Assessing the different typologies of mobile apps made available to users, it is rather intuitive to notice 4 main categories of software applications. If we go beyond the single features contained inside an app, we can observe that almost the totality of mobile applications can be conceptually included in the following categories: education, information, entertainment, and utility.
There are applications purely ‘EDUCATIONAL’ serving the purpose of educating people on a large variety of topics. Successful examples of educational apps areUdemy, an online learning platform that allows instructors to host courses, andTED, a global set of conferences held under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading’. Also popular e-learning platforms for kids, such as Dragonbox Algebra, use interactive teaching methods for educational purposes.
Opposite to the educational apps, we find in the figure those focusing on ‘INFORMATIONAL’ content. Popular information-based apps are Wikipedia, the collaboratively edited free encyclopedia, and Reuters, the news agency.
Apps that provide ‘ENTERTAINMENT' are usually related to music (e.g.Spotify), video (e.g. Hulu) or games (e.g. Angry Birds).
On the opposite side of the figure, we have identified the so-called ‘UTILITY’ apps. In general, an application is defined under the label ‘utility’ when it provides a specific service with the lowest possible effort, thus, it is convenient. Popular utility apps are Google Maps, Square, and QR Code Scanner.
In general, an app is categorized based on the specific usage a user does of it rather than on its main business purpose. Therefore, an app like Facebook can be considered informative by a user if his primary scope is to receive selected info on the news feed page, while, it can be conceived as utility if only used for instant messages activities, etc.
Most of the apps currently available in the marketplace, however, are not solely educational nor informational and they are not solely made for entertainment or convenience. Very often, we observe a convergence of the described 4 categories.
1. EDUTAINMENT(Educational + Entertainment) is the quadrant where apps likeNike+ Running, Gizmondo, Everest can be placed. These apps serve the purpose to educate while entertaining the user, for example, sport apps allows you to gain points based on your performance while you review your workouts. The scope of the app is not solely to push you towards a healthier lifestyle (education) but also to provide entertainment (gamification) while doing so.
2. INFOTAINMENT(Informational + Entertainment) is the quadrant where information-based apps also entertain the user because of their service peculiarity (for example, apps having social features). Apps like Twitter,Tumblr, Trip Advisorare a fantastic source of information but, at the same time, facilitate the interaction with other community members while entertaining them.
3. EDUTILITY (Educational + Utility) is the convergence between education and utility apps. Dropbox, Evernote, Word Reference are example of apps that are task-specific but, for their nature, intrinsically incorporate a personal development process.
4. INFOUTILITY (Informational + Utility) is the category where informational and utility apps are positioned. The information generate through these apps can be used to solve an everyday problem. Waze, is one of the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, gives you real-time traffic info and suggests you the best way to avoid traffic.
Whenever you have the need to create a mobile app, besides your business objectives, it urges to understand what is the category in which this app falls. This will help you assessing current best practices and setting the right priorities in terms of features implementation.
The advent of social media and the diffusion of digital technology have created significant changes in the way consumer-brand relationships are conceived, both by consumers and by companies. This pst discusses some of the major factors that have contributed to this evolution.
1. Personal vs. public conversations
A few decades ago, interactions between consumers and companies were rare and occurred almost entirely in a one-to-one manner. Consumers had few available options for retrieving information from a company as communication channels were limited; they could perhaps contact a call center, drive to a store, and, more recently, write an email. Interactions between companies (or intermediaries) and consumers were usually private.
Some recurring issues might have cost companies a lot of money as they needed to be addressed to different customers over and over again. Also, badly handled interactions would have had limited consequences for a company, as the fact could have been directly reported only to a small number of people. Nowadays, consumers have been empowered by technology and play an active role in conversations that increasingly take place on public platforms where everyone can form an opinion on the reported facts.
A company’s social skills and its ability to detect consumer’s needs and provide solutions can be evaluated by everyone. Soft skills are increasingly important, not only for the community manager, usually the brand’s interface with consumers, but for any marketing professional. In particular, they are required to master both the technical skills needed to properly utilize the vast array of social tools, but also soft skills, which are needed to effectively build solid relationships through these social tools (Smith, 2011).
Today, users can express their dissatisfaction online and their conversations can be easily shared, sometimes even going “viral”.
