App Glut(tons)

The mobile trades this week are abuzz about whether or not we’re in an “app glut.” The catalyst for this is a comScore report that 65.5 percent of us didn’t download an app last month.  At first, this might seem alarming to people (like me) who make apps for a living or people for whom apps are an important part of their overall distribution strategy.  But rather than the beginning of the end for apps, what I really think is occurring is the end of the beginning. 

Six years after the launch of the iPhone AppStore the app market is normalizing. The days of the latest fad, whether Candy Crush or FourSquare, are over, and for most of us, we’ve found the things we need, and have settled on some favorites. Statistics tell us that the average user has about eight apps that they use every day as well as about thirty that they use at least once a month. And the time spent on apps is currently about an hour and a quarter per day!

So the real question for media brands trying to find their way into that “Top 30” or better yet the “Great 8” is what do I need to deliver to do that?  The answer is at least a two-step process.

First: drive downloads. We know from yet more research that the average app download costs its publisher between $1.25 and $1.32! That could run into a lot of marketing dollars, except that for media brands, you have a whole lot of free media at your disposal. So get on the air and start telling your listeners about your great app. Last fall, WCSX in Detroit launched a game app for deer hunting season (kind of a big deal around these parts). The app generated 55,000 downloads in just over a month. How did it do this? With over 250 on-air mentions in that period, that’s how. The station got behind the app and promoted it in lots of fun, interesting ways.

Once the user has the app you have to continually remind them of why it’s useful and make it useful in as many ways as possible with updated content and great, interactive, social, viral features. That’s what WEEI does. Their app is a terrific resource for all things Boston sports, and they have the numbers to prove it. The app adds a steady flow of new downloads each month, but when I looked at their July numbers there was an 800% increase! I called Carlson Mozdiez, Director of Integrated Media Strategies at Entercom Boston, and asked why this might have happened. He remembered that the last week of July was the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the Sox made a number of high-profile moves. The station sent its existing users push message notifications of these moves and traffic on the app spiked. But clearly those users were telling their friends because new downloads jumped too.

So while the frenzy for new apps may be waning, the mobile user is now more dependent on his device than ever and using it for more things. As incumbent media brands, radio has a unique opportunity to cut through the noise and prove its usefulness all over again.


Nice Platforms!

No, I’m not talking about shoes. But the way some media companies think about new media platforms, you’d think they were living in the 70’s.

Name one successful media company that is entirely focused on one platform or delivery channel.  You can’t do it. It doesn’t exist. From TV networks, to music artists, to movie studios everyone needs to look for as many ways as possible to deliver their content and for every opportunity to extend their brand.

Radio brands haven’t been nearly aggressive enough in developing new ways to interact with their fans, and for too long too many of them have been too dependent on one delivery channel and one linear stream of content. But it isn’t all bad news; radio brands remain vital and truly meaningful to their audiences, and many of them have real fans. Those fans want what all of us want from our 21st century media: MORE!

The most effective way to deliver your audience more is on the newest, most game-changing platform ever – mobile. We’ve helped literally hundreds of stations land in the palm of their listeners’ hands. That’s great, but where’s my more? Your mobile strategy can be about more than just creating a new kind of Walkman.

Smart programmers and sales managers are finding new brand extensions, ones that tap into the passions of their audience, deliver new ways to engage with your brand and new sponsorship opportunities for your clients.

A great example of this is something Greater Media’s WCSX/Detroit did last fall that blew away expectations. To coincide with deer season in Michigan, they asked us to develop a deer hunting game, and it brought down a major buck! A fun, snack-size game supported by some creative, engaging on-air support delivered over 50,000 downloads for the station and their sponsor.  Fighting for a spot on the leaderboard, and trying to beat the station’s on-air talent, resulted in over 250,000 sessions.

The reality is that smartphones are awesome time-killers.  Eric Schmidt (chairman of Google) said in a speech two years ago that with smartphones, “You’re never bored.” Who doesn’t want to get their brand into listeners’ idle time?


Location, Location, Location

The mobile space, lately, is sounding a lot like the real estate business. Remember the worldwide web? Having conquered the world and made it a little smaller, digital technology is getting a lot closer to home. Having all the world’s information in your pocket is really cool, but sometimes it’s more useful to have reliable information about what’s up ahead, in the neighborhood, around the block or even down the hall.

