The Future of Marketing: More Apps and Content, Fewer Ads

September 27, 2013 Balakrishna Narasimhan

marketing scarecrowA few weeks ago, Chipotle released a mobile game called Scarecrow, along with a beautiful animated short to accompany it. The short follows few of the conventions of advertising. Instead, it tells the fable-like story of a scarecrow who has an epiphany about the evils of the industrial farming conglomerate that has enslaved him and decides to find a way to bring natural food back. Chipotle is barely mentioned except for a few seconds of their iconic pepper and their name near the scarecrow’s stand toward the end of the movie. The movie is beautiful but the subject matter is dark and serious. Yet, since it was released on Sept 12, it’s been viewed 6.5 million times and the app had 250,000 downloads within just 4 days after launch. These aren’t just viewers who are being forced to watch because they want to watch live sports or don’t have a DVR. These are people who are seeking out the video and watching it because they want to. People are so excited about the video that they’re sharing it with their friends, which how I first heard about it. This is the future of marketing.

And it’s not just for the Chipotles of the world. Just a few weeks prior, a company that’s about as far from Chipotle as you can imagine also released a mobile app. The venerable management consultancy, McKinsey and Company, released their new Insights iPad app offering convenient easy access to McKinsey’s research and analysis. McKinsey, Chipotle and lots of other companies are realizing that marketing has changed and these apps are the early signs of a major shift in marketing.

The future of marketing is mobile

There are two major trends at work here. The first is the fragmentation of audiences and their attention. This is caused by the explosion of content and the ability to access it in so many different ways, on the viewer’s terms. The second trend is the rapid growth of mobile devices that are more media consumption devices than communication devices. There are over 6B mobile phones already and they are literally always in people’s hands. There are even new psychological disorders revolving around people’s fears of being separated from their phones!

Marketers have to adjust to a mobile world where people choose what content they want to consume. The days of creating and broadcasting a message to people who don’t have a choice but to listen are over. Now, the only messages that’ll cut through the noise are those that are actually relevant, useful and engaging to your target audience. In addition to the message itself, it’s critical to produce the content in a form that’s easy for your target audience to find, consume and share. The first part of this, creating engaging and relevant content, is something most marketers have adapted to. Marketers across industries have embraced the idea of content and inbound marketing. There are lots of great examples of content-driven inbound marketing, whether it’s Dove’s “real beauty” campaign, or Dell’s social media marketing efforts. Almost every business now understands the importance of creating useful content for its current and future customers. The part that’s still a challenge for marketers is moving from being content producers and curators, to becoming application developers and user experience designers. In a mobile-first world, it’s not enough to just produce great content, but you also need to deliver it to your customers in a simple and elegant way that reflects your brand. Most often, this means designing mobile apps to engage your audience. Mobile apps are now a critical complement to a company’s website, social properties and physical presence.

5 common mobile app strategies for marketing

How can marketers get started with mobilizing their strategy? The first step (assuming you already have the message and story figured out) is understanding the ways in which you could you use mobile apps. We’ve seen five main ways in which companies are using mobile apps for marketing:

  1. Website-lite: this is a very common type of mobile marketing app where the app is basically a slimmed down version of the company’s website or core content. This has some value but is unlikely to draw in new customers.

  2. Content distribution: the McKinsey Insights app is an example of a marketing app that’s designed to make it easy for people to find and share content. This is a good strategy for brands that have established themselves as authorities in a certain domain. It’s a good place to start for most companies, especially those targeting business buyers. For those targeting consumers, creating your own content app is less effective than going to the places where consumers are, such as YouTube or Facebook.

  3. Campaign or event extension: Chipotle’s Scarecrow app is an example of an app that supports a broader campaign. Related apps include those that extend live events such as the USTA’s US Open app that lets you follow tennis players, track stats and even watch matches during the event. Salesforce’s Dreamforce Chatter app is a great B2B example of an event-based app. This is a great strategy assuming you can create interest around your app with either an event or a creative campaign.

  4. Engagement:  the best examples of this type of marketing app are games like NikeFuel Missions which encourages their audience to compete with each other on their progress toward fitness goals. To create these types of engagement apps, marketers need to really understand the behaviors and needs of their target audience and then be creative around how to create a game or competition around those behaviors or needs.

  5. New/replacement services:  the final example of a mobile marketing app is not exactly marketing in its traditional sense but new or replacement services enabled by mobility. For example, Waze uses the fact that its customers are mobile to get better traffic information. And Lyft and Uber are using mobility and peer-to-peer sharing to disrupt the taxicab business. By taking an outside-in approach starting with the customer, marketers can go beyond just selling existing services to create brand new mobile services that could disrupt their competitors.

Getting from mobile marketing app vision to reality

After deciding which mobile app strategy or combination of mobile app strategies to pursue, the final step is getting the app built. Few marketing teams have easy access to UX designers and mobile app developers so this can be a real challenge. Bigger companies like McKinsey or Chipotle can rely on their creative agencies who are increasingly taking on app production duties. But what about marketing teams without limitless resources? Well, this is an area where the power of the sharing economy is starting to make an impact. Crowdsourcing communities like 99Designs and Appirio’s own Topcoder and CloudSpokes can connect marketers to the designers and mobile development experts they need to turn their visions into mobile reality. The key is finding crowdsourcing communities that are large enough to have the breadth of talent needed, provide transparency into the quality of their members and have a competition-based model so that you always get the best results for your budget. Crowdsourcing is a potential silver bullet for marketing teams trying to grapple with building a range of technical and data analytics skills quickly.

At Appirio, for instance, we’ve used crowdsourcing in a few different ways to supplement our marketing team. The applications we’ve crowdsourced range from internal applications to help our team to customer-facing apps. Here are a examples:

  • Keeping calendars in sync: our team manages campaigns in Salesforce but we spend most of our days in Google Apps, so we were wasting time re-entering information that lived in our Salesforce campaigns into a shared Google calendar. We ran a contest on CloudSpokes to create an application that syncs our Salesforce campaigns to Google Calendar. Our team now manages campaigns in Salesforce and the information magically appears in Google Calendar and Gmail!

  • Reducing manual data entry: after every field marketing event, we used to have the inevitable stack of business cards to enter into our system. We ran a contest to automate the process. Now, we can take a picture of a business card and have it entered as a lead in our Salesforce system.

  • Engaging our audience:  every year, the biggest marketing event for our team is Dreamforce, which is now the world’s largest cloud computing conference. Last year, to cut through all the noise created by 100s of exhibitors and 100s of thousands of attendees, we designed a cloud-themed mobile monopoly game called Dreamopoly, that we built using CloudSpokes.

  • Enabling our sales team: finally, we’re currently running a series of contests to create a simple, searchable database of Appirio’s customer success stories for our sales team.

The best part of this is that with the power of communities, Appirio’s marketing team didn’t need to become iOS developers or learn what AngularJS is in order to use these and other technologies to reimagine what we’re doing in marketing.

3 simple steps to getting started with mobile marketing

If you’re in marketing, this is an exciting time. We’re entering a new world, and we need to start rethinking many of the ways in which we do our jobs. I’ll leave you with three simple tips to get started:

  1. Spend some time really thinking about how your target audience engages with your company, especially on mobile devices

  2. Use your audience analysis to come up with the concept for a mobile marketing app

  3. Use your own resources  or a crowdsourcing community to turn that idea into reality

We’d love to hear about your marketing team’s journey so please share your questions or stories by tweeting us!

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