Tag Archives: Apps

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.

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The gray area is meant to have content served within.

 

In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.

Lessons From SXSW About Authenticity

At the SXSW Tech Conference, downtown Austin was flush with participants pitching their products and more people clamoring for and chasing insights into those products and more. Steve Smith points to the search for Authenticity in his MediaPost blog – Chasing Authenticity At SXSW.  While he was talking about Authenticity in relation to products and their intended users, the same lessons hold true for communication.

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Essentially, Smith captured statements from Walgreens and HBO executives about the development of their companies’ Apps.  In the case of Walgreens, they found that people didn’t care about games – they just wanted to do core activities like simple filling of prescriptions. At HBO, consumers wanted to view original content on the HBO Go App.  In both instances, the companies were able to build user-base solely on the core features and then they were able to expand to other functionality. They realized that they couldn’t hide their “authentic” product to build excitement for something that didn’t make sense for their intended audience right off the bat.

Too often in marketing, we see messaging that is spun too far from the truth.  Or, we see products from publishers, companies and organizations that just don’t ring true to what we believe them to be. We’ve all been there – where we might be too heavily immersed in a product to take a step back and ask the right questions. The right question is not always “Will anyone care/buy?”, but “Does this product make sense coming from us?”

We’ve referenced the common occurrence of utilizing campaign products that are the shiny-object-du-jour and how marketers should really analyze whether that makes sense.  Sometimes, you’ve got to bite the bullet to present what management asks for.  But, we should all be striving to present the authentic core of what our companies represent. The litmus test for any product development or campaign is whether people will immediately understand why you’re releasing/communicating this.  If its not immediately clear to the end user, then you might need to reconsider.

The business world is awash with terms like “optimize” and “leverage” and that’s for a reason.  Sadly, many don’t follow through with the core elements of each. Subsequent campaigns and communications are that much easier when they are derivative of the core values or message.  Through that authentic development and communication, you’ll make bring the right products and campaigns to market with the strongest economic benefit and upside.

Jumping Above the Bottom Line To Make Change…And Grow

For some agencies or marketing firms, the ideas may come freely with the sky being the limit on creativity.  Then they run into the actual limits of clients and budgets. Mix that creativity with the need to keep a staff engaged, the business development needs regarding technology and the move to make a difference, and you have the model for something special. I came across an iPhone game that AdWeek wrote about.  It’s not that the game is going to be a huge business – or is even that original.  The excitement is in who it’s for and how it came to be. The game, called Pain Squad, is specifically for the treatment of children going through Cancer treatments. The company that built it is not historically know for App development. The greater upside from the partnership between the company, Cundari, and the hospital, University of Toronto-afilliated Hospital for Sick Children, is priceless. Providing Pro Bono creative and technical resources for real-world philanthropic change extends far beyond the bottom line.

In this case, Cundari built a game App that provides an incentive for kids to track how they are feeling.  Currently, there are more systems that require the updates to be done in journals. And, as we’ve all experienced with journals as kids, we didn’t usually do such a great job of remembering to make our entries.  When it has to do with a person’s health, the mechanics of entry and remembering to do so are not much easier – but they are that much more important. Pain Squad provides a fun way for kids to keep up with something that isn’t that fun – logging the level of pain they are experiencing.

While agencies have been doing Pro Bono work for as long as there have been agencies, they are usually not thought of as capability development opportunities. Often, the agencies aren’t even asked to do these things because it is not thought to be something they offer.  In many other instances, agencies won’t engage in it for fear of putting something sub-standard out there. And probably the biggest reason that companies shy away from Pro Bono work is because they don’t want to take away from their “paying-gig” resources.

I’m not saying that agencies or companies step so far outside of their wheelhouse to the point that they might offer a sub-standard product.  And I’m certainly not suggesting that agencies “experiment” on Pro Bono products in ways that are foolhardy or detrimental to either organization. I’m suggesting that more companies develop products and offer either the entire product or sub-sets to charities or organizations as a way to give back. Though the elements of research should never be the main reason for doing this, that research of both the usage of your product and the setting of process could be a huge by-product of the experience. That by-product could lead to much bigger things for your company and the organization you are helping.

