Brands should be fired up by Apprentice app task

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The Apprentice. Alan Sugar’s bi-annual marketing campaign for Viglen that convinces every office worker out there that if these bunch of idiots can do it, then maybe they could be Sir/Big/Lord Al’s next big thing too.

This week’s episode saw the newest recruit of hapless wannabes battle it out to create the most popular international mobile application – App-prentices if you will.

The boys’ app, Slangatang (a name only a moron would…oh…), was a “funny” crowdsourcing soundboard that allows users to listen to different regional dialects from around Britain. The girls opted for irritating ringtones (seemingly having never heard of the Crazy Frog).

There is not a day that goes by that Marketing Week is not informed of a new branded app entering the market and not all warrant a mention. Some brands could learn valuable lessons by rewatching this week’s episode.

While the App-prentices’ (I’m running with this one) task was more akin to a start-up tech developer’s job description, the two teams also had to decide on and perform the vital marketing elements brands are tasked with for their app propositions too.

There have been countless occasions where brands have contacted Marketing Week with “new”, “innovative”, “engaging” apps that were obviously developed with the sole purpose of ticking the “app” box on the digital campaign to-do list, with little extra thought assigned to them.

Unless a brand is naturally aligned with a technology audience, it needs to work hard to make its voice heard in what is an extremely crowded app market. Gartner predicts there will be 185 billion applications downloaded by 2014.

An app should be considered in just as much detail as a TV campaign, despite the fact that it doesn’t cost as much. A TV campaign lasts but a few weeks (minus any YouTube capture), whereas an app can be an ambassador for your brand for much, much longer as it sits on the virtual shelves of the app stores.

The apps themselves need to balance firmly in the middle of the wobbling tightrope between being useful and entertaining. Entertaining apps tend to deliver big spikes in downloads and customer engagement but longevity is sparse. Useful apps may last longer but need to be continually tweaked.

To paraphrase the infamous ex-Apprentice contestant Stuart Baggs, apps can’t be one trick ponies, they have to be a whole field of ponies.

Patrick Mork, CMO at mobile app store GetJar, says Wednesday’s Apprentice highlighted the essential issues when designing an app: audience, distribution and monetisation.

He adds: “The one thing [the teams] did get right was offering the apps for free and then building in in-app monetisation. This is by far the most successful strategy for launching a new app – free content is king when it comes to apps, even Sir Alan would agree with that.”

The episode also highlighted the importance of the app description. The girls’ straight to the point, yet slightly dull, description fared better than the boys’ vague effort. Brands should think of product descriptions almost as the app’s packaging: there’s no use in clever puns if it doesn’t explain what the item actually does.

The would-be Sir Alan dogsbodies’ hopeless attempt at the app task drilled home that apps cannot just be conjured up on a whim, then built to fit an audience. The customer need must be identified first.

Apps are more than a tickbox, they can be integral to building a brand and customer loyalty. Brands such as Lynx and Tesco have proved that apps provide more than just the novelty factor.

As Lord Sugar explained in his inimitable Cockney vernacular: “Business-wise right now, this is pretty much where it’s at.”

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