3 Mobile Strategies for Building Brands in 2023

By Victoria Beyer, VP of Sales, West, Digital Turbine<

During the past few years, many consumer brands have accelerated their shift to becoming mobile-first companies. Even quick-service restaurant brands, after initially losing revenue to third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash, have taken control of the experience and put their product (and customers) first, via their own app.

Starbucks is a great example of this. During the pandemic, users became more digital savvy and used technology to live their lives, just in different ways. As a result, Starbucks’ mobile orders quickly reached a record 22% of transactions and delivery orders tripled. Granted, the revenue from drive-thru and delivery wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for the loss of foot traffic, temporary closures and limited hours, but it could have been way, way worse. And the company quickly rebounded in 2021, with revenue increasing 24% for the year and an 11% increase in fiscal 2022, and generated record revenue during Q1 2023.

I would argue that these revenue gains were only made possible by the company’s massive push to make its mobile app the central part of the customer experience, from “order ahead” for in-store, curbside, or drive-thru pickup to its focus on the loyalty and rewards program.

And Starbucks is hardly the only example. Given the amount of time we spend on our phones these days, many other brands have evolved their mobile strategy as a necessary sales channel, a way they can reach customers directly.

Even with the rapid acceleration of a mobile-first strategy, there is a massive opportunity for all brands to take advantage of direct brand relationships with customers that they can create through mobile. Here are 3 strategies that brands need to consider to acquire and activate their mobile users:

Engagement, Retention and Referrals

An obvious opening is to further engagement and deepen brand trust. You have your customer base right in the palm of your hand, so to speak, which enables you to put a primary focus on creating loyalty programs and promotions that ensure repeat business AND grow users.

Satisfied customers are more likely to recommend you to others – in a recent report, the Marriott Bonvoy app experienced significant user growth at the beginning of this year. While more consumers are aware of their competitor Hilton, Marriott’s users are clearly happy with the rewards program because it had the highest percent of its customers willing to recommend it out of all travel apps.

One way to gain high levels of customer satisfaction is to add an element of fun and excitement into the app, like offering promotions that are tied to seasonal events. Shopping app SHEIN leveraged in-app events in the Apple App Store to convert new installs for its Spring Sale (90% off) in March. The campaign got enough attention to prompt newcomer Temu to promote their own in-app event for a spring sale advertising the same discount.

With so many customers ready to recommend the app, knowing the timing and location are ideal to gain direct referrals. Integrating a CTA into the app experience to “refer a friend” when the customer is happy can help exponentially expand your user base – particularly since word of mouth is the #1 way people discover new apps.

A Testing Ground for New Ideas

With talk of an economic downturn continuing to circulate among brands and agencies, many are looking to anticipate and mitigate the effects of macro-economic downturn. If there is a big slowdown in consumer spending, how can your app user base help you offset topline revenue losses?

Within your app, you have massive amounts of first-party data that can inform the creation of new products and services. Brands also have records around purchase frequency, price points, and shopping preferences. These can be creatively combined to experiment with new products or offers. You can expand your product portfolio in a low-cost way, for example, by launching in the app first before committing to brick-and-mortar.

And, as consumers spend more time shopping in person, you can use that to grow your app. Last year, McDonald’s made its Szechuan sauce available in store only to app users. It’s a product that was always popular, but they creatively used a “limited time return” of the product to grow their app base.

Become the Center of Attention

Today’s customers view mobile advertising differently, in part due to new privacy regulations and device manufacturer and carrier restrictions. Consumer trust has fallen in traditional web and social advertising platforms as a result of these privacy concerns. Additionally, customers have become more mobile savvy during the past few years, resulting in being more discerning about which apps they want to include on potentially overcrowded phones.

This means simply having ads visible on high reach platforms is not enough. Mobile is a crowded environment, which means where eyeballs go matters more than what’s on a page. Recent research using eyeball tracking showed that viewable impressions on a page were much higher than ads that got “attention.”

Ads need to dig deep into creative and capture attention of consumers that have gotten used to scrolling right past ads. Motion, sound, interactivity, and creative storytelling can all be hooks that let your ads rise above the fray and capture audience attention by stopping those scrolling thumbs and capture eyeballs.

Domino’s took this to the next level last year by creating a “Stranger Things”-inspired app that let customers order with their “mind” – basically allowing people to place their orders using facial expressions and head movements. The campaign itself featured cast members from the show with storytelling designed to immerse people into long-form video content. The result was a campaign that ranked amongst the best in 2022.

Mobile Is No Longer Just a Channel It’s a Tool for Building Brand

Brands have had to adapt their products and services to  give customers what they need. Mobile apps have grown in relevance and popularity as a safe and effective way to interact with customers. Now these apps can be a powerful weapon in their arsenal to mitigate loss of revenue.

Rather than relying on expensive paid media like TV buys and onsite collateral to get attention, brands can leverage their mobile strategy to build their brand. If/when consumer behavior shifts and sales slow down, brands that have a D2C channel like a mobile app at least have some levers to pull. That’s why user acquisition for mobile apps is vital – it’s so much more than a sales channel.

About the Author

Victoria Beyer has well over 23+ years of Adtech experience in mobile, programmatic, data, and complex technology covering Brand and DR strategies. She is a seasoned leader in sales and operations who builds teams that outperform peer sets in growth, efficiency, culture, and loyalty. Victoria has sold as both a market challenger and market leader, adjusting to the range of resources and challenges to gain maximum impact. She brings her experiences from working at the following companies: Conversant, Vivendi Universal Music, IAC Interactive, Millennial Media, and Quantcast.