What do your mobile users really want from a brand in an app? Try asking them. Considering the number of branded app misfires I see out there, marketers continue to scratch their heads looking for the right match of utility with branding message. As some of you pointed out in my last rant about this, there are brands that serve users very adroitly with apps. In many cases the best branded apps are really CRM and service vehicles whose design evolves directly out of the marketer's deep knowledge of how the customer base seeks out and buys their product and the tools they need. Amazon, Expedia, Fandango and some of the banking apps have done a good job of developing utility logically from the typical use cases.
But getting into the app game is not easy for a lot of brands that don't have an obvious, relevant role on a smartphone. Rather than ask, how do we get an app of our own, they might start with the user and ask, what valuable tool does the user want we might sponsor?
Appswell is an interesting solution. The company lets users make suggestions for apps they would like to see and then has the community vote on the best ones. The winners get their ideas made into programs by Appswell, which awards them a cash prize and a cut of profits.
"They usually submit the idea in a couple of paragraphs and do a good job of recruiting votes," says President Daniel Sullivan. "We have three apps launched and three in the pipeline." One of the apps was a social travel tool that let people brag about where they had visited and compare their worldliness with others. A taxi meter app was synched with cab rates in various cities and GPS so it could estimate and track the cost of your ride. But the big winner for Appswell so far has been a UV Detector that sends alerts and advice based on the UV Index in your vicinity.
Appswell leverages the crowd in several ways. It uses the audience to generate ideas, filter the best ones, and to promote. Even people who aren't designing apps enjoy being part of the communal effort. "You really have to launch an app strong," he says. "If you can get an installed base that feels part of this thing coming to light, there is an advantage."
Appswell has started deploying the model on behalf of brands. Sullivan says company strategists are talking with clients now about using the platform to offer contests where users can suggest a brand's best next app. They are using the crowd-source approach with partner General Electric. The GE Economagination Challenge is a cross-platform effort to solicit ideas for green innovations that has $200 million to fund projects. The Appswell mobile piece of this lets participants see ideas that people are submitting as well as comments on them wherever they are. "Our premise is that there are 'Aha' moments that can capture spontaneous ideas," Sullivan says.
The app was launched two weeks ago and has already gotten 10% to 15% of the full audience for the Economagination project accessing via mobile. According to Sullivan, people are coming back to view ideas four times a week. They use the mobile component to stay plugged into the comments people post around the ideas.
This alone is a quality of mobile I think many apps miss. After all, the primary use of phones is for texting and talking -- staying in the loop in real time with one another. Branded app designers should be thinking harder about the ways they can service this most basic human desire not to be left out.
As Appswell seems to demonstrate, crowd-sourcing mobile ideas not only helps locate what your users may really want from you, but it also recruits proselytizers who have a vested interest in seeing the idea they support get attention.