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Lessons for brands building apps

For many South Africans a smartphone is the primary or only device used to access the Internet. It is for this reason that local brands should concentrate on a mobile-first strategy for digital engagement, says MICHAEL WALKER.

With more and more South Africans getting their hands on smartphones every day, local brands should be looking at a mobile-first strategy for digital engagement. After all, the mobile device is the primary or even the only Internet access device for a large and growing portion of the country’s connected population.

While responsive Web sites that cater for mobile access are an important part of the digital marketing mix, brands should also look at the benefits native mobile apps can offer them for engaging with their customers. These apps extend and complement your Web site rather than replacing it.

Brands that plan to build a mobile app should therefore ensure it offers a different experience to their mobile Web sites. A good mobile app will put device features such as the camera and GPS to good use so it can enrich your customer’s life with context-relevant information and services.

Once you’ve built a useful mobile app, the challenge is to drive downloads as well as to track how users interact with it. A 2013 Digital Trends study found that 80% of apps are only used once after they’re downloaded – it’s important to make sure yours is not one of them if you want to achieve a good ROI.

Paying to drive downloads

There are many ways to drive app downloads through paid promotion – the ones we’ve found most effective include Facebook and Google AdWords. AdWords is a particularly easy option. It allows you to simply target mobile users searching for relevant terms with a text ad promoting your app and providing a link to the download.

Facebook is another powerful way to drive downloads. You simply link an app to your Facebook page and run promotional ads that prompt users to download it. Facebook’s targeting features make it relatively easy to target the audience you want with a high level of precision, reducing wastage and improving results.

An alternative is to run display campaigns targeting users that have downloaded similar apps to yours. YouTube’s TrueView ad format is often overlooked, but it has great reach among younger users who consume loads of video on their phones.

Once you reach a critical mass of users downloading your app, it will rise in the natural rankings on the Apple or Android app store, giving it more visibility. That’s why it’s a good idea to come out early with a strong promotional push to ensure early momentum for the app.

Ways to track app usage (App analytics)

Once users have downloaded your app, you want them to use it to engage with your brand. This means you should be tracking usage so that you can understand how they are using it and what you might be able to do to improve the experience and ensure stickiness.

Analytics tools are critically important here. Map the metrics and dimensions that will allow you to benchmark whether your app is delivering the consumer engagements for which you are hoping. After defining what you need to measure and track, ask your developers to implement these metrics using a tool such as the Google Analytics Software Development Kit. The Google SDK measures interactions on Android and IOS, and offers many options for customisation.

Final thoughts

If your business is to launch its own app, make sure it is measurable right from the beginning to avoid needing to do another release to implement tracking. Also ensure that there is a long-term business commitment to the app. Apps shouldn’t just be written and left in the app store. Rather, they should constantly be improved and updated in response to consumer behaviour, the needs of your business, and new opportunities in the market.

* Michael Walker is the search and analytics director at 25AM

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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