It is a sensitive proposition to do Pro Bono work – especially when you hear horror stories about the volunteer work being a larger drain on resources than the paying gigs.  That’s why you’ve got to be strategic in what you offer to do and who you offer to do it for.  While many elements are the same as other client-vendor relationships, Pro Bono work can easily get mired in that grey area. Make sure expectations are set both externally and internally so that no part of the process leads to disappointment.

If done properly, the possibilities for the endeavor’s partners are endless if done correctly and for the right reasons. Not only are organizations helped, but the people who benefit the most are the ones who need help the most. If it makes sense, jump at the chance to make a difference. And who knows?  Perhaps a solid byproduct will be the uplift in your bottom line.

ESPN Can Second-Screen My Life!

As part of an article about the possibility for networks co-opting event rights – like NBC’s Olympic coverage this Summer – without paying a penny, ESPN’s EVP of multimedia sales told Adweek, “We want to see ESPN as a second screen for all sports. We know we have a lot of companion [mobile] usage even when it’s not our event. We want to take co-viewing to the next level.” ESPN may be one of the brands that are best positioned to move beyond just the games they air when it comes to second-screen apps. I would even go one step further… They should expand their definition of second-screen to include all live sporting events – whether you are watching the show on their networks, other networks and, most importantly, if you are physically at the games. This would align with my feeling that the best branded solution for second-screen apps is to focus on affinity groups rather than broad networks or shows.  By doing this, second-screen apps can best complement life and not just viewing habits.

I know this is a little “ideal” or “out there”, but imagine if ESPN was to focus on building that environment that extends the experience of “being there” to all viewers and building bonds in the real world between people who are all at the same event. What if there were special check-ins for people who are physically at the games – or if it automatically tracked whether users were at a venue or not and framed their comments in such a way that they could be found more easily. They can post bits about what they’re seeing in the venue and allow those at home to feel even more connected to the game. This can be done in association with ESPN’s already popular GameCast feature – building out a whole new feel for the game.

Courtesy of Adweek

Though the Adweek article was focused on television and rights, it did get me thinking about the possibilities for second-screen apps that deep dive into themes that matter to affinity groups. There are those brands that could work best to serve those affinity groups in all parts of life – as a second-screen. ESPN is obvious for sports, but could Bravo be the second-screen app for all things Arts – with check-ins and instant reviews from cultural facilities?  Could Food Network be the same for both restaurants and grocery stores? How about E! or Style for nightlife.  In all of these instances, there could be a great opportunity to enable connections in real-life that also feed into our digital lives.

To a certain degree, Facebook is a second-screen App to our lives.  But I think it is too broad. Narrowing down our second-screen-life Apps to the affinity groups (Sports, Culture, Food, Partying, Outdoors, Crafts, etc.) and anchoring them to the large niche cable networks could be just the ticket. If a brand is already developing a companion app, and the cost of including some location-based functionality is incremental, doesn’t it make sense to reach for greater inclusion, interaction and engagement?

Maybe I’m thinking too much in the clouds, but I really don’t think this is too far off.  Even from a sports perspective, there was a time when the new sports venues were installing systems to provide real-time stats at your seat.  Obviously, that went by the wayside when mobile Apps came on the market that could do the same thing.  There is obviously a demand for it in that engagement model.

If the right branding partners are leveraged, it could mean quicker and simpler access by people no matter where they are and what they are watching. Rather than a whole bunch of Apps that are specific to certain locations, requiring people to download a bunch of occasionally used Apps, those brands with the penetration should look to really run the gamut and make their Apps whole for the affinity groups that would most use them.

At that point, we’ll be talking about Second-Screens for our lives – whatever that life may be…

The Game of Cracking the Mobile Media

Yet another company has entered the scene promising points and chances to attain higher levels by interacting with advertisements – this time by former Apple exec Lars Albright and his company, SessionM.  There are a number of benefits for a consumer in the way of virtual goods, extra play or pride rewards by these types of programs.  Developers of games and apps can see a lift in engagement and retention among their users.  And, advertisers can look to connect with an audience in a still-developing realm of mobile media. But are these engagements nothing more than a toy, or will it make the difference for users? However it flushes out, somebody’s gotta crack the code on gamification in mobile media – and that might not necessarily be through points alone.

