Features Directory
Paul-Jervis Heath
Published 24 August 2011

The advent of the smart phone has bought with it new marketing opportunities for companies

and charities alike, says Paul-Jervis Heath

When a new trend like the mobile app explodes into a market it is hard to resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon.

Figures from digital analysts Canalys last month suggested that revenue from app sales is due to reach $14.1 billion in 2012 and $40 billion by 2015. With so much money up for grabs, there are clearly big opportunities but competition is bound to be equally fearsome.

Is this a market charities are equipped to compete in? The answer is yes and the reason is 'branded utility'.

Branded utility is not a new concept. Corporates have spent the last five years reframing their marketing strategies around the old adage "think not what the customer can do for you, but what you can do for the customer". At its most basic, this has meant providing a useful service that promotes the brand at the same time.

Mobile phone apps are the perfect platform for this idea. Take B&Q; among other things, their app is also a DIY guide. B&Q's customers are DIY types. By creating something useful, B&Q is giving people who might be potential customers a reason to download their app. This means not only will the B&Q icon be on someone's phone as a reminder of the brand, information that makes it easy for people to shop in their store, such as a store-finder function and a 'latest offers' tab, is delivered directly to the people that are likely to need it, at the time they need it most.

There are numerous examples of companies creating branded utility in this way; the Waitrose app provides recipes, the 'lost phone' app from smart phone manufacturer HTC makes the phone ring loudly if you can't find it; the Easyjet holiday planner app lets friends plan their holidays together on Facebook.

The same principle applies to charities. St John Ambulance for example were the first to launch a first aid app, giving people practical life-saving guidance on how to respond to emergencies such as choking, severe bleeding and heart attacks. In the first year of launch the app was downloaded more than 13,756 times, generating revenue of £20,000. By actually providing a good service, a good app will sell.

The important point for charities is that they naturally offer something that corporate brands struggle to achieve - legitimacy.

An app that scans the bar code of food products could give useful tips on the health costs or benefits of the content. If Tesco or Nestle produced such an app, the public would be naturally sceptical of the information. But if the app was developed by a charity with a vested interest in actually improving your health not selling you products, the app would be far more persuasive.

Equally, a training app by a charity like the British Heart Foundation that provides a video-content work-out guide and health tips would have greater legitimacy than a Fitness First app. Providing useful content that people in day to day life actually need ticks off three objectives at once, promoting the charity, promoting the cause, and delivering measurable results.

The app market is certainly fiercely competitive. But charities can add real value to people's lives with new technology and bring benefits to their organisations at the same time. They should not lose sight of their competitive advantage.

Paul-Jervis Heath is Head of Design at Head London.

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