May 6, 2011, 1:11 PM

Promotion and ‘the wow factor’ are key to getting customers to use a mobile app

An app developer offers a three-pronged approach to marketing a retail app.

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“Discovery” is a popular term in mobile app circles. It refers to a consumer finding an app among the hundreds of thousands that crowd the various app stores. If a retailer spends $20,000 to $200,000 on a mobile app, it’s going to want to make sure consumers know it exists. But many retailers don’t effectively get the word out.

MacroView Labs, which builds mobile apps for companies in various industries and advises them on app strategy at launch and beyond, has a three-pronged approach to promotion for its clients debuting mobile apps: internal education, external promotion and word of mouth.

First, internally, employees from call center staff to store associates must know about the app and what it can do for a customer, the developer advises.

“You want to provide employees with language they can use to educate shoppers about what the app is, what it does, where it’s available,” says Aron Ezra, president of MacroView Labs. “After an organization launches an app, people will approach employees and say things like, ‘How does the 2-D bar code reader work? ’So it’s important to make sure a sizable numberof your employees understand just what the app is.”

Ezra adds that employees themselves begin using the app and become an ad hoc focus group that can provide the retailer with valuable feedback.

MacroView then focuses on external promotion tactics, which can range from standard approaches to cutting-edge ploys. Merchants should have promotional boxes or copy that links to pages in app stores where a consumer can read about the app, see screen shots and download it, the developer says. They also should include a regular promotional presence within e-mail marketing pieces.

Retailers should also try going beyond traditional promotional vehicles and experiment with new tactics that make use of mobile technology, says Ezra. Apps lend themselves to in-store shopping where consumers, for example, can scan bar codes to pull up product information, videos and prices for comparing to other retailers, or use location-based services to get to the store in the first place and then perhaps “check in” through a location-oriented marketing app like Foursquare or Facebook Places. Retailers should promote their apps to customers who already have a smartphone in hand, MacroView says.

“It’s important to have signs in stores, but signs don’t have to just take the form of traditional big banner posters—you can also be creating specific calls to action within the store,” Ezra explains. “Have something like a 2-D bar code in a store so a shopper with a bar code reader can hold up their phone and find out what’s going on in the store or unlock a special code you can use only right there.” A two-dimensional bar code, a vertical and horizontal image that can contain much more information than a standard 1-D bar code like the Universal Product Code, can also link the smartphone-toting shopper to the app store page for the retailer’s app, he says.

Finally comes word of mouth, which a retailer can generate by ensuring its app offers a bit of “the wow factor,” the inclusion of a feature or function that, plain and simple, is cool, MacroView says.

“Look at what the individual users can do with an app that could inspire them to tell friends and family,” Ezra says. "You can incorporate social media pieces within the framework of the app itself so a shopper can say, ‘Check out this newthing I’m thinking about buying, what do you think? ’We try very hard to make sure there is a wow factor within the app, something that is really fun to use, so consumers say, ‘Oh, you got to check this thing out.’ They want utility to get them to better deals,but they also want fun, like a store scavenger hunt.Making sure the end user has a fun experience will enable retailers to sell more in the long term.”

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