Monday, October 12, 2009

How Are Apps Changing Experiential Marketing?

With tons of iPhone, Blackberry, and Android product related apps coming out every day, I am beginning to wonder about the changing dynamics experiential marketing. When I first left home and headed to college, I found myself knee deep in brands trying to make me a loyalist through interaction. The most common form of experiential marketing came through the free sample. Lately, I feel like marketers are moving away form the sample and straight to the buzz generating that phone apps can create. But, I keep coming back to the question: Is it worth the investment?

On one side of the argument, an app can bring a brand to people who may or may not interact with it on a regular basis. Take the Pizza Hut app as an example:

Unless a customer is extremely familiar with The Hut's menu and the local phone number, he or she will have to go dig through the menu drawer in the the kitchen to look for a coupon where the customer could find another pizza delivery deal. The Pizza Hut application circumvents this treacherous behavior.

However, most importantly, the app serves a purpose because it brings the products to the consumer.

Is this better than handing out a free pizza like Orpah and Kentucky Grilled Chicken? It all depends on the roll out. In this case, Pizza Hut got the app on a recent iPhone 3Gs commercial and the equation was balanced out. Buzz was generated, the app was downloaded, and pizzas were purchased.

Even - and much to my surprise - apps for banks are worthwhile as long as you never lose you phone. In the midst of the economic crisis, banks were pushing out apps and I was screaming, "You're doing this with my money!" like an irate account director; yet, they proved to be pretty useful for people like me. As a marketing tool, these apps are actually a selling point as long they are functionally good.

From an experiential marketing standpoint, apps like this are neutralizing the banking experience, which is exactly what they need. The less I interact with human beings, the less likely I am to have a nervous breakdown in public. The only way to generate buzz in banking lately seems to come from two strategies:

1) Make the experience as easy and painless as possible.
2) Offer things like interest, which Chase and Citi do not pay on checking and savings accounts.

After all, who would expect a bank to pay you for holding your money? They should have the right to take out $6.00 a month for inactivity... That's a fight for another day. Since banks cannot follow through on the simple promises anymore, reliable apps are a great way to keep their customer base in line and keep them talking positively about their bank.

On the other side of the argument you have apps sponsored by consumer products. The other day I wrote about Pepsi's "Amp Up Before You Score" and why it will not generate the right buzz for the product.

What is the right buzz for Amp? In my mind, it has to be "it tastes/works/makes me feel better than Red Bull." Product differentiation in the mind of the consumer will not come from establishing a link to a lifestyle in all cases, especially in a market with such a low barrier of entry.

Besides, if you really want males to drink amp to gain courage you need to be where they think they need courage most, bars. There are tons of promotion companies out there who are ready and able to have samples at the hottest spots, and - most importantly - they know the local market.

With this in mind, can a CPG have a good app? Yes, but it really should lead the individual toward purchasing the product. Branded entertainment can only get people so excited, and trying to be hip cannot replace quality.

1 comment:

Mark Brandau said...

For what it's worth, not everybody is sold on smart-phone apps. Your mention of Pizza Hut reminded me that Domino's opted to develop optimized-mobile sites rather than an app because they felt apps don't get downloaded as much as people think, so it wouldn't be worth the cost involved.

Run-on sentence FTW, geez.

Here's the article about that: