01 October 2018 When the Past gives meaning to the Present

I’m usually quite adept at getting back into the swing of things after a break from work, but I admit my adjustment this time has slowed after the emotions of my eldest daughter’s wedding and the feelings of nostalgia it stirred.

It has prompted some reflection for sure, I used the spare time to do a bit of ‘personal’ late-spring cleaning. Out went cases of old books, souvenirs, newspapers, programmes including back copies of my old marketing magazines and management papers, all just gathering dust. 

It was a wonderful waste of time as I attempted to be as thorough as I could and failed miserably as the distractions increased!  I got there eventually but there was one publication that didn’t go in the recycling bin, it was from Marketing Week (MW), July 2011 and its predictive prose of the time still held sage advice for today despite the gulf of technical advancement in the intervening years.

At the time of its issue, I was a Marketing Director mostly launching and marketing shopper centres, and there was a desire by the clients to have a shoppers ‘App’ which also coincided with the development of Velocity Worldwide’s data, personalisation and insights platform, Darius® for Retail.

Now, I enjoy tech - for work, for leisure and just for making my life easier – and like most of us, use apps for my travel, family safety, entertainment.  However, not wishing to embarrass myself, I profess I have an irrational reaction to useless or poorly planned apps. 

My feelings haven’t changed much since they first appeared: if an app isn’t simple to use, reliable, respects my privacy, and delivers on its promise then I can’t see why I should waste my time with it.

Having navigated the ‘Father of the Bride’ duties without incident, I’ve proved I can be a responsible adult (about time!).  And, over time, I’ve taken fewer risks where my personal safety and data is concerned, so I tend to stay away from mobile payment/banking apps – it’s just a personal choice.

Back then, the apps were not much more than a mobile version of the website which we at Velocity Worldwide were managing for our clients. As the Marketing Week feature asked at the time “...the rush to bring out mobile apps left marketers questioning their strategic role. But can the development of functions unique to tablets and smartphones now give brands a genuine reason to enter this £2.3bn market?”. 

We, of course. have the benefit of hindsight, and it is unthinkable that any brand or business wouldn’t want to harness the digital behaviour of tapping an icon on the screen.  It’s not fantasy to say that one day, there will be a cerebral port to upload/download content to/from devices. 

But for now, we as users have the delight of using real-time, personalised, content rich apps.  So why do some brands, retailers rush the release of apps that haven’t learned from the costly lessons learnt of failed brands or the best practice of others?

My belief is an app is just one touchpoint of many that a brand or a business has to manage, which gives you a clue as to why I am so passionate about my own work projects. 

Customers, shoppers, fans, guests don’t just interact with an email or a push notification: they pass through stages of engagement to experience the promise, the service and the value - be it online, in-venue, or a mixture of both. It is the duty of the brand to unify the technologies and stages than contribute to that experience.

Throughout the retail landscape you can still see brands go ‘all-in’ on an app and social media strategy to drive footfall and sales.  The reality is, if the value is not perceived or fulfilled then the app doesn’t get used or much worse, deleted.  In the course of my work, I’ve heard many of the reasons associated with the frustration and disappointment of third-party apps – things like:

  • This can’t tell me if an item is in stock at a local store.
  • I want to benefit from the loyalty rewards, but I don’t wish to share my bank details which is stopping me from visiting
  • It pings me irrelevant messages on stuff I don’t want to buy and when I’m busy.

The other retailer frustration I encounter is ‘low (or slow) app download’ results.  It’s an obvious conclusion with our knowledge of apps today to say that the cause of this is inextricably linked to the functionality and usefulness of the app, but sometimes it’s simply because the customer just doesn’t know it exists or it’s poorly promoted.

If we consider that some of the better apps statistics being reported average a 20% download of unique customer base, then an over reliance on them can leave a gap that, unless plugged by other touchpoints, presents a real risk to customer engagement.

The advice shared back in 2011 on ‘how to set your app apart’ still holds value for developers of apps across all types and size of business:

  • Inform your customers that it exists.
  • Your activities need to be focussed on driving users directly to your App Store presence.
  • Once users have found the app, brands need to give consumers a reason to use it.
  • It is possible you might have more than one goal, so you can mix fun with purchasing in the same medium.
  • Make sure you are going to get the best customer journey.

Now the tech has improved, Gen Z are the new kids on the block and the marketing jargon has changed but that’s still pretty good advice for those wishing to develop an app.

But here’s another view. I work with retailers that don’t have an app. Instead, they harness their touchpoints to establish customer engagement and use a combination of social, email, SMS text messaging and Wi-Fi to stay connected and personal; adapting their own websites with up to date, relevant content.

So to conclude, in this age of omni-access, it’s not about how much tech your brand has, it’s how you use it to engage with, and keep your customers connected and happy.

I’ll shall now go and lie down and play the soothing sounds of a fax machine! 

If you would like to find out more about how you can drive engagement, loyalty and footfall – with or without an app – we’d love to hear from you.

Andy Batt, VP Market Development (GB), Velocity Worldwide


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