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How to Build a Branded App (and Never Look Back)


When was the last time you downloaded a mobile app that became an indispensable part of your daily routine? What about one with content so compelling you didn’t want to put it down?

Now, when was the last time that app came from a brand marketer?

Apps have become such a commonplace feature in our lives that we might overlook how much power they can wield – and how much branding value they can provide – when used strategically as a content marketing platform.

Brand value leaps off the small screen

The value proposition for mobile apps goes far beyond creating a smartphone-friendly extension of your e-commerce site, an on-the-go version of your company’s products or services, or mobile games that incorporate third-party brands into play. Offering those conveniences to mobile audiences can certainly help your marketing agenda. But the branded app’s true strength lies in its ability to deliver a distinct and enjoyable mobile content experience that enhances consumers’ relationship with your brand.

Let me give you an example:

Fashion designer Louis Vuitton (LV) is probably not the first business that springs to mind when you’re planning your next vacation. But, given the caliber of the content in the brand’s City Guide app, maybe it should be, especially if you’re accustomed to traveling in high style.

To create the content, LV brought in regional experts known for their strong design aesthetic and gave them a platform for expressing their love of their host city. The app also offers ideas to help users elevate their travel experience in over 25 popular destinations, the ability to send digital postcards to jealous friends at home, and expert tips to help them find their footing no matter where in the world their LV luggage might take them.

.@LouisVuitton app helps users elevate their travel experience, send digital postcards & more. @joderama Click To Tweet


What makes them app-etizing

Just how much engagement potential does the mobile app market hold for content marketers? Consider these usage trends: According to eConsultancy, the time U.S. consumers spend with mobile apps is rising by 69% year over year.

The time U.S. consumers spend w/ #mobile apps is rising by 69% year over year via @Econsultancy. Click To Tweet

Other research shows consumers are accessing approximately nine apps a day and 30 apps per month, leading to projections that app downloads will reach nearly 353 billion worldwide by 2021.

App downloads will reach nearly 353 billion worldwide by 2021 via @StatistaCharts. Click To Tweet

But strong market penetration and the potential for purposeful consumer attention are not the only benefits mobile apps offer. For example:

  • In-app branding may be less disruptive than mobile ads: App usage requires a deliberate download, which typically comes with an understanding that the brand plays a role in the content experience (especially when the app is offered for free). This implicit acceptance of brand messaging could be considered a strong marketing advantage – particularly in light of growing consumer dissatisfaction with mobile pop-ups and other more interruptive forms of mobile advertising.
  • They can add value to the customer relationship: Apps establish a direct, two-way communication pipeline between your brand and its target audience. By requiring a registered account to access your app, the opt-in relationship can be leveraged in a variety of ways – from providing users with exclusive features, members-only product discounts, or fast-lane access to your customer service resources, to soliciting their feedback or enlisting their assistance with product testing, social sharing, and other initiatives.
  • They can supply valuable consumer data: When a user downloads your app through their favorite app store (Apple’s App Store or Google Play are the big players here) or registers an account, your brand gets access to the user’s info. And you can use it to deliver more personalized communications or aggregate it with other CRM information to improve your targeting efforts.
Brand #apps get you access to users’ info to aggregate w/ other CRM info to improve targeting, says @joderama. Click To Tweet
  • They are highly monetizable: While consumers may be reluctant to pay an up-front fee to download a branded app (as this Forrester report contends) – especially if they aren’t sure how or if they’ll like using it – they may be more willing to pony up a few dollars for valuable in-app enhancements at key moments of need. For example, the Louis Vuitton City Guide app and its guide to Paris are both free to download, but if you want advice on traveling to other popular cities, you’ll need to make an in-app purchase.

Barriers to brand app-ceptance

Despite their appeal, mobile apps aren’t the easiest content format. They come with built-in limitations that might make them a poor choice for many brands.

For starters, developing an app can require a significant investment of time and effort in crafting the right content experience. And ensuring a flawless technological execution of the creative vision will require additional expense and development expertise.