This extraordinary shift toward public brand-related conversations has forced companies to establish a presence in one or more social media platforms, regardless of their ability to effectively engage in a conversation.
However, the opportunity for a user to show appreciation for a brand is significantly higher today than it was previously, if the company approaches all interactions as a way to show conversational leadership, demonstrating its commitment to the relationship.
2. Local vs. global connections
Increased access to brands worldwide has encouraged the rise of global communities. Even small brands can now be distributed anywhere on the planet through e-commerce websites. The ability of brands to reach a global audience is certainly positive for many aspects, but it has also generated new challenges whenever the company is unable to deal with different cultures, values, geographic areas.
Those brands that manage online communities with a global approach and communicate in English on their platforms need to deal with issues such us misleading communications, low engagement from non-native speakers, and the inability to interact in languages other than English. Brands usually have different product line-ups in different countries, which can make it extremely complex to guarantee basic customer service to any online user.
The risk for the brand is to turn the page platform into a well-organized pressroom that avoids “costly” spontaneous interactions due to the obvious complexity of being generated in a global environment.
3. Regular vs. empowered consumers
One of the main objectives for companies in the online environment has been toaggregate groups of fans into communities based into social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. In 2011, 46 percent of company executives in the United States said that an increase in brand advocates was one of the most important benefits of social media (Jive, 2011). This relational objective is coupled with the need to discover brand advocates and leverage them as a powerful marketing tool to promote product and spread brand communications.
Advocates tell twice as many people about their purchase as non-advocates(Comscore and Yahoo!, 2006). A recent article from Harvard Business Review estimated that a 12 percent increase in brand advocacy, on average, generated a two-fold increase in revenue and growth rate, plus boosts to market share. A company with 100,000 energized brand advocates can reach an average of 60 million people(Bernoff et al., 2010).
It is realistic to believe that any brand has at least one passionate consumer who will ideate, build, distribute, sell, buy, and recommend its products.
There are more than 60 million brand advocates in the US and billions worldwide(Zuberance, 2011). Globally, 80 percent of consumers recommend at least one brand, but the average number of brands that consumers recommended has increased significantly in all regions of the world (GfK Roper, 2006). Despite the proven importance of effectively managing advocates and experts, ONLY 20 percent of brands have implemented programs with such intentions(Marketing Charts, 2013).
4. Dispersed vs. technology-enabled communities
Many authors have pointed out the significant benefits of an active group of consumers. Community is a core part of social thought. People are held together through shared emotions, styles of life, and consumption practices. Community concept is an alternative form of social arrangements, also referred to as “neo-tribes” or “post-modern tribes”, and is not new in brand management studies. Consumers desire an experience-based marketing that emphasizes interactivity, connectivity, and creativity.
This explains why people are often more interested in the social links that come from brand affiliations than they are in the brands themselves. In fact, 25 percent of users choose to engage with brands because they want join the community of brand fans (Technorati Media, 2013). Brand communities are not built on brand reputation, but on members’ understanding of brand stories.
Being communities dynamic, neither fixed or permanent, its meaning and concreteness are always being negotiated by individuals through narratives. Although this is true whether group members interact electronically, via face-to-face communication, or both, we can argue that digital technology enabled the rise of these links between consumers. Consequently, the interaction between brands and consumers has also changed dramatically.
Creating a linking value among consumers in order to establish a sense of community and spur collaboration has become commonplace in the social media environment (Cova, 1997). More than 3.5 billion brand-related conversationstake place each day in the US (Keller Fay Group, 2007).
Companies should always have an active role into these conversations, but the members of the community must also be free to interact and collaborate among themselves without any restriction.
5. Spontaneous vs. Data-driven interactions
Some of the relationship barriers that companies face when establishing personal and long-lasting collaborations with strategic customers are a result of the complexity associated with the so-called “Big Data” phenomena.
Companies must increasingly deal with tasks including the following: (1) data gathering – collection of real, systematic and inexpensive data about consumers; (2) data integration – integration of consumer data collected from multiple platforms; (3) data diffusion – distribution to the key people in the organization; (4)data intelligence – usage of data to improve the experience, content, and service delivered during any interaction with consumers; and (5)data update – organizing and polishing the collected data to constantly update user profiles.
