Would you like an app with that?

After a post listing five trends to let go in 2014 Hugh Stephens adds his own pet peeve to the list.  

Hugh StevensOn the subject of 2013 trends that really shouldn’t continue into 2014, I can’t help but raise apps. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “we’re thinking of developing an app…” I’d probably retire comfortably to a private island.

What is the obsession with apps? Well, that’s simple. IBISWorld suggests that the Australian app development industry is worth $295m, with an annual growth rate (2008-13) of 177 per cent. Between “socially mobile” (Yellow Pages Social Media Report), “second screen entertainment” (too many references), it’s become painfully obvious (in case it wasn’t already) that consumers use smartphones. Smartphones are the most popular device to access social media with (Yellow Pages report), over 52% of Australians have a smartphone (from a Google report, May 2012), and 61 per cent search for product information on their phone (Google report).

Okay, so you get it (if you didn’t already). Lots of people use phones, and they use them a lot. Yay – a new marketing channel! And that’s definitely the case. I’m not going to talk about mobile advertising – that’s neither my area of expertise or something that particularly annoys me.

But the thing that gets me is that brands keep producing apps. Apps that do nothing, and are just rubbish. There’s already more than a million apps in the Apple App Store (source), so we should just add more, right? No.

Just because you can, does not mean you should. That great pitch that comes across your desk with an integrated campaign with 17 Facebook Pages and an app isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on (…probably – not saying there aren’t exceptions).

Why? Because most of these brand apps lack one key feature: a value proposition. Or sometimes, even a purpose. I often wonder if those developing the apps (or commissioning them) ask themselves the basic question of “why would someone download this? Why would they use it again and again?” Providing chunks of information in an app is not better than having a mobile-friendly website. It is worse.

An example of a pointless brand app

An example of a pointless brand a

There is a great list of “Crap Brapps [brand apps]” on this tumblr.

Apps aren’t cheap to produce. And often not cheap (for the client) to keep up-to-date and improve over time. So unless there’s clear business value for an app, why produce one? I love my telco’s app that lets me check my data usage. It’s useful, and saves me mucking around trying to log into a website. I love my bank’s app, to check the balance on my accounts. These have a clear purpose and value to me – they save me time. Even then, I mostly use about 5 apps on my phone: email, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and maybe Snapchat, along with messages and phone (what else is a phone for?). While I’m certainly not an ‘everyday consumer’, I question whether many other people really use the apps they download, or if they could happily live without.

So can we please stop producing useless apps? There’s nothing worse than when a short-term campaign involves a useless app – not only is it pointless, but you have intentionally built something that won’t last.

Having an app does not make your brand tech savvy, innovative or “Gen Y”. Hopefully it makes your customers value your brand because you’ve made their lives easier, or more interesting. But usually the winner is the agency or development company, not the consumer or brand.

Hugh Stephens runs specialist social and digital media consultancy Dialogue Consulting . Twitter @hughstephens.



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