What Great Apps Can Teach Brands

Created with ColorSplash app

Just in case you missed this on MediaPost, here’s an overview of some interesting apps and what brands can learn from them.

I flat out love apps. Every time I discover a new one that enhances my life in some small way, I feel a burst of joy that demands sharing. Obviously, I’m not alone in my enthusiasm. Last week, Google announced the 10 billionth download of Droid apps, and Apple said they hit 18 billion downloads back in October. That’s a lot of apps to love.

Needless to say, not all of these apps are getting used. Like most, I download many more than I end up trying, let alone using regularly. No, it takes something truly special for an app to gain traction. Those that do find purchase, however, can teach numerous lessons to brands operating outside the app-happy universe.

Do One Thing Really Well
Despite Jim Collins’ advice for companies to have a “hedgehog” concept, very few brands have the discipline to stand for one thing and stick with it. Colorsplash, a beautifully restrained app, is a basic editing tool that dramatizes your photos by removing all the color and then filling in specific objects with your chosen hue.

Don’t Hang Out All By Yourself
Though the evidence is clear that tapping into social network APIs like Facebook and Twitter can build awareness and even drive sales, too few brands are doing it. Successful apps like Instagram, another photo modifying app, make ease of sharing across social networks a fundamental usage component.

There Are Still Unmet Needs to Be Found
Brands must continually strive to improve their offerings by identifying unmet needs. One trailblazing app is ZocDoc. The ingenious app allows you not only to locate nearby doctors that accept your insurance plan (in 13 US markets now) but also book an appointment at a specified time. Think OpenTable for doctors.

A Little Hand Holding Goes A Long Way
Some products are complex by nature and finding the added support you need to understand them can be challenging. Ringtones, a fun app that allows you to convert any song in your iTunes library into a ringtone, is a bit complicated at first, but knowing this, the creators also offer a great demo video that makes learning the 3 requisite steps a snap.

Extend the Utility You Already Offer to Mobile
Lots of brands offer great resources on the web that aren’t yet mobile-friendly. This is a big oversight. OpenTable.com, my favorite online restaurant reservation service, has a brilliantly functional iPhone app. Integrating nicely with iPhone GPS, this tasty app helps you find a restaurant with open tables and secure a reservation in less than a New York minute.

Form is as Important as Function
Today, having a product that works is not enough – aesthetics matter, too. To understand this notion, just look at the new Flipboard app for iPhone. The design experience is the brand. Never before has information consumption on a phone felt so joyously elegant, so positively delectable that mere words don’t do it justice.

Turn Your Customer Into the Star
For years brands have been saying the “customer is king” while spending the bulk of their marketing budget on self-congratulatory ads. Songify, a beyond-genius app that turns spoken words into a melodic song, is silly but addictive because it plays into my desire to be an acceptable, if not talented, singer rather than a tone-deaf writer.

Tap Into Your Customer’s Emotional Needs
All too often, brands focus on the practical needs of their audience, overlooking the irrationality that frequently guides behavior. One new app that appeals to our softer, whimsical side is Qwips. Built around personal voice recordings, Qwips allows you to manipulate your audio with effects and pictures sure to touch the heartstrings.

Deliver a Little Bit of Magic
Admittedly, not every brand can be Disney or Apple and find the magic in all they do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. An app called Drinks and Cocktails delivers my kind of magic by helping me figure out what special cocktail I can make based on what’s in my liquor cabinet. The Sidecar I made Friday night was indeed heaven-sent!

Another marvel of ColorSplash.

Final Note
The average iPhone user has over 100 apps on their phone and spends over an hour a day using them. As apps become indispensible, consumer phone usage increases, as do their expectations for all mobile experiences. If your brand doesn’t have a mobile-friendly site, then you better make one fast. Beyond that, dare I suggest: ‘Appy New Year!

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