Apps are dead, long live the app

The balance of power is shifting because of a step-change in how people search.

This change is enormous. It must inform our planning for brands.

Search is changing

The app is the start place for search now in many cases. Forty four per cent of product searches start on Amazon not Google according to Brian Beck, the senior vice president of the e-commerce specialist Guidance. Twenty one per cent of shoppers go directly to the retailer’s site. Thirty four per cent start on a search engine. If they need to, they’ll search broadly. If they don’t they’ll plump for the more convenient option of in-app search.

The answer isn’t just to create an app

According to data from ComScore 65 per cent of us aren’t downloading multiple apps anymore. We’re mainly making do with whatever comes with our phone. What if we don’t like the apps that come with the phone? (I probably have a dozen that I can’t delete, don’t use and don’t want). That’s when you download the app of your choice that you will frequently use.

If you have a brand app but can’t secure app distribution on the phone as supplied, the app will need to be strong in order to be added.

Can marketing comms create consumer demand for your app that will drive distribution? In the analogue world this is comms strategy 101. Any planner working on a brand with less than perfect retail distribution will ask whether the comms strategy can help with the trade argument for distribution in the bricks and mortar supermarket?

If you can’t get good distribution your brand has to be supernaturally strong. Few brands in the old paradigm world would make this cut.

Consider how few brands you’d leave a supermarket branch for because it didn’t stock something in particular. (Ketchup maybe in my house… what else?)

The app is the future

As Group M chief digital officer and North America chair, Rob Norman, points out, we are approaching "the end of fragmentation and a return to scale". Those apps that win out on our phones will dominate the comms systems for brands.

Norman points to "a new power structure in advertising. Some pillars like Facebook and Google are in place, but the rise of retailer as media owner, and service players (like Uber and Airbnb) has yet to play out to anything like its full extent."

Meanwhile the app economy is in evolution too as app developers seek to get their product incorporated into Facebook or Google Maps at code level.

The next generation app is your VPA

Jamie Carter of TechRadar forecasts the evolution of the app into the virtual personal assistant or smart gent. A kind of super-charged Siri, this agent will roam across the internet of things for you, making your life simpler and solving real problems, not just answering dumb questions for you. (A bit like Spike Jonze’s vision in Her, or maybe Him!)

This digital assistant will spend money for you, make decisions for you. The job of the comms plan will include making sure that the brand has relevance here. There will be brands and categories where your personal brand preference will overrule the digital assistant. There will be others where the algorithm will decide for you.

The system for communications for every brand must evolve depending on hardware and software developments and, most importantly, consumer convenience. All of which is set to change further and change fast.

Every consumer is a search expert. They understand the best way to search. So every planner needs to be one too.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom UK.

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