The offering of rewards for viewing ads or engaging with a brand on platforms and apps has seen an uptick in awareness and retention – enough so that there are more and more companies entering the fray.  SessionM was able to receive $6.7 Million in funding and was able to test their services with publishers like Viacom and Fox Sports, and advertisers that include Honda and Volvo.

The question is how long will this form of reward keep a user enthused enough to participate.  We know that advertising helps to make content available for free and we also know that mobile ad interaction rates continue to drop – though the engagement for those who do interact are quite high.  Perhaps the access to more content – or even the same level of content that consumers are used to for free will be enough to entice them to “play the game” and engage more fully with the advertising presented in the mobile space.

Courtesy of mobilestance.com

Last night, I was discussing the challenges in mobile media with some friends and we were wondering when the “Play to Pay” model will make its way into mobile.  This is the opposite of Pay-to-Play in the truest sense.  Effectively, the Play represents the interaction with advertising and Pay being the reduction of monthly charges for the user’s mobile usage.  We joked that an additional feature would be the allowance of subliminal messages during phone calls or while using any apps in exchange for free service.  Can you imagine being on a call with a friend and all the sudden having a robotic voice overlay your friend’s voice with something like “I can’t wait to see the movie, PROJECT X, how about you?” Besides completely screwing with your communication (and your mind) this solution could be beyond anything that people would be comfortable with. But, a less obtrusive solution could be just the key Telcos are looking for to get back into the monetization of mobile interaction beyond the existing data charges.

Could Telcos be too busy trying to scrape back pieces of the business Google and Apple cordoned off with their App stores instead of finding engaging ways to make a real positive difference in their customers’ pockets? Devising a model that is similar to the coffee-house wi-fi networks model that provides free access with the simple act of watching a video or reading the advertising copy could be that perfect mix of making more money AND passing some value to their consumers.  I imagine the model would be complex, but I’ve got to believe that actual reductions in money spent would be more enticing to consumers than getting another shiny badge or accessing another level of gameplay.

Is Facebook The One To Rule Them All?

Yesterday, as the Mobile World Congress’ Keynote Speaker, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor laid out the company’s plans to “help” the mobile industry and developers work around the pesky control that Apple and Google now share. While unveiling two key programs that Facebook is looking to lead, he addressed Facebook’s plans to tackle both the in-app purchasing and the setting of HTML5 development standards and guidelines.  Looking at both, they could be seen as either a uniting of factions to create a better mobile experience for all, or an end run at increasing the company’s power and market share.

Facebook CTO Bret Taylor speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. (Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

To be fair, the move does seem like a win for  Telcos – who were left out of the app monetization scheme by Apple and Google – and App developers – who have to go through heavy testing phases to ensure their product work across the wide range of systems and hardware. But, it seems that Facebook’s real goal is to enable themselves to make more money in the long-term. And that’s not a bad thing – just a worrisome one.

First off, the changes to in-app purchasing are much-needed and could benefit users as much as the telcos (and Facebook) it will most likely support financially.  I question what Facebook’s role is in finding that solution.  Don’t they already have a monetization model via Facebook credits?  As more of their business moves to mobile and the subsequent ad revenue opportunities are diminished in the mobile experience, it is unclear what they will be able to garner from this immediate development. It does look like they will be able to offer the Telcos a piece of the revenue pie by reaching the umpteen million Facebook users, but their ultimate upside for Facebook will be that they are now playing in the same 30% playground that Apple and Google control.

The other part of Taylor’s address was related to general Mobile Web standards. There is an obvious need to come to some general standards and Facebook has the weight behind it to lead other publishers and developers in that quest. If they are putting together a consortium, hopefully it will be more effective than the ones we’ve seen in the entertainment industry (that come together to then decide they are going to do things their own way.) If they are building technology – specifically the Ringmark product they announced for testing purposes – as an infiltration tool (think back to those AOL CDs that came in the mail to get users to join) things could possibly get messy.  Developers will be keen on tapping into Facebook’s Open Graph, but will it help those same developers with other testing that might have nothing to do with Facebook?  If it is too narrow, it could end up being counter-productive.

