There’s an App for That: Mobile is the Next Frontier for Brand Engagement


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Mobile phones are rapidly emulating the capabilities of desktop and notebook PCs, serving as one of the three screens of the Golden Triangle that captures a bulk of our attention and interaction.

As the social web evolves, attention is shifting away from destinations and migrating towards packaging and engendering micro experiences. These self-contained environments are delivered directly to individuals where their attention is focused, catering to their appetite for consumption. Whereas Websites served this function from the 90s until recently, it was the interactive, immersive banners that resided on Web pages, improving over time, from Web 1.0 to 2.0, that would set the stage for encapsulated activities delivered through an undercurrent of marketing and messages. These rich multimedia applets evolved along with the rise of the most formidable trends online today:

- Social
- Mobile
- Real-time

From widgets to social network applications to mobile apps, the road between a brand and the brand you isn’t as elusive as one might suspect. It’s paved by the profiles created in each social network, defined by behavior, en masse, and while the roads are open and often toll-free, their direction perpetually changes with technology and trends.

The Fusion of Branding with the Mobile Lifestyle

The road to mobile productivity and connectivity wasn’t born yesterday. Their rise to ubiquity was catapulted with the mainstream glory days of the Palm platform, ultimately superseded by that of Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Nokia. But it wasn’t until the iPhone that we started to realize that mobile apps represent fully contained branding experiences, that to the surprise of many, compel users to download and readily interact with the app and beyond.

Most recently, VW opted out of a traditional marketing and advertising campaign when planning the debut of its 2010 GTI and instead funneled talent, resources, and dollars towards the development and distribution of a slick, interactive and stylish iPhone app with the new car at the center of the experience. Many industry experts considered the move either visionary or foolhardy. The point is that it realized that its target customers were most likely among the millions of iPhone customers actively seeking cool apps.

According to an AdAge article published in October 2009:

Volkswagen of America is launching the newest-generation GTI exclusively on an iPhone app, a cost-efficient approach the automaker said is a first for the industry. VW’s Real Racing GTI game for the iPhone and iPod Touch in the App Store includes a virtual showroom.

When the marketer introduced the GTI in 2006, it spent $60 million on a big-budget blitz with lots of network TV. By comparison, an executive familiar with the matter estimates the annual budget for mobile AOR services is $500,000. And while an iPhone-only strategy may seem limiting, consider this: In September, Apple reported there are more than 50 million iPhone and iPod touch customers worldwide. By comparison, CBS’ “NCIS,” the most-watched show for week ending Oct. 18, reached 21 million viewers and commands an average price of $130,000 for a single 30-second spot.

The true opportunity for branded apps however, isn’t relegated to the corporate giants who will no doubt continue to experiment with portable experiences. The real promise lies in the potential for individuals and small businesses to participate in mobile branding and engagement. Whereas the social Web democratized the ability to create and publish content while equalizing the opportunity for influence, mobile apps represent the syndication channels that will propel content into the hands of potential customers, stakeholders and advocates wherever, whenever.

To Get Things Done, Sometimes You Need to Do It Yourself

Celebrities, artists, performers, authors, and tech-savvy entrepreneurs and businesses are already distributing or developing iPhone applications to serve as their brand agents as well as trusted companions to fans and loyalists. What the Webmaster was to the early days of Web 1.0, developers are to the world of mobile applications. At an increasing clip, brands and personalities are seeking referrals, ideas, and bids from individual designers and agencies to create a killler app to either connect communities and/or create a supplemental revenue opportunity. Estimates range from a few thousand to tens of thousands.

So for those up-and-coming artists, entrepreneurs and small businesses, the idea of developing and marketing a custom app remains wishful and intangible.

Until now…

DIY? There’s an app for that.

I recently joined the board of advisors for Mobile Roadie, a new startup that is changing the way people interact with brands and personalities. @MobileRoadie is much bigger than the name implies. It’s an incredibly sophisticated infrastructure that places the power of creating an iPhone app and marketing it through iTunes within reach of almost anyone. Android support is expected soon.

The Mobile Roadie team essentially created a Web-based dashboard that walks users through the steps of creating, designing, customizing an elegant, rich, and fully immersive app that also gets automatic approval and distribution in Apple’s strict iPhone AppStore. More importantly, it channels all aspects of brand engagement, storytelling, news, conversations, traditional mailing updates, and commerce into one fun, easy-to-use, and encapsulating domain.

With Mobile Roadie, users can promote events and sell tickets directly via Ticketmaster and LiveNation (for performances) as well as link directly to commerce engines and Websites with content for sale.

For those brands that require a more sophisticated, custom, and interactive application, the Mobile Roadie team also serves as a talented design studio, already creating apps for some of the biggest names in the business (stay tuned).

In addition to artists, small businesses, and entrepreneurs creating and distributing apps, Mobile Roadie will also fuel a new trend in content publishing and distribution. Many bloggers are already extending their platforms from the blog HQ to Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed readers, and other social networks. In addition, several bloggers and publishers are also embracing the Kindle and Nook platforms (click here for a sample). Now, with applications such as Mobile Roadie, bloggers will have the ability to syndicate content as well as other social objects and promotions directly to the iPhone.

In just the last week, Jeremiah Owyang and Dave Taylor individually demonstrated their new iPhone apps to me with great enthusiasm. My little secret was that I also had an app, but I wanted to wait until Mobile Roadie opened its new platform.

In fact, not only is Mobile Roadie available now, it also announced a partnership with Ustream to live stream video from events, discussions, performances, etc., directly to the iPhone app.

For those using an iPhone, it is with great excitement that I announce the availability of my little app experiment. Without pulling any strings, I wanted to test the process of creating and marketing an app on my own to experience the process and also provide feedback to improve it. As it’s a new service, you’ll notice that it caters to musicians, hence the name. However the team is already verticalizing the application for business, authors, artists, bloggers, among other important markets and applications.

Touring the New Mobile Roadie App

iTunes View

iPhone Dashboard

App Home Page

The App News Feed (My Blog Posts)

Tweets

Upcoming Events/Appearances

An Interactive, Embeddable Fan Wall (Perhaps my favorite feature)

A Complete Mobile Experience – Videos, Biography, Mailing Lists, Links, About, Commerce

Whether you are a rock star, movie star, business owner, author, blogger, artist, or represent a corporate brand, in the era of the social and mobile Web, you now also serve as a brand manager in addition to your other roles. Creating and implementing a mobile strategy is no longer a luxury. In truth, mobile represents a marketing, service, and communications program that is both substantial and of great importance.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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