The tech world has been abuzz about the development and application of these hyper-local technologies, and there are serious opportunities here for radio to be a part of it. In fact, radio is far better equipped to participate in the local equation than trying to play in a global arena. If you haven’t been following these developments, they go way beyond Four Square check-ins. From location-aware apps like Retail-Me-Not that offer coupons to shoppers on their mobile phones when they arrive at the mall to Google’s $1.1 billion acquisition of crowd-source traffic app Waze, the digital world is getting increasingly “granular.”

Geo-location is nothing new, but being stirred into this mix, now are “beacons.” These tiny wifi/Bluetooth devices can be arrayed around almost any venue – think arenas, theaters, shopping malls – to provide precise three dimensional geo-location, down to about a one meter radius, of users and their smartphones. Once an app knows where you are in the venue, it can feed you content, information and turn-by-turn directions. Imagine your listeners going to a concert, opening your app and getting information on finding their seat (no more wandering around trying to find an usher),where to buy merchandise, with what’s available and how much it costs.  Or how about giving your clients the opportunity to offer a coupon or special offer to your mobile users that would pop up when they come into one of your clients’ retail locations. The opportunities are almost endless.

And radio brings several key ingredients to this extremely local party:

  • Local cume. Chances are your station has more listeners than most local websites, and you’re a (good) media habit.
  • Apps. All this local activity is driven by apps, and your audience is increasingly turning to your app to listen.
  • A remarkable ability to mobilize your audience.

Location-based services are becoming a bigger and bigger part of your listeners’ mobile mix. You can be the force connecting the dots between those listeners and your clients.  But to do so you’ll have to think differently about what you’re selling, and have the guts to disrupt business-as-usual for your team and your clients. So start the location conversation. We’re happy to talk about it with you.


Millennials in Motion

Last month as I sat on Woodward Avenue in Detroit watching 30,000 examples of Detroit’s (and the world’s) four-wheeled finest roll by, I was struck by something – the drivers of these cars were mostly … okay, I’ll just say it … old.  My sister said, “these cars are so cool, but who’s gonna care about ‘em when these guys die?” It definitely made me think. My son, The Big E, is a fourth generation car nut, but his teenaged sister and cousins aren’t. For my Gen X peers and several generations before that, getting a drivers’ license and having a car was the rite of passage.

It occurred to me that the rite of passage for my daughter’s generation is getting that first smartphone.  Just as driving symbolized freedom for us, having their own digital device fulfills those same desires in the Gen Ys and Zs.

Of course, this generational challenge is not unfamiliar to the broadcasting industry.

Our partners at Ford invited me to their first developers’ conference at the CTIA Super Mobility event in Las Vegas. The panel I moderated was called “The Car as the Ultimate Mobile Device.” And in the context of last week’s report from Lochbridge (formerly Compuware) on the intersection of cars and mobile, it became clear: If we want the next generation to think about our legacy industries as something other than a legacy, we can’t expect them to come to us – we need to go to them. And where they are is on their mobile device. For hours. Every day.  Rather than worrying about getting them to “tune in” we need to tune in to them. That means giving them access to our products, where, when and how they want them (because that’s what they’re used to).

The discussion at the conference was almost exclusively around how to bring the mobile device into the car. It was abundantly clear in the room that the mobile device had won. And the reasons it had won were clear: portability and personalization.  For radio (or the automotive industry) to capture these up-and-coming consumers, the way in is through their mobile device.

These Millennial Mohammads are not coming to our mountain. We have to bring our product to them where they live (almost literally!) and offer it in a way that they can make it their own; that means on-demand content, and the social media tools they’re obsessed with. We must facilitate a two-way interaction with them. They don’t want to be merely consumers, they want to be contributors, critics and curators.

The good news is that these generations are curious and open to sampling. If we put our content where they are, and add value to it beyond peddling the commodity of music, they will discover and value it. But if we want to avoid sounding like Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” (a car!) shouting, “Get off my lawn,” we need to think more like they do. (FRED: I will let you put in the DASH plug).


The Single Bullet Theory

Reddit recently released an app for their highly popular Ask Me Anything feature (AMA). If you’re not familiar with it, Reddit gets notable people to sit down for a session with their users where those users can, as the title suggests, ask the person anything. The concept has led to some great interviews where the questions didn’t come from a journalist, but from regular folks. And some of them are quite good.

So what’s news about a successful new app from an already successful website? Well, it turns out that this wasn’t Reddit’s first foray into apps. Their first attempt was just a Reddit app. But where AMA is a growing success, the first Reddit app was mostly a failure. Why did it fail? Well, if you’ve spent any time on Reddit you know that it is a sprawling site with hundreds (maybe thousands) of topics with users commenting, posting and interacting. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be overwhelming. Exploring it is a trip down the rabbit hole.  While this is an interesting experience on the web, it doesn’t work well as a mobile experience.