It is far too soon to tell which way this will go, but my initial reaction was one of concern.  That concern is based on the confusion about whether the company is facilitating the consortium or leading it.  They are certainly in the position to facilitate the connection of many companies to reach a higher (and competitive) good.  My concern is that it seems that they are actually looking to extend their fingers beyond their core to generate an even further stake in the digital realm.  The positioning as an alternative to Apple and Google is a noble business decision, but will it spread them too thin?  Also, if they are leading the charge and bringing on partners to do a bunch of dirty work that might show those companies an up-side in the short-term for Facebook’s further domination in the long-term, that could be a cause for concern.

Of course, there is not anything “evil” in either case – it just seems like it could end up being dubious.  Or, perhaps I’m too fixated on an “Evil Empire” narrative of some sort.

 

A Case Where Media Spend Is Not All About The Numbers

Flurry, a mobile advertising and analytics firm, just came out with a report exploring the disparities between the amount of time being spent on ad platforms and the amount of money spent on them. They noted that the largest disparity between the two was in Mobile – where 23% of users’ time was spent there with only 1% of U.S. ad dollars.  Comparing that to Print media, where 29% of ad dollars meet only 6% of time is spent, then it would seem that things are off-kilter.  While there could stand to be some shifting upward in Mobile spend percentages, looking to align the percentages of time spent with dollars spent on numbers alone in your media planning could leave you dangling in the wind.

Flurry’s VP of Marketing, Peter Farago stated in the company’s blog post that they “believe the main reason for this disparity (in Mobile) is that the mobile app platform has emerged so rapidly over such a short period of time. …Madison Avenue and brands have yet to adjust to an unprecedented adoption of apps by consumers.” That may be part of the issue, but it misses a number of other key factors:

  • The way in which people interact with the different media platforms is as much a piece of the puzzle as the time they spend using them. We all know that viewers expect a certain form of advertising when they are engaging with TV, Print and even Radio.  When looking at the Web, it seems that there is still not yet full stability in advertising engagements and Mobile is considered to most media planners to still be the Wild West.
  • With the above, some media platforms have standards that are easy to understand and convey to both upper management and clients.
  • While TV has gone through some changes with the advent of DVRs and the ability to skip ads, there is still structure there and the historical arguments come into play.  In the case of Radio and Print, the numbers are dwindling, but advertisers still have a clear idea of the context in which they will be viewed.  And most importantly, they know that there will be a decent opportunity for the ads to be seen or heard by those who are consuming those types of media. in all three of these, there is a higher percentage of ad spend than time spent.
  • Ad spend on Web is closer to alignment of time spent (22%) to ad spend (16%) and that is likely due to time in the marketplace as well as normalization of not only contextual placements but reporting.  That will continue to evolve and shift (e.g. current trend from standard ads to video) and we will most likely see the spend percentages rise above the time percentages in the next year or two.
  • Ultimately, the costs for these media placements are not normalized and cannot be compared as apples to apples. Therefore, the numbers may be “illogically” skewed for some time to come.

Taking the above into consideration, there is still a major consideration for Mobile.  When you figure that most use of mobile is done on Apps and mobile websites that do not offer Mobile-specific advertising options, there would definitely be a disparity in the numbers.  Additionally, as mobile advertising is still relatively new, the media program costs are often heavily discounted to either get in the advertiser’s door or provide proof of concept.  With those offerings, there needs to be strong analytical follow-up to derive stronger (and more costly) programs.  As of now, we’re still too early to be able to do that – even if there was enough real advertising inventory to relate directly to the time spent meter.

The report did point to other interesting facts that could lead to a strong future in mobile media with the strongest one being that Upper Middle Class consumers aged 25 – 34 are the most likely to interact with mobile ads.

There is definitely a future in mobile advertising and the chasm between time spent and ad dollars spent will surely come more closely aligned. The smart bet is on more than just the numbers, but the context. The strongest contextual applications will play out in the coming years and the best option is to be ready to pounce when it arrives to generate the best return on any Mobile media spend investment.