was actually my last opinion piece, “5 arguments on why mobile is indispensable to marketing plans”.

No sooner had my column come out than a surge of mobile application developers began contacting me. Some admitted to openly copying others, and they all wanted help in promoting their next best thing.

So this trend of marketers and their client companies rushing into the mobile apposphere is hardly surprising. In fact, it is to be expected based on the above numbers. This is the future of marketing, right?

As with many trends – even viable, sustainable ones – the impulse to anoint The Next Big Thing is quite irresistible.

Likewise, the tendency to divert marketing and advertising resources to mobile applications, even at the expense of other strategies and tactics, is contagious in this kind of hyper hyped-up environment.

A frenzy, almost. And this – to me, at least – has led to an erosion of understanding about what makes an effective marketing strategy in the mobile space, and why an integration of approaches is so critical for year-over-year success mobile applications notwithstanding. It also highlights the need for educating those diving headfirst into this space.

App meme
So why have applications assumed such a prominent place in so many of our mobile marketing and advertising discussions?

The logical answer – though it might not be the complete one – is that consumers have embraced applications to an unprecedented degree, and advertisers and marketers simply have to move toward consumer behavior.

But this does not account for the irrational surge toward all things application, and it does not explain why companies would pursue application-based advertising and marketing without taking the preliminary, conscientious step of integrating applications into their existing marketing strategy – or even a mobile strategy.

The fact is, the value of mobile application marketing has become something of a meme, its validity resulting mostly from repetition.

And it is the blind acceptance of this meme that has fuelled an “app bubble,” leading to the hasty entrance into mobile application marketing by an ever-increasing number of enterprises, some of whom have no idea about mobile at all.

Bubble vs. real benefits
Does this mean that mobile applications have, to borrow another idiom, jumped the shark? Are we nearing a climax?

Not yet.

Aaron Shapiro, a blogger for Fast Company who recently suggested the idea of an application bubble, makes a credible point that once the mobile Internet gets faster making mobile Web sites more accessible, the usefulness of applications will wane.

I am inclined to agree, but the key word in that statement is “once.”

Mobile applications are currently the fastest, most convenient path to accessing relevant information on a mobile device, and it is going to be some time before the mobile browsing experience comes close to that of the online channel.

And this is what makes mobile applications a highly desirable medium for marketing and advertising, perhaps the most desirable right now.

Based on the numbers I stated earlier, it is clear that mobile applications have tremendous reach.

There are real marketing and advertising benefits to be had from the well thought-out use of mobile applications, but these benefits lie in an integrated, comprehensive strategy – not a one-hit-wonder approach.

Cornerstone of mobile marketing?
As evidence of the pace of change in this industry, it was only five years ago that SMS messaging was the be-all and end-all of mobile marketing.

Do you remember those days? And do you remember people staring at you in disbelief that anything more than SMS was possible?

Now, the range of marketing sub-channels available through the mobile medium has more than tripled.

Marketers have the option of engaging in traditional SMS campaigns, creating proprietary mobile applications, advertising on third-party applications or mobile advertising networks, or creating a mobile Web presence.

Of these, mobile applications are perhaps the cornerstone, at least today.

Tomorrow, it may be the much-anticipated mobile Internet. Or, if wireless carriers drastically revamp their pricing schemes – admittedly unlikely – the direct-interaction, high-response nature of SMS marketing may catapult it back to a position of dominance.

But that is a big may.

Or perhaps mobile advertising networks will become the most important aspect of mobile marketing, as some of the larger players have been betting on.

My point is, the future is hard to determine with any exactness.

So rather than putting all the eggs in one big fat app basket, marketers are better off pursuing an integrated strategy that incorporates multiple aspects of the mobile medium, each according to their strength. Without this integration, the chances of success are so greatly minimized.

Key to success in Big Fat Apposhere?
A comprehensive approach to mobile marketing includes applications, incorporates the best aspects of SMS marketing, and emphasizes a strong mobile Internet presence.

An integrated approach also links application marketing to mediums such as social media as well as traditional channels.

A successful mobile marketing approach builds in visibility efforts, and aims to highlight the functionality or unique applications of the application and its supporting features.

In short, a mobile application is only as good as the marketing strategy that surrounds it.

Integration is the key to success for any mobile application-based marketing initiative.

Coming up with a clever application that has little to do with a company’s overall marketing aims, providing simply gimmick value alone, is only sporadically successful – and even then, it has got to be extraordinarily clever and highly popular.

What happens most often, though, is that a company in a rush to enter into the mobile application arena will crank out something banal, or not particularly useful, the net effect being a complete waste of time.

If I step into the shoes of a marketer for a moment, the temptation to jump into the mobile application pool with both feet is great: all those millions to reach, all those impressions to be had. But a pragmatic and realistic approach will, hands down, lead to better and more sustainable results.

Integration is the true future of mobile marketing, however sexy and appealing mobile applications may appear to be. Any other way has a fat chance of succeeding.


About Vanessa Horwell

Vanessa Horwell is Chief Visibility Officer at ThinkInk. She works with companies in the U.S., UK and Europe to improve their visibility through strategic public relations and new media channels. Reach her at

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