Mobile apps: the final frontier for brand loyalty

As smartphones slowly replace wallets, mobile apps look set to make loyalty cards redundant and will become the last vestige for harbouring brand affinity from consumers.

What’s in your wallet? Better yet, what apps are on your smartphone? Loyalty was once measured by the frequency of your store visits or the reward cards you carried. But plastic picture holders in your billfold have given way to photo sharing apps, and the day planner you once carried in your briefcase has been replaced by a calendar built into a native application on your phone. Although mobile payment has yet to replace credit, debit, or even loyalty cards, our phones do represent an extension of our wallets, even ourselves. They may also symbolise the last vestige of brand loyalty.

According to a recent report, the average person with a smartphone has 26 installed apps. Even above average users, like the typical smartphone user in South Korea, only have 40 apps. For me, at least, that number remains steady due to limited free data storage and an unwillingness to part with favourite pictures, music or movies that are also taking up space. In fact, to make space for the recent iOS update, I cleaned up my apps, and ones that were seldom used or provided the same functionality as a mobile web site were deleted. The remaining 40 apps were categorised based on how often they’re used.

Sound familiar? Remember cleaning out your wallet? This meant throwing out old receipts; shredding expired credit cards; tossing loyalty cards for stores where you no longer shopped or where being a card carrying customer didn’t provide any added benefits. Like most things in the digital world, the domain has changed, but the behaviour hasn’t. Mobile apps, even the ones of my favourite brands, that don’t fulfil a purpose in my life or provide value that I can’t get anywhere else—utility, connectivity, entertainment, information, inspiration, convenience or cost savings—won’t have a place on my phone for very long.

I, like most users, am short on capacity, both space and time. I don’t have the space in my phone to hold on to apps that don’t serve a purpose, not if it requires me to remove valuable media or prevents me from getting the latest update. I don’t have the time to thumb through five or six screens to find the app the I need or try in vain to use an app that has bugs, not when I’m looking for my banking app so I can deposit a check or searching through your branded mobile app for a coupon code to use at the register. These everyday annoyances require me to make choices—which apps go and which apps stay.

Just because an app gets deleted doesn’t mean a brand is written off altogether. But it does mean that brand isn’t top of mind when the phone is in a user’s hand and they’re looking to make a quick purchase or planning their next trip to the store. It also means that the digital marketer who is measuring the success of this year’s mobile program, building next year’s mobile plan and budget, and trying to solve for their conversion rate and ROI better look beyond downloads to find the answer.  

Simply measuring downloads is not enough when 22 per cent of mobile apps are abandoned after one use. Tracking ratings in the app store isn’t a silver bullet either. Just like most customers vote with their dollars, mobile consumers vote with their screen and storage space, rating apps when they’re highly satisfied or dissatisfied and simply deleting or not using the apps that are irrelevant or mildly disappointing. Mobile app analytics are required to get a complete view of usage and opportunities for improvement. Also consider fundamentals like consumers’ mobile behaviour, app functionality and usability, and mobile marketing tactics and content that will keep users coming back on a frequent enough basis to ensure your app makes the cut next time they’re looking to free up space.

Jennifer Polk is a research director at Gartner.

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