AMA is different. It’s about one thing. And if you look the apps you probably use the most, they’re apps with a singular focus. When the user has one touch access to whichever tool they need at that moment, having clear utility is crucial.  The “kitchen sink” approach to apps doesn’t work. 

If you look at the biggest digital brands you’ll find they don’t have an app. They have apps. Plural. Yahoo has apps for weather, sports, mail, etc. Google has apps for search, maps and “now” (whatever that is?).  Even Facebook, which seems to be a single purpose brand already also has Messenger and Paper.

Think about your brand’s mission. What is your brand promise? And what is your audience’s expectation? Once you determine that, your mobile strategy should become clear. And that strategy doesn’t have to be a one-shot-thing. At jācapps, our new V4 app is designed to be a complete engagement tool for stations to interact with their audience. Output — streams, on-demand audio and web content — and also input — social media, messaging and user generated content.  But if your brand has other attributes, maybe they don’t belong in your main app. Maybe a better tool for your user is a separate app, that best serves that audience. If you’re a rock station, maybe you have an app for the station, but also one for the fans of your morning show, and another for a local entertainment guide.

Each app is an opportunity to super-serve a segment of your audience, and offer a unique, focused and perhaps endemic opportunity for an advertiser.

As Reddit continues to evolve, I think you can expect other apps to join AMA in the app store. So learn from their mistake: stay out of the “kitchen sink” and look for opportunities that are unique to your brand.


Have You Made The Top 30?

With seemingly infinite media choices facing the consumer wherever she goes – online, music streaming services, the “center stack,” and of course, radio stations – only so many brands break through.

This is becoming even more problematic as the options multiply.  Thinking about the challenge of the “connected car,” drivers set up their systems when they take delivery of their new vehicles.  You’d better hope that with all the excitement in the air, they’re thinking of your station, your morning show, and your brand at that moment of truth.

Now we’re finding out that apps on your smartphones pretty much work along the same lines.  While there’s a lot of electronic real estate on an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S5, the reality is that the average person only has 30 apps on their smartphones.

And 30 is on the generous side.  This new data by Nielsen that was put together by Staista shows that young people tend to have more apps and spend more time with them, the upper limit appears to be about 30.

It’s like lakefront property, right? There’s only so much out there. And while consumers may be self-limiting their app downloads, the bottom line is that you’re fighting a battle of space to stay vital on the smartphone desktop.

But the “lakefront” we’re talking about isn’t just pixels on a screen. It’s brain cells. We know from each of our own experiences that we only have room in our brains for a limited number of apps. To capture this most coveted real estate in our users consciousness, we need to do two things:

  1. Differentiate ourselves from the rest. It is crucial that we remind our audience every day (maybe even multiple times a day) why we’re important to them. Why we’re the brand they remember, rely on and even love.
  2. Create real purpose for our app. The more useful it is to the audience the more likely you’ll be front of mind when they’re looking for entertainment or information.

Now the good news is that “entertainment” is the second most popular category best on time spent per person (behind “search, portals, & social) – and it’s showing the strongest growth curve – +71% year to year.

But then think about all the basic apps that most people have on their phones – Pandora’s up there, along with Google, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Depending on the person and their interests, there’s just a few slots open for radio brands, whether you’re iHeart Radio on the one hand, or a station with your own brand on the other.

Yes, it comes down to having a great mobile app.  And what makes a great mobile app is one that provides utility. The apps that people use serve a function – connecting me to my friends, giving me the news, finding me a restaurant. But you say, “I’m a radio station, I’m entertainment. How am I useful?”  So this will require some out-of-the-box thinking. What information, or help can you provide your audience? The latest weather, ski conditions, entertainment options for the weekend, whatever.

The real essence of the app land grab is whether your brand is a standout, land whether it provides something for the consumer she can’t get anywhere else. As we’ve talked about before on this blog, does it fill a need or do a job that is desirable?

And then there’s the issue of promotion.  Because while thousands of stations have gone to the trouble and expense to design and buy their own app, too many forget to promote it.  Or they simply don’t feel that in the great scheme of things, their mobile app matters all that much, given all the other marketing priorities.

Somewhere, I hear Tim Westergren laughing.

Making the smartphone Top 30 ought to be a priority at every broadcast radio station in the U.S.  Like winning the push button wars back in the day, it’s now about that smartphone desktop.