App builders develop new tools to engage consumers

Sep 23, 2009
Tech

Developers are rushing to help major consumer brands build apps for the iPhone and other wireless platforms, but are using numerous techniques to create new and exclusive content. During a panel called on “Constructing an App” at the Apps For Brands conference in New York on Wednesday, Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer for ad agency […]

Developers are rushing to help major consumer brands build apps for the iPhone and other wireless platforms, but are using numerous techniques to create new and exclusive content.

During a panel called on “Constructing an App” at the Apps For Brands conference in New York on Wednesday, Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer for ad agency AKQA, emphasized that the customer experience remains the critical component. If it looks like advertising for a brand, the app won’t work.

“We believe the best advertising isn’t advertising,” he said, citing several examples.

The “virtual bartender” for Smirnoff Vodka helps people order more than the familiar one or two vodka drinks because people may not be familiar with other options. This app exists for mobile WAP use. The GAP StyleMixer for the iPhone helps shoppers mix-and-match their wardrobe by combining existing clothing (take pictures of your closet!) with potential new items to see if you like the combinations. As a bonus, you can share the combinations on your Facebook page to see if your friends approve.

“These tools are not advertisements as much as engagements with a brand,” Inamoto said.

JB Holston, CEO of Newsgator, recently launched a tool to help companies quickly build an app. Called TapLynx (click here to try for free), this white-label framework allows brands to quickly get an iPhone app up and running. Clients include All Things Digital and Variety.

We are learning a lot about taking advantage of “personality and video driven brands,” Holston said, noting how All Things Digital features content from popular consumer tech writers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, who likes to shoot video interviews with tech company executives.

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Other companies are using the iPhone’s unique tools to build consumer engagement.

The Barnes & Noble Bookstore app, for example, uses the iPhone’s camera so customers can snap photos of a book to get information and reviews. Doug Gottlieb, a vice president with Barnes & Noble.com, called this “search without typing” that helps someone choose what to read next and, of course, buy through the retailer’s app.

Finally, Matt Galligan, CEO of SimpleGeo, is building an infrastructure to help clients use the iPhone’s location-based tools to improve the consumer experience.

“Our thesis is that location is not a competitive advantage, but a commodity,” he said. Hence, SimpleGeo is developing tools so apps can identify, by looking through the iPhone’s camera, the location where someone recently used Twitter or another service. Also, by using “augmented reality” tools, one could point their iPhone at a McDonald’s restaurant and a coupon for Burger King could pop up.

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Eric Benderoff

Eric Benderoff is the principal of BendableMedia.com, an editorial services firm, and a founding member of the Appolicious content strategy team. His personal technology column for the Chicago Tribune has appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide. He is a regular guest on Chicago's WGN Radio and is a frequent commentator about consumer technology on national TV news programs.

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