About 4 months ago I wrote a post about the difficulty differentiating with an iPhone application. I forecasted 3 billion downloads and 100,000 applications by the middle of this year – and my calculations are proving accurate with the app store reaching 25,000 apps and 1 billion downloads earlier this year.
Since that post, we’ve been a part of quite a few proposals for clients on iPhone application development. The iPhone projects we’ve been able to be a part of are pretty awesome, like delivering real-time, patient data to doctors while the patient is in hospital awaiting a procedure. However, I am noticing a trend, mostly from the requests we are getting from large marketing agencies, that is a bit, well, disturbing.
I’m going to give you a hypothetical example (I think it is obvious why I don’t want to use an actual one) – For this example, we are going to talk about an ad agency, Razor Can, and their client, Bank of Washington.
Bank of Washington has come to their agency and asked them to create an iPhone app for them. Bank of Washington has young & affluent customers, and they are demanding more from their bank. Razor Can, who has been very successful creating the young and hip image for Bank of Washington, decides to propose a brand building, breakthrough iPhone application : a game based using the Bank’s mascot, a cuddly teddy-bear. They pitch the idea to the bank – and the creative is BRILLIANT - truly mesmerizing 3D interactions the Bank’s brand worked into a great, immersive environment. Sounds great, right?
Well, how do I put this mildly…. Razor Can is DEAD wrong. They are stuck in brand building mode, when in reality Bank of Washington’s customers really want is a way to check their balance online, pay a bill, be alerted when potential fraud has occurred, or simply find an ATM. Spending big money on a game that builds brand awareness is a bit like the bank creating a branch that does not have any tellers or ATMs but has an awesome rock-climbing wall and free arcade.
I used a bank only as an example, but we’ve actually received requests like the one above for 10 different large brands through 8 different branding agencies. By the way, none of them received funding (at least none that I’ve heard from). Enterprises are starting to realize that their customers want UTILITY, not BRAND MESSAGING from their digital interactions. Forrester came out with a great stat last year … 77% of consumers use online services because they are easy to use and content, compared to 22% use online services because of brand loyalty. Let me restate that because it seems mildly important…
Online consumers are not loyal to a brand, they are loyal to user experience.
I realize that creating a game,a cool social network, or a photo-sharing marketing campaign is more fun and sometimes easier than creating great utility, but it is far more risky and almost always totally useless for end users. If I want a game, I’ll by one for $.99. I really am not interested in one from my bank, telco, dry cleaner, diet plan, fast food chain, newspaper, or hotel chain. It is a transparent attempt to come in to my personal space and market to me. What I want, what most people want, is my life to be easier – that’s why I bought an iPhone in the first place!