Agencies mistake Social Apps for Television Spots.

I had breakfast last week with my friend Stan Joosten, who works in digital marketing innovation at P&G. We were talking about the role of social Internet apps in brand-building, and how to expand them from tactical tools to long-term strategic platforms.

One of the barriers to this happening is a common mode of thinking in the agencies that help handle app development.

Too often, agencies will devise a social app strategy that not only follows the lead of a television campaign, but also follows the paradigm of television production. In that model, you typically make the creative assets upfront and then you’re done.  From that point, media execution takes place for the rest of the campaign lifecycle.

The problem is that unlike a television spot, a social app must provide value for people on an ongoing basis; repetitive usage and deepening engagement is much more important than downloads and trials.

Moreover, good social apps are very expensive to create, and require maintenance and enhancements over the campaign lifecycle. In fact, good social apps may be poised to long surpass the lifecycle of an advertising campaign.

Instead of approaching social app development like television production, marketers and agencies should take a product development approach. This includes developing a concept with the expectation of iterating and testing in the beginning until you get the right product-to-market fit — as well as  factoring in frequent releases for new features and bug-fixes, and periodic releases for entirely new versions.

Given the high expense of social apps, you should develop standards and templates so your app can be reapplied in many different contexts, across different markets, brands and campaigns. If done right, the expense of development and management can be amortized across different stakeholders and over time, making higher quality and more sophisticated apps more feasible.

Given the volatility of agency tenures and frequent rotations of brand managers, marketing investment most often is directed to shorter-term campaign tactics with quick, observable response. A better social app strategy requires the leadership of marketers with a longer-term view and cross-enterprise accountability — most certainly a CMO or head of digital, who seeks standardized performance and KPIs across the entire brand portfolio.

By Max Kalehoff
Max Kalehoff is vice president of product marketing at Syncapse, a social marketing performance platform for global enterprises. Courtesy of MediaPost.

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