American Marketer


How to defend the brand with apps

October 27, 2010

Oren Michels is founder/CEO of Mashery


By Oren Michels

More than half of the world’s adult population carries mobile phones. Increasingly, these phones are used more as devices for accessing the Internet than they are for talking. That means viewing images and video, seeing ads, downloading applications and uploading pictures or comments.

Stepping back a bit, it is surprising that the changes mobility is bringing do not get even more attention, except from readers of this publication. We are talking about a direct digital channel into more than 50 percent of the entire world adult population.

Let us consider purpose-built applications.

Time was, people just surfed around the Web on browsers, checking things out on big screens and loading up on lots more information and services than they actually needed or wanted.

Increasingly, mobile users rely on applications that carry out specific tasks, from following certain stocks to locating the nearest deli with highly rated corned beef sandwiches to finding a taxi within a four-block radius.

Mobile users more often want information that is targeted to their location, is easy to consume and reflects the latest developments. And application creation has become so good, so quickly, that it has improved the software that is developed for desktop computing as well.

App’s challenges

The applications revolution also represents a new challenge to online marketers, particularly where the brand is concerned.

Applications are usually targeted and persistent, and they contend for attention in the user’s fickle ecosystem of other applications.

The brand, a comprehensive promise about the product between a company and a consumer, has to express itself quickly and effectively inside any number of types of applications.

Moreover, it takes corporate data from catalog information or archived content or much else to make a good application.

Software developers accessing that data, by means of what is called an application programming interface (API), may have no formal relationship with the company.

Therefore, what data goes into the API and how a company manages security and the application approval process becomes an important part of brand management.

This does not mean brand managers need to turn over their responsibilities to the technology department. A little dialogue between the two groups would help, but that was always true.

What is needed is a refocus on what your brand represents to people at its core, and how you can best express that in a world where companies curate a brand, and customers and partners ideally become advocates and amplifiers of the brand.

Good brand performers get out fast, and they seek brand relevance.

For example, Best Buy has an application with information on product price, availability, specifications, descriptions and images for nearly 1 million current and historical products.

That application showcases brand values of comprehensiveness, availability and a certain geek love of tech products.

Business information service Hoover’s offers access to data on company descriptions and public profiles, underlining its brand values of insight and analysis.

(Full disclosure: Best Buy and Hoover’s are this columnist’s clients.)

There are plenty of other ways to think about it.

A luxury travel site could offer data relevant to high-end excursions near properties it owns, feeding the brand values of service and sophistication.

A general sports site might give developers access to the broadest number of sports scores, showing love of the games.

Brand stand

Whatever the choices marketers make, it is worth noting: Brands are still something to be treasured and controlled.

Developers access data and customers react well or badly to messages and products. That means being open to more voices and tastes in the interest of building sales.

However, when it comes to naming and defending the brand, the company still leads. Choosing the right data for the API, setting the rules for development and staying on top of the look and feel of the application are the basics of application brand control.

That means that great talent in mobility marketing is knowledge of the technology platform and knowledge of one’s own product, and what it can deliver over the mobile Web. This used to be called knowing form and content, and it is a skill that has always been critical to good marketing.

The tools may have changed, but that does not mean the marketing basics did.

Oren Michels is founder/CEO of Mashery, San Francisco. Reach him at