Brands Need to Understand and Embrace the Owned Media of Apps

2014 is the year of brand as publisher

In the United States today there are more than 327 million mobile devices being used on a daily basis. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, an astounding 91 percent of Americans currently own cellphones, and nearly two-thirds of consumers utilize their mobile devices to access the Internet.

IPhone with fake icons of a green at sign, yellow eye, blue nose, white and green dollar sign and red tongue.

Illustration: Adrià Fruitós

The average consumer spends 127 minutes in mobile applications each day, responding to emails, browsing Facebook and searching for places nearby, according to Street Fight Insights. These are people who represent a tremendous number of daily touch points between brands and consumers. Brands and their agencies need to understand the potential of this trend and leverage the owned-media mobile assets they already have—literally at their fingertips.

Our world is definitely moving to the small screen; however, many brands have yet to fully recognize how this seismic shift is creating new and unparalleled ways for them to effectively communicate with their customers whenever and wherever they are.

Companies in industries like financial services, travel and retail can be incredibly sophisticated about leveraging their corporate communications channels—websites, blogs, social media—yet many are completely ignoring the obvious customer communication vehicle in mobile apps.

Part of the disconnect is that many corporate mobile apps are managed by IT teams as “utility” apps, which require forward planning, cross-team coordination and additional effort to get them updated on a continual basis. These apps are typically designed around task-oriented activities (check your balance, book a flight, make a reservation) but leave much to be desired in the way of branded content or ongoing customer communication. However, when properly managed, in-app content and messaging can provide compelling branding and communication connections for the app owner—in short, a unique and compelling owned-media opportunity.

To be effective in today’s digital world, marketers need to create occasions to instigate meaningful and relevant conversations with their customers. In recent years, the most common approach has been through targeted email campaigns, brand websites, blogs and social media outreach. Each of these approaches has had to not only grab the consumer’s attention, but also encourage them to take additional actions to get to the brand value and benefits.

Conversely, corporate brands with mobile apps already have a committed audience that has “opted in” (when they purposely downloaded and installed the app in the first place and then on each subsequent use). But capturing and holding consumer attention during multiple sessions can be a challenge.

For savvy marketers, success is based on positioning their apps so that they are a direct consumer connection. This new owned-media channel can be used to provide a more meaningful experience through interactive content, targeted promotional offers and relevant brand messaging.

If 2014 has to the be year of something, it really should be the year of brand as publisher. When a brand develops/publishes a website, it wants to facilitate opportunities to compel visitors to stick around for a while. The same thing holds true when creating native mobile apps, and companies should invest in content management platforms and Web services that enable a range of engaging brand experiences. This includes the support and partnerships needed to deliver these interactions dynamically and at scale. Brands should also have the ability to present partner marketing offers that represent potential new revenue streams.

When mobile apps first appeared, most large companies just wanted to get to market quickly, and many ended up offering apps with limited scope and functionality. Today, there’s a much deeper focus on developing corporate apps that provide ongoing points of contact and interaction so that consumers will consider them as their primary source of new and useful information and personalized content and data. This will also require brands to better understand the digital needs and behaviors of consumers.

But like many things overlooked, the solution here is in the palm of their hands.

Ken Willner is CEO of Zumobi, a mobile media and technology company.