Jo-Ann Stores Knits A Crafty App

MoBlog6The line is that advertising is dead or dying and that content, not pitches, are the future of marketing. While not entirely true, of course, the sea change marked by digital media surely favors disintermediation.

Digital platforms made publishers of all brands. Well, I didn’t say that it made them good publishers. But the incredible focus of digital investment on custom content and direct-to-consumer brand presence is a hallmark of this age.

But again, that is not to say that it means brands are necessarily good publishers. To wit: two years of branded apps, the overwhelming majority of which were either pointless and forgotten vanity projects or, or -- well -- more pointless and forgotten vanity projects. Even more than company Web sites, apps underscored just how unprepared most marketers were to become publishers, although conventional wisdom declared that is exactly what they had become.

A lot of branded apps were good at the fleeting cool idea that engaged for a minute or two and never beckoned us back. That is not media so much as faux media. Depth, persistence, real relevance and editorial quality distinguish media from a branded tchotchke. Otherwise, brands just built storefronts and turned them into apps, which is fine but still misses the opportunity that apps offer.

And so I was totally absorbed by the Jo-Ann Fabrics iPad app because it didn’t put sales first. It put crafts first. This is an amazing compendium of ideas. The app is beautifully designed for endless browsing. The triple tiers of content in the Idea Center have a trove of How To projects, inspirational images and videos after videos. Every imaginable category of craft, from scrapbooking to knitting and floral arranging, gets its own pile of valuable content with full images and instructions. The most encouraging thing about the app is that it is ten times better at branding than the e-commerce-driven Web site.

Now I am sure that the site and all of its discount promotions and buy buttons drive that bottom line well, but none of that makes a brand your new best crafting buddy. This app does.

Which is not to say that it is a well-designed app. While there is a shopping list, the items in the craft walkthroughs cannot be added to the list. And while we are glad that the app doesn’t lead with promotion and sales, the absence of any T-commerce here seems odd and ultimately unhelpful. In fact, the how-to items come up in too small a window when the design really should let you fill the screen for easy reference while you work.

This app could have taken its cues more from great recipe apps that let the user find ideas based on ingredients. All you have in the house on a rainy day is construction paper, hollow tubes and some pom-poms. What can I do to keep the kids from driving me up the wall?

While functionality and mapping features against use case needs fixing here, it is the content that really sells the brand. The app doesn’t sell -- it inspires and trusts the user to make the connection to the retail brand and favor it with their business. This is branded content done right -- or half right.    

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