How to Think App-First for Your Brand


Before we start, let’s be clear: thinking “app-first” for your brand does not mean prioritizing mobile over your other business channels.

What it does represent is your ability as an organization to think in terms of where your customers are going; not where they’ve been. Apps are everywhere, and that’s not an accident - mobile, often on-the-go users are driving the technologies that businesses use today to interact with their target audience.

So, what is app-first? It’s considering the many ways apps have opened the door to better, richer and more personalized relationships with your clients and consumers, and how you as an organization can learn from this attitude shift and create a more holistic approach to marketing. In this post, we explore seven ways you can start to think app-first.

Realize you are already mobile-first

At least, your customers are. 1 in 5 people in the world own a smartphone, and there are currently 224 million monthly active app users in the US. Your audience, prospects, and customers are already mobile-first in their daily interactions. Not responding to this - or worse, responding to it with a lackluster or poorly manufactured app - is failing to acknowledge this (and them).

Not having a mobile presence now is like not having a website in 2010; if you’re not prioritizing the channel, you’re going to get left behind. This year, time spent in apps overtook time spent on the web (both on desktop and mobile). If your audience is looking to mobile, so should you.

This can be the hardest part of transitioning your company’s mindset, because it seems like just another channel to add to the pile of places your brand has to be. But treating apps like a fad will only lead to you trailing behind your customers, and worse, losing that critical touchpoint.

Tie your app to your company missionAppTiedtoMission2x-1

Apps don’t need to be unusual and creative to be successful. Sometimes, they work because they serve a bigger purpose. Walgreens’ brand mission is to “Champion everyone’s right to be happy & healthy.” So, instead of encouraging customers to make in-store visits to refill prescriptions (which they recognized as a bottleneck to the process), they simplified and created the ability to refill a prescription in their app. Here, the customer want comes first - not the store.

This app feature speaks greatly to their mission to create ways for everyone to have access to healthcare. An easy way to think app-first is to identify how your app can serve your brand purpose, and recognize that the channel only serves to introduce new ways to accomplish it.

Be task-oriented (or, identify your unique value)

Apps as we know them today were created for one purpose: to help the user easily complete a task. The mobile web has long been used on-the-go, but it presents the same options and functions as a website - and often, the same number of steps and page views to get to where you want to go. Apps, on the other hand, are meant to provide a means for immediate access and easy completion.

Think of your brand and your business - is there an inherent task your customers are seeking out? If so, translate that to your app. In fact, if there is, you’re lucky, as your business already lends itself well to the app format.

However, not all apps fit this mold, and with good reason. Others, like music or game apps, don’t lead to a task, but instead create a better interface for streaming or playing while on your phone. If you can add value to your business within your app, it should be your primary focus. Not only are your customers seeking out apps (as we covered earlier), but they are seeking out easier, more efficient ways to interact with content, information or other elements. If you can provide this experience, you’re thinking app-first.

Create a strategy that unifies

Yes, the title of this post is how to think app-first for your brand, but as we covered, that means looking to the future instead of dwelling on the past. One of the ways that apps do this is by helping to unify other mediums and create an omni-channel brand.

Physical stores, email, websites, social media, advertising - mobile is the unifier. Not only can your app amplify each of these channels, but you can create an experience that transcends them. What does this mean? It means giving your customers a way to interact with your brand seamlessly at every turn, without prioritizing one channel over the other. It puts the user at the forefront, instead of the channel (and the return on said channel). Not only does this end up creating a more cohesive brand experience for your customer, it also makes for a more cohesive business strategy.

UserJourney2xSource feature ideas from across departments

Don’t restrict app development and growth to product or marketing - make it an organization-wide initiative. When the entire company is involved in making your app better for users, the entire company is invested in app-first growth. Then, it becomes less of a product or marketing channel, and becomes what it should be: a complete experience.

It can be difficult when you feel like you’re the only one fighting for mobile budget, or you have to pit the app project against other priorities. Instead, spread the idea that the app is a representation of your business, one that all members of the organization have a stake in. It is a part of your brand ecosystem - it shouldn’t belong solely to product or to marketing. Then, deliver on this by including them in the creation and success.

Think in terms of the user journey

Technology has enabled many great things, one being that consumers now have a number of different ways they can interact with people and organizations. What apps, specifically, have solidified is the idea of the customer or user journey, and this sentiment can (and should) be applied across your business.

Because apps are task-oriented, or serve a specific purpose, they center greatly on the user journey. The experience your customer encounters here can help inform other aspects of your marketing. What features are the most popular? What is the “main goal” users seek out in the app? How do they interact with the app? What screens do they navigate through?

Be your own user

If you have a hand in designing your organization’s app strategy, that means that you’re likely familiar with apps and the changing landscape. How? By being a mobile consumer and app user, yourself. Think of it this way: if you were to use this app, what features would you want to see? What would your end goal be? How frequently would you use it, why, and how? Putting yourself in the (often too abstract) role of the user allows you to solidly ground your app and make it as effective as possible. Plus, when you ask other members of your organization to put themselves in the users’ shoes, you’re emphasizing the prevalence of app users and the very real expectations they carry.