As consumers are consciously providing a large amount of personal data to companies through every registration – for example, related to a contest participation – they have increasing expectations on the way brands intelligently handle this information. For instance, if a user calls a customer service for information, he may wish to be automatically gathered as Mr. X. Also, he may expect the operator to know what kind of products he owns as well as the outcome of his previous interactions with the company.
According to Stengel (2011), brand managers should be conceived as “business artists”, leaders whose primary medium is brand ideals.
The scope of these business artists is to discover (or rediscover) a brand ideal in one of the five fields of fundamental human values, to build a business culture around the ideal, to communicate the ideal across the organization and outside of it, to deliver a near-ideal customer experience, and toevaluate business performance against this ideal.
Once a brand manager is clear on the brand ideals (that is, what the brand stands for), the next step is to create communication assets (and a campaign) to guarantee customer experience that supports the chosen ideal that will drive the business.
An example is how Coca-Cola, which has long been associated with happiness, has transformed for a recent partnership with the James Bond movie “Skyfall” in a smart viral campaign. Instead of focusing on the classic movie franchise’s characteristics, Coke Zero challenged unsuspecting train passengers to “unlock the 007” in them for their chance to win exclusive tickets to the new film. However, the exclusive tickets were not free. Contestants had to go the extra mile and unlock their inner James Bond in less than 70 seconds to win. The humorous video spread across the web, showingCoca-Cola’s need to share happiness around the world.
Fig.2 - Coca-Cola ‘007 Campaign’
This is a good example of how brand ideals can be the focus of a marketing campaign, even if the link with the campaign’s theme is not immediately apparent.
Thinking in terms of brand ideals enables managers to create consistency in their actions and make their message easy to communicate.
I agree that:
in order to deliver brand essence consistently over time, the content strategy should be deeply linked to brand strategy and viewed through the lens of an overall relational strategy.
This alignment between content, brand, and relational strategies must be considered in any channel and in any platform, whether online or offline.
Marketing and corporate communications managers are often confronted with the need to anticipate market trends. In order to be at the cutting edge of innovation, they are often willing to adopt technology that can generate visibility and a sense of innovativeness, despite the value delivered to consumers can be objected.
Too often, a marketing goal becomes to distribute brand messages across the globe in the fastest and cheapest way.
This leads to the communication idea and the technological tools being chosen over the brand strategy. In other words, the communication campaign becomes a mere tactic with no (or even negative) long-term business implications.
At the very core of a content strategy, marketing managers should alwaysfocus their brand strategy on brand ideals.
A brand ideal is the higher purpose of a brand or organization, which goes beyond the product and the service it sells (WPP, 2012).
The overall brand purpose is often neglected and is not linked to the defined content strategy.
According to Jim Stengel (2011), former global marketing officer (GMO) at Procter & Gamble, “The ideal is the brand’s inspirational reason for being. It explains why the brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world. A brand ideal actively aims to improve the quality of people’s lives. It creates a meaningful goal for the brand – a goal that aligns employees and the organization to better serve customers.” Stengel has extensively studied the interrelationships of people’s bonding with brands and the growth in those brands’ financial value. To do so, he used a database, provided by the agency BrandZ, which contains brand-equity-related information on more than 50,000 brands in 31 countries within 380 categories, from 1998 to the present.
The implications of Stengel’s study are relevant to any brand manager. One of the most profound finding is that brand ideals – that is, the higher-order benefit the brand gives to the world – drive the performance of the businesses that registered the highest growth in the mentioned period.
The most successful businesses are those in which the brand ideals are deeply centered in one of the five areas of fundamental human values.
These human values are considered to be “universal”, as any human being generally wishes to actively experiencehappiness, to connect with one another in meaningful ways, to explore the surrounding world, to feel confident, and to positively affect society. Certain companies focus on the “eliciting joy” ideal, such as Coca-Cola, Emirates or MasterCard. Others, such as Skype, Nokia, and Facebook, have associated their brands with “enabling connection.” Some brands, such as Google, Apple, or Red Bull, wish to “inspire exploration,” while companies like Hugo Boss, Heineken, and Mercedes-Benz, aim to “evoke pride,” giving people security or vitality. Yes others focus on “impacting society” in a broad sense; these include Chipotle, Dove, and Innocent.
