Your Brand App Hit Parade

Before any of you mobile marketers acquiesce to another client's demand for their own cool iPhone app, run, don't walk to freelancer Johnny Makkar's superb compendium of branded apps at his Attention Digital blog. He created an enormous Google spreadsheet of 211 apps that includes their user ratings, number of ratings, category, etc. It is crying out for crowd-sourcing, since it is tough to track all the additions to the store -- and still have a life. Johnny invites submissions in the shared Google spreadsheet. Also available from another source is a widget that contains a smaller collection of branded app icons, all with iTunes hot links for easy downloading.

 

Johnny has done us all a great service here by maintaining a relatively current listing of media and product brands now present on the iPhone. Eventually he will broaden coverage to include the Android, Blackberry and Palm platforms. For now, let's pitch in to keep the list alive and updated. It should be the first point of reference for mobile marketers even contemplating another branded app. Finally we have the semblance of a top-down view of the branded app marketplace and some basic stats to reflect upon. 

 Johnny points out in his blog that branded apps are not floating to the top of the ratings charts, with only 15 of the group hitting 4 stars or above. Granted, there is a built-in bias to the way voting is collected on an iPhone, since you are prompted for a vote as you delete an app.

Moreover, popularity in terms of downloads does not always correlate with ratings. ESPN Radio, which costs $2.99, garners fewer than 300 ratings but those who bought in really liked it (4.5 stars). Nevertheless, I think we can let the number of votes for an app stand as a very rough proxy for popularity. Clearly Facebook is the closest thing to a killer app in terms of media extension (420,946 votes for 4 stars). Barclaycard's superb Waterslide Extreme (135,959 for 3 stars) is one of the standout examples of a product brand that found the right way to extend an identity that the user appreciated.

Curiously, The Gap's StyleMixer, which attracted the predictably uncritical attention of the mobile marketing press for its clever design, gets slammed by the overwhelming majority of its users. Note to brand managers: If you are going to make a mobile app, remember that user feedback will be very public.

 While the number of paid apps from major brands is small, I am struck by the high ratings many of them get from the smaller pool of users who buy in. With three stars, Zagat-to-Go seems to convince most of its users that $9.99 is not too high a price to pay for mobile media. CNN's new app has suffered some critical hits for omitting 24/7 live streaming of the network. Instead it offers occasional live streams of the CNN Live feed during major breaking news. Nevertheless, that $1.99 app is getting 3.5 stars and is among the top-grossing apps right now. Meanwhile, the free extensions of both Sirius XM and Comcast are getting tepid receptions. But I am going to have to pony up the $5 to get the Weber Grill app, which seems to have hit its target of manly chefs right on the power spatula with 4 stars. It seems to be a great mix of information and utility: grill guide, cooking tips, shopping list and a grill timer (OK, that part is genius). 

I am afraid the biggest takeaway from Johnny's list of branded apps is just how underwhelming many of them are. Users see right through the cute, clever and useless approach. Mastercard's 3D extravaganza Priceless Picks is flat (2 stars).  The two-star General Motors app seemed to leave a lot of users wondering why exactly they would want a GM news service, while it just gave others an opportunity to dump on "Government Motors." The Gillette uArt app lets you paste different facial hair styles on your own photo, but it gets mixed (2.5 stars) reviews. What is a brand to make of a marketing project that gets a plurality of one-star ratings and a select group of fans who say things like (and I quote), "I always wanted to shave my initials into my face, and now I can."

You go, Bubba. 

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3 comments about "Your Brand App Hit Parade ".
  1. Tamara Gruber from Crisp Wireless , October 13, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

    Excellent work from @jsmakr. I had suggested to him that you might be interested and I'm thrilled to see you've given it the exposure it deserves. Kuddos to Johnny for undertaking this project and thanks to Steve for the analysis. This will be a great tool to show brand managers considering mobile apps vs. mobile web.

  2. Tom Limongello from Crisp Wireless , October 13, 2009 at 1:22 p.m.

    I actually think the MasterCard app is pretty good - especially since they used NFT (not for tourists) data, the problem is that it's a mastercard app so I don't go back to it because I would more likely go to Urban Daddy, Yelp, Foursquare, UpNext or other social or listing services to look for this content. If, however, MasterCard powered a NFT app, or features within an app like how Lexus sponsors Urban Daddy's 'Next Move' by taking over the results button after you've pressed it, I'd probably still be using it.

    Brands do better to sponsor utilities to further their brand message rather than to put their name on a completely out of context service with respect to all of their other brand marketing. That's probably why Axe can get away with racier content and Pepsi cannot (and had to apologize). Axe just branded a Greystripe pogo game with the occasional picture of a sporty girl, while Pepsi's AMP went out and created a completely new image by launching a wingman application that had upsetting results. http://mashable.com/2009/10/12/pepsi-and-amp-app/

    Less is more. A brand can have a very important role on mobile, but mobile is not the place to out misplaced ambitions for a brand's message that don't see the light of day on any other channel.

    @toms

  3. Johnny Makkar , October 13, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.

    Big thanks Steve for the mention and for helping me with this project. Already got a bunch or new apps and I'm going to do my best to continue updating the list then work on the other tabs.

    Really enjoyed your write-up.. I think it's safe to say that any app with an average of 3 stars can be considered worthwhile if you like the brand.

    As of right now, some of the best apps in terms of branding and utility that still come to mind first are Oakley's Surf Report (3 1/2 stars), Absolut's Drinkspiration (3 stars), North Face's Snow Report (4 stars), iFood Assistant (3 stars), etc. Similar apps could have been done by competing brands in those industries but the smart ones saw the potential early on and made sure they released solid, well designed apps. I feel like lately we've seen more examples that go one step further which makes me think: why can't more car companies offer something like Zipcar's remote start/keyless entry and more retail brands include simple shopping within the app like Tommy Hilfiger?

    I also setup http://twitter.com/brandedapps which will be used to only tweet the latest apps as they are released.