Smart vs dumb brands: which ones are getting data right?
A view from Katharine Hansford

Smart vs dumb brands: which ones are getting data right?

Apps sit at the heart of disruptive future tech, but many brands are still struggling with the basics.

Since their inception just over 10 years ago, apps have undergone rapid developments, making them integral to our lives, from the introduction of GPS tracking to the integration of mobile payment technology to augmented-reality toolkits.

But this is only the beginning. The next 10 years will see technological developments become integral to our lives in ways that we can’t even imagine today and apps will sit at the heart of these innovations.

Some of these developments are already starting to take hold in people’s behaviour. Conversational interfaces such as chatbots and voice technology are changing the way we interact with app services. Artificial intelligence is set to provide greater personalisation and automation to allow apps to make decisions on our behalf. With 5G, billions of devices via apps will be connected to drive integrated interactions.

However, many brands will not be ready to maximise on these developments, because they’re not capitalising on the assets they already have and the key component to make it work: data.

After a recent roundtable discussion between our clients and external and internal experts, it was clear to all that data will fuel future developments but also has the capability to supercharge marketing efforts right now. The most exciting (and necessary) innovations for brand apps in the near future are those that will use data in smart ways.

Basic data hygiene – build transparency, not transgression

Data protection is at the forefront of not just advertisers’ minds, but increasingly consumers’ as well, yet few apps handle it in the right way.

Brands must explain what data they are collecting and how it is used, without alienating users with demands on entering the app. Asking for permissions should integrate naturally into the app onboarding process, first showing users the benefits of using the app, then demonstrating what data is needed to provide access to the features. If this request appears complicated, users will not hesitate to exit and delete an app – 82% of users say it’s important to know why an app is asking for information and access to the device.

Foursquare is a great example of transparent onboarding, displaying a message about why the app needs access to particular data (eg location for localised results) before allowing the native permission pop-up for that data to encourage opt-in.

With increasing numbers of connected devices, data will become more widely available, collected and shared. It is critical for brands to have a robust data strategy in place now to enable data collection that is compliant with regulation and considerate to users.

Retention – play the (data) long game

It’s tempting to focus on quick wins by acquiring the highest volume of app users for the lowest cost. However, this short-term approach is short-sighted and will result in user churn.

Instead, brands should focus on data-led retention strategies. Research shows that 95% of opted-in users will churn in the first 90 days if they don’t receive any push notifications, versus 54% at optimal message frequency. Clearly, the numbers are challenging, even in the best-case scenario, but they show there are significant gains to be made through learning and optimisation.

In-app attribution and behavioral data let advertisers identify who the true quality users are. This isn’t an instant process, because brands must wait at least three months to identify the users still active in the app. However, the reward is high, since these are the high-value users worth profiling for optimisation and prospecting.

In-app data also fuels predictive churn engines over time and, alongside A/B tests for re-engagement, strategies can encourage users to return to the app to deliver a long-term ROI. EasyJet has cracked app notifications, sending useful push messages at relevant points along the travel journey to keep customers engaged.

As we start to interact with more than just our screens, the most successful apps will be the ones that are never opened, because they anticipate and respond to our needs in the real world. To gain permission to do so, brands need to develop strategies now that keep users locked in via valuable re-engagement.

Customer experience – apps should extend, not replicate

Brand apps too often merely replicate their mobile web experience, failing to understand the app audience or tailor the platform to their needs.

Data from web and app analytics provides the nuances as to how audiences use each platform to suit their needs. Mobile is now the primary channel for many audiences, but there are still differences in the way someone might use the mobile website (predominantly for discovery) versus an app (for loyalty and repeated use).

Domino’s is one brand that excels by providing "zero-click" ordering (pictured, above) for app users. Users logged in to the app can automatically reorder their favourite pizza simply by opening the app, unless they cancel within a 10-second countdown, maximising on data about past purchases and preferences.

As we develop more ways to interact with app services via voice, image and gesture input, brands will need to understand the best way to tailor experiences to customer needs for the most seamless engagements.

In summary, data is the key for brands to develop app solutions that will stand the test of time now and in the future. Data has never been more powerful or more contentious, but as we increasingly use our devices to control the world around us, brands will need to have the fundamental structures in place. Without it, they will miss the opportunity to enable new, seamless experiences that customers expect – from both a privacy and ease-of-use standpoint.

New technology won’t transform the world overnight, but changes are happening at pace. The most successful brands will be the ones that are already excelling with data strategies and using that data to adapt to evolving trends and technology.

Katharine Hansford is digital transformation director at Zenith UK