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The war of mobile applications: Do we really need an app for that?

It is undeniable that mobile technology has become an integral part of today's world. Because the tide is turning in the favour of this technology, many brands are looking for ways to become a part of this mobile phenomenon.

The first and foremost solution would be to create a mobile application to drive engagement towards smartphone and tablet users. However, many steps are required to make this a reality. Let's take a closer look at the current status of global mobile applications and see if this approach is still as sweet as it may have once looked.

According to worldwide data from Ericsson research, global smartphone penetration was up to 30 per cent by the end of last year and is predicted to hit 60 per cent of the worldwide population by 2019. With such great prospects, the way to the future has been paved for marketers. However, there are two key barriers one needs to be able to address before seeing a glimpse of success with the mobile-application trend.

The first barrier is the number of players in the application market. According to latest data from mobile analytics company Adjust, applications might not be your best solution for cashing in on the mobile-device craze.

There are more than 1.2 million applications currently available in mainstream app stores for Apple and Android devices. Of this number, 79 per cent are classified as "zombie apps", or those that have not attracted enough attention to be downloaded by users. To top it off, more than 60,000 applications a month are being added to the app stores, creating an even bigger barrier to getting your app noticed in this digital space.

The second barrier is the usability of the application. If an application did well at getting noticed and downloaded by end consumers, the next barrier is whether it will be used or not.

According to a study on application-retention rates by marketing-analytics company Localytics, one in five of the apps that have been downloaded on user's smart device will be opened only once, and then it will totally be forgotten or, in the worst case, uninstalled. The types of applications that can survive this behaviour include social-media and utility apps that get updated frequently, because users find these essential to their daily lives, as well as appreciating new features from constant updates.

This global trend is an indication that the balance of digital supply and demand is going haywire. If you are a local marketer, surviving the mobile-application battlefield may seem hard, but it is not impossible. The first way to survive is to know how your app can be discovered, and the second is how to keep people using it.

A good example came from a client of IPG Mediabrands Thailand, Equal, a low-calorie sweetener. At first, because of a small marketing budget against giant health and slimming products, Equal's only choice was to go mobile with a utility application called "Equaculator", which aimed to help users stay in shape.

To address the barrier regarding application discovery, the team from IPG Mediabrands helped Equal get the application known to consumers by means of targeted media selection. They focused on females, as they are more concerned about their physical shape and health than males. Tactics including celebrity endorsements and female-driven TV shows were used to entice women, breaking down the first barrier of how to be discovered in the app stores.

To make sure the second barrier was addressed, the app was designed to be used multiple times per day. The Equalculator application can display and calculate the user's calorie intake based on simple inputs after each meal, as well as updating exercise schemes to help burn off all of those daily intakes.

The app was a success in Thailand and has truly been a survivor in the application battlefield, with more than 80,000 downloads in the first month. It helped Equal grow sales by 7 per cent in two months since the launch of the application.

The mobile-application market is a sweet-smelling field enticing all marketers to step in. It is open to all, but please ask yourself whether your application will be strong enough to break through the barriers. Only then will you be victorious in this mobile-application battlefield.

Maas Virajoti is group head, strategy and innovation, IPG Mediabrands Thailand.


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