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Martech Brand Strategy Social Media

‘Influence, entertainment, purchase’: How brand apps are evolving in 2023

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By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

March 28, 2023 | 6 min read

Mobile users are notoriously quick to delete apps. Here’s how Asos, Shein and Depop remain engaging.

An iPhone lies on a table.

How can brands capture and maintain users within their mobile ecosystems? / Unsplash

For brands in e-commerce, the app is key, fulfilling revenue generation and comms roles respectively. But there’s a caveat, the prime time for users to install apps on their phones is in the first five minutes after they first turn it on. The average app loses 77% of daily users within three days of installation. Within three months that figure has climbed to 95%. Apps have a retention issue.

But top brands are addressing that. Debbie Ellison, chief digital officer for VMLY&R Commerce, believes editorial content may be the key and thinks the secret formula is in integrating “influence, entertainment [and] purchase, all in the same ecosystem. That is the north star for social commerce. And every moment at which or introducing an element of friction is a moment that you’re turning consumers off from the entire experience.”

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Jessica Chapplow, commerce managing partner at Reprise Digital, explains that marrying that editorial content with commerce is one way to keep consumers within the app ecosystem: “One of my favorite ones – because I’m a consumer as well – from the commerce space is Glossier, so Into The Gloss was one of their ways that they were able to improve their comms from the owned content that they also built, then pushed it out through their email marketing.”

Asos, for example, includes an editorially-curated style feed within its app, rather than simply being the front for its e-commerce operations. Selfridges, which launched its first shoppable app in 2016 following the redevelopment of its website, has since grown to include similar editorial that accompanies its product recommendations.

Off-app app strategy

Those content marketing strategies need not take place on the app to encourage its adoption: Depop, the vintage marketplace, used its Instagram and Facebook presence to shout out individual ‘shop of the days’ – which in turn drove its users directly into the app’s ecosystem. As Instagram made moves into social shopping, Depop head of marketing Yoann Pavy said: “Their movement into the brands and influencer selling directly on Instagram is more like an enabler, or more like validation of what Depop is. I think it’s going in the right direction.”

He also spoke about the role of content marketing to keep attracting users: “If you really put the content out there, if you are listening to what people are telling you as a result of that content, that’s how you will learn where the quality is within your content.”

Despite the difference in use case between apps and the web, there are still some lessons from wider marketing operations that apply to user acquisition on branded apps. Miro Jin, head of EPAM continuum for China, EPAM Continuum, says that just as brands are investing in newsletters and regular comms, they should also invest in the same activity on apps:

“Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation. It’s almost decentralized enough in the sense that a consumer doesn’t just listen to advertising messages. There is a blurred boundary between entertainment content and content and advertising.”

As the recognition of the difficulty in attracting audiences to sign-up grew, many brands consolidated their array of apps into one. In 2018, the US-based retailer Target and furniture brand Ikea both took the plunge, bringing everything from loyalty schemes to AR capability and purchasing into single apps and other brands have followed suit since.

As a result the dream for most marketers, say both Jin and Ellison, is the ‘super-app’, like WeChat in China and Elon Musk’s mooted X. Removing all the friction from the process, in addition to combining entertainment with e-commerce, is the North star for many marketers.

The reality of mobile apps is that no amount of content marketing can overcome the hassle gap of convincing users to install. Some brands like Uniqlo continue to focus on the utility of their apps, with little if any editorial or content marketing on the platform. App store optimization is also a key consideration for brands seeking to get their apps in front of consumers in the first place.

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