Although a brand might be directly or indirectly connected to several of the five universal human values mentioned earlier, it is important that one of the areas is dominant. For example, Facebook was created to enable connections among peers. Over time, the service has evolved to include many other features that have increased the users’ perceived value in certain areas of pride (for example, you can easily share your entire life and receive a sense of appreciation from others), the area of joy (for example, play games, listen to music, or watch videos), the area of exploration (for example, the new feature called “Search Graph” that will revolutionize the way we retrieve social-related information) and the area of impacting society (for example, you can espouse social causes and donate money). However, almost all of Facebook’s corporate communication, as well as any other marketing campaign, focuses on the brand ideal of “connecting people.”
It is strategically important that a brand stays true to its brand ideals along the journey, as this influences the way people perceive and think about the brand. Whenever a brand plays on several brand ideals at the same time, it is necessary to prioritize these ideals.
One of the major challenges for companies is to guarantee continuity of the relationship development process. Since priorities in companies can change quickly, while the relationships takes time to evolve, it is not uncommon to observe a dramatic change in the online communication efforts of a brand, due to a lack of resources or interest by the top management.
In every company, people, priorities, and the availability of resources change so frequently that the plan of building strong long-term connections can fall at any point.
One way to prevent this is to include a consumer-centric strategy inside the overall company vision. Zappos.com, an online shoes and clothing shop acquired by Amazon, is a great example of such an approach. Zappos employees are encouraged to go above and beyond traditional customer service. For example, when a woman called Zappos to return a pair of boots for her husband because he had died in a car accident, she received a delivery of flowers, which the call center rep had billed to the company without even checking with her supervisor (Chafkin, 2009).
Zappos core values represents the basement for relational strategy (social media guidelines and policy, brand character, tone of voice, roles & responsibilities, etc.). They also directionally shape the definition of business strategy and brand strategy. Consistency of these core values across the organization are deem fundamental.
When a company decides to adopt an open approach to online conversations, it must consider that a certain level of consistency is needed over time. A general assumption coming from the managerial orientation of relationship marketing sees the relationships as something that can be imposed or withdrawn at will. Although there is a tendency for companies to believe and act as if this is true, there is enough evidence to suggest that whenever a relationship is dictated by the company, a process of consumer disaffection begins and negative business implications are expected.
I argue that when a process of openness from the company is initiated, it is difficult to stop it without consequences on the consumer’s perception of relationship quality.
Despite the growing interest in this area, managers are often required to take difficult calls that contrast with their regular communication-related decisions. On one hand, there is a desperate need to create communication assets or experiences that are sufficiently attractive for consumers to be shared and for media agents to be covered. On the other hand, during such a period of scarcity, there is a need to focus on the initiative’s return on investment (ROI) and on the process of prioritization and optimization of the company’s resources.
In evaluating the potentiality of launching a particular social media initiative, managers are increasingly confronted with questions related to the media coverage and audience reach. Through the estimated PR effect generated by the initiative in owned, earned, and paid media, managers try to support the need of relational-based campaigns during the difficult task of showing top management the potential returns, at least in terms of media coverage and audience reach.
Despite the market evidence that social initiatives are absolutely necessary to create a sustainable competitive advantage, which is greatly enhanced when brand community attachment is generated, the lack of data related to the initiative’s ROI automatically de-prioritizes this powerful tool in favor of more measurable actions. Even in the rare case that a company collaborates with an agency that plans a social initiative perfectly in line with business objective, strategies, and messages, and is evaluated with proper metrics, its “PRability” effect is likely to fall over time as the idea becomes obsolete and is executed by other companies and in other industries/geographical areas.
Whenever a social media plan is evaluated as a standalone initiative – that is, not considered in a process aimed at developing relationships with strategic customers inside a so-called “consumer journey” – this tends tohave a limited effect on the brand-consumer relationship and on the long-term business impact overall.
This myopic view of social media has led companies to use “Social Media” platforms, not for their “social” characteristics but as PR machine tools to distribute press releases without any relationship-based objective.
It is only after several steps in the social media environment that global brands have understood how much it costs to simultaneously manage thousands (if not millions) of relationships with consumers and prospects. Today, the need to create cost efficiencies is pushing those brands to reduce the number of fan pages or other corporate accounts.