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ESPN exec: Mobile application promotion needs to go beyond app stores

Please click here to access the archived webinar

Brands and retailers have to think beyond app stores to find loyal users, according to an ESPN executive who participated in a Mobile Marketer webinar yesterday.

Execs from ESPN, JetBlue, Staples and Fiksu participated in Mobile Marketer?s ?Five keys to building app loyalty and long-term usage? webinar and spoke about the role that mobile apps play in a company?s broader digital strategy. The executives also offered best practice tips to attendees looking to build their mobile strategy.

?Optimizing for the store is one thing, but there is only so far that a store can go, even for a brand? said Hila Dar, director of product management at ESPN, Bristol, CT.

The webinar was sponsored by Fiksu and moderated by Mickey Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

Mobile sports fans
ESPN has built its mobile strategy around its core group of sports fans that are looking for quick access to sports content while on the go.

?We are in an interesting spot where mobile is an intersection between sports and social media,? Ms. Dar said.

?A mobile device is in your pocket at all times, and we need to give sports fans a reason to take it out of their pocket,? she said.

?Mobile Web and apps go hand-and-hand for sports fans.?

Although iOS used to lead the pack when it came to apps, Android is gaining traction as a hot platform as ESPN has seen an uptick in traffic from the devices.

As Android continues to become more prominent, brands can expect for conversion and engagement to go up as well on the operating system. ESPN now develops for both iOS and Android when rolling out new apps.

When it comes to breaking down mobile Web users versus mobile app users, Ms. Dar said that although there is overlap, certain users are prone to one or the other.

Brands need to think of features that are unique to mobile when creating apps, such as location and social media to differentiate their Web offerings from mobile initiatives.

For ESPN, its mobile app users want quick access to content such as sports scores, which makes it a crucial function in the publisher?s apps that needs to be visible for sports fans.

Additionally, keeping apps simple and straight-forward is key with a clearly-designed value that entices users to come back to the app.

Ms. Dar also stressed that although apps are an important part of a digital strategy, it is only part of the mix. Brands need to think about all channels when developing their mobile efforts.

Mobile wings
Jonathan Stephen, head of mobile for JetBlue Airways, New York, also spoke on the webinar about how the company recently began its first app initiative.

According to Mr. Stephen, JetBlue decided to go the iOS route first with its mobile app after seeing that the operating system was a large driver for mobile Web traffic.

Ten percent of all of JetBlue?s Web traffic comes from mobile devices, per the executive.

Understanding where a consumer is coming from is key to deciding whether to develop a mobile app or site. In JetBlue?s case, the company?s iPhone app is aimed at the company?s TrueBlue loyalty program.

For an airline such as JetBlue, the user?s purpose behind downloading an app is to extend their experience while flying, which includes being able to check the status of their trip and knowing which kinds of services are available on their flight.

Mr. Stephen also gave attendees a few takeaway points for developing a mobile app, including making sure that the app gives relevant content, meets the needs of consumers and takes into account feedback.

?An app is not a mobile strategy,? Mr. Stephen said.

?It is important to look overall at the digital properties and create synergy to understand how customers access your information,? he said.

Loyalty is key
An executive from Staples said that the difference between the company?s mobile Web and app users is that app users tend to know and expect more from the brand.

?With mobile, customers are more engaged than other online properties,? said Prat Vemana, director of mobile strategy at Staples, Framingham, MA.

Staples originally launched an app for iOS devices and used it for insights into how to further develop its app strategy.

With some reports that only 20 apps get used on a consumer?s mobile device, it is critical for brands to think about ways to add value to the apps that will encourage consumers to use them often.

Staples recently released a mobile site for the iPad as its first foray into tablets and is looking for ways to make it optimized for other devices such as Android tablets as well.

In particular, brands need to think about ways to add value to drive sales via the apps in addition to product research and other features, per Mr. Vemana.

Less is more
Although it can be tempting for brands to pack in as many features as possible into their apps, it is more important for the app to have a few great features, per Craig Palli, vice president of business development at Fiksu Inc., Boston.

Brands need to not only think of ways to develop mobile apps, but also how to promote them.

?An app will not find its way into a store,? Mr. Palli said.

?You need to make noise to break into a category ? it is not about having two million users, it is about having one million loyal users,? he said.

IOS and Android users have very different behaviors and as a marketer it is important to think about different ways to engage with specific platforms.

A raw number of app downloads is not the only measurement that a brand should use to determine if an app is successful or not.

Although it is important to promote an app through multiple channels, helping users find an app organically in an app store can lead to a four to eight times more valuable user than a consumer who finds the app in other ways, according to the Fiksu exec.

In order to build loyalty, Mr. Palli suggested using features that connect users with the brand such as chats or links to social media sites.

?If you are building loyalty, build functionality for a one-on-one relationship,? Mr. Palli said.

Please click here to access the archived webinar

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York