And that’s just the beginning. Here are a few additional obstacles you may encounter on the road to brand app stardom:

  • Discovery can’t be left up to chance: App stores like Apple or Google Play don’t organize their content offerings in a way that makes branded apps easy to find. Users might have to deliberately search on your brand’s name or scroll through a labyrinth of generic category pages before coming across your offering. It’s critical that you meticulously describe, tag, and promote these assets ­– both socially and within your app ecosystem of choice – to get them into the right hands.
  • Your competition is all the mobile web: Apps aren’t necessarily the quickest route to your brand’s content on mobile. If a consumer is looking to grab some quick info and move on, a megabyte- (or gigabyte-) hungry download can be a tough sell – especially if your app offering isn’t something they are likely to use regularly.
  • Apps need to work flawlessly and reliably: Neuroscience research has shown delayed mobile loading times may cause today’s consumers more physiological stress than viewing a horror film. If you manage to persuade them your app is worthy of a download, you risk having them delete it immediately if it doesn’t work perfectly – the first time and every subsequent time they open it.
#Apps need to work perfectly every time or the user will delete it, says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Brands deserving of app-plause

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and think your business has what it takes to take the app store by storm, let these ideas and examples inspire you to build a content experience that plays to the strengths of the mobile channel and delivers value to your audience.


iTunes rating: 4.5 (10 reviews)

Google Play rating: 4.3 (522 reviews)

This co-branded app is well suited to the task of getting armchair sports fans off their phones and onto the courts (at least until tip-off time). Cooperatively produced by the National Basketball Association and athletic apparel company Under Armour, not only does the NBA Fit social fitness experience provide the latest NBA (and WNBA) news headlines, videos, and game details, it also offers conditioning, nutrition, and training tips from pro players, practice drills that put their strength and endurance to the test, and challenges that pit them against fellow basketball fans for some friendly virtual competition.


Takeaway: Connect consumers to their passions – and to others who share them.

Wedding Planner by The Knot

iTunes rating: 4.7 (3,400 reviews)

Google Play rating: 4.6 (13,400 reviews)

Few occasions are as complex, detailed, and overwhelming as planning the perfect wedding. Since it’s something you only want to have to do once, all that up-front work can feel like a tremendous time suck for one (however big) day. That’s why content offerings in The Knot’s branded app are a godsend for harried brides- and grooms-to-be. With its handy task checklists, design inspirations, directories of local service vendors and venues, customizable wedding website templates, and tools to manage guest lists and budgets, the app helps the happy couple reduce stress, reclaim some time, and make the entire experience more memorable.


Takeaway: Help consumers unpack a complicated process.

Bed Bath & Beyond

iTunes rating: 4.8 (7,900 reviews)

Google Play rating: 4.2 (781 reviews)

This big-box store for bed and bath merchandise added a nice “beyond-level” feature to its mobile e-commerce app: the ability to shop outside the store environment by using visual search. While going about their day, app users can snap pictures on their phone of design inspirations they encounter or products they find appealing. The app uses photo-recognition technology to identify and categorize what’s in the picture and instantly suggests Bed Bath & Beyond products that might match their needs. As a test, I snapped a picture of my favorite pug-themed coffee mug. Not only did the app correctly identify the mug, it offered up a product that came close to the mark:


Takeaway: Use mobile’s unique strengths to your brand app’s advantage.

Kohler View

iTunes rating: 4.4 (14 reviews)

Google Play: not available on platform 

The ability to give smartphone users a more pleasing view of their surroundings through augmented reality technology is one of the mobile app’s biggest creative advantages over other content channels – including the mobile web. Design-forward kitchen and bath supplier Kohler smartly found a way to leverage this benefit to serve both a creative purpose and a practical one. Through its Kohler View app, DIY home renovators can shop for the plumbing fixtures they envision when creating the décor of their dreams. And before they hit the checkout, they can get an AR-driven glimpse of how those products will look after being installed in their real-life living space.


Takeaway: Let users explore their creativity in a relevant context.


These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the imaginative experiences your brand can deliver, the practical marketing goals you can pursue, and the trusted consumer relationships you can forge with the right branded content app. If you have additional questions on how your business can make its mark in the app environment, let us know in the comments.

Find out more about creative content app-lications at Content Marketing World, Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Use code BLOG100 to save $100. Sign up soon: Early Bird rates expire May 31.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute