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Applications integral part of marketing strategy: MMF panel

NEW YORK - Once a brand has determined that mobile applications are an integral part of its marketing strategy, what's next?

That was the question answered by a panel at the Mobile Marketing Association's Mobile Marketing Forum yesterday in New York. The panel stressed that it is important for each brand to assess the value of widgets, branded applications and banner ads within applications based on their goals and their target demographic.

"Who am I targeting? What features should I have? What are the core brand values I'm looking to communicate it? How does the app do that and complement my other marketing campaigns?" said Patrick Mork, vice president of marketing for GetJar.

"You need to properly understand what is the user demographic for apps, who's downloading apps, when and how are they are using them," he said.

In a poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers, GetJar found a variety of instances when people use mobile applications.

For example, 27 percent said they use a mobile application when they are waiting for a taxi, bus or subway, while 32 percent use apps in bed before going to sleep,.

Marketers have found success launching branded applications, which can spread virally when done correctly.

Ogilvy built an application called Fanta Stealth Soundsystem for Coca-Cola, which achieved more than 100,000 downloads.

The app emits a series of high-pitched sounds that only consumers of a certain age can hear, so young consumers can send codes to each other and their friends can hear the sound, but their parents can't.

"The reason it was so successful is because it communicated Fanta's brand values, youth, irreverence, innovation and fun, without force-feeding the brand down people's throats," Mr. Mork said.

In a key development, carriers starting to embrace apps more and more, according to GetJar, which has deals with several.

"Carriers are recognizing that they have to have apps, because it drives up data usage and increases subscriber stickiness," Mr. Mork said. "They are starting to understand what it takes to make those app ecosystems work and what their customers want."

The Weather Channel has reaped various rewards from the mobile channel, from a loyal following on its smartphone applications to mobile ad revenue, much of it in-application advertising, as opposed to mobile Web/WAP banners.

"The iPhone has reintroduced apps to consumers, and the engagement with our consumers in the mobile application space is so much richer and deeper than what we see with the mobile Web," said Tracy VanDeventer, director of mobile products for The Weather Channel.

"The experience is different, people coming back more often to our apps and spending more time each time they're there," she said.

Ads within applications are similar to WAP banner ads, but the engagement level is different, according to TWC.

"The functionality of the ad product is different," Ms. VanDeventer said. "Originally we offered full-month-long sponsorships of our app, be we're adjusting our timeframe based on advertiser and consumer needs.

"We're creating new products to meet those needs," she said.

Healthcare company Humana has an ad-supported virtual health coach application called Sensei for Weight Loss, which offers promotions and discounts as rewards and incentives for users to keep to their weight-loss plan.

The company has successfully ported its application to various smartphones.

"The technology challenge is, with so many different platforms, to get your application to run in all environments," said Mary Ellen Harrison, vice president of business development for Humana's Sensei Inc. "We've seen that the iPhone and the App Store have done a tremendous amount for this space, and we're looking for success in similar app store environments."

Zumobi specializes in "superphones," its term for the latest models of Apple's iPhone, Google's Android, RIM's BlackBerry, the Palm Pre and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

"There is a huge buzz around the iPhone -- the iPhone has nailed it, and there's a ton of excitement, which represents a challenge and an opportunity," said Matt Snyder, associate vice president of brand partnerships for Zumobi.

"There's a mad rush to get an app in the App Store, but it's very important to have some discipline and not just throw something out there, but rather tie it into an overall campaign that fits with the brand message," he said.

"Things that work, best practices are still evolving, and gimmicky apps and brands' hard-sell ad shoved into an app are not working very well, whereas real valuable content is a pillar that people will come back to."

More manufacturers have plans to roll out devices that are app-supported, according to Zumobi.

"Things are heading in that direction, so if you're a brand or an agency, how do you reach the audience you're trying to reach with a given campaign or an app?" Mr. Snyder said. "The volume is there, say, 500,000 uniques that do work with you on a monthly basis, and apps are so deep and sticky.

"I rarely use the mobile Web anymore, because the iPhone is so personalized and customized, I've got my AP app I get my news from, the direct content that I want to see," he said. "The conversation is consistently about the iPhone, which is top of mind with most people today, and it's a terrific opportunity, because the app space is the richest and most engaging.

"There's the most creative capability within the app space, it is here, and now it's a question of making those apps really good, with content people care about."

Not everyone joined in the iPhone love fest, however. One vendor who specializes in emerging markets suggested that brands should cast a wider net by focusing on feature phones.

"The iPhone is fantastic, but it's overhyped -- great for certain markets, such as the U.S. and Europe, but it doesn't have significant penetration in emerging markets," said Samir Bangara, chief operating officer of India Games. "For people using more traditional phones, banners are still the killer app.

"For content providers it's really about conversion, and the simple stuff really works well in the emerging markets," he said. "There are many fantastic examples that mobile is more effective than Internet ads, so it's hard to understand that some brands aren't getting that message."