A new study by MediaCom China has identified key drivers for uptake of branded apps and what it takes for different groups of young Chinese consumers to adopt them.
China Apps Study talked in depth to smartphone users and industry experts to identify three need states that drive both app downloads and regular usage. It also explains which of these consumer states is better at driving marketing goals at different stages of the customer journey.
With apps becoming a key battle ground for brands – sources show usage is up 28% year-on-year and more than 2,300 brand apps are already available in China – satisfying one or more of these three needs will be crucial for brands that want to drive downloads.
China Apps Study identified three need states among Chinese smartphone users aged 18-35:
Play: Play apps appeal to youths who are looking for something to make a less than ideal situation, such as travelling to work, more engaging. At such times the youths are looking for anything that can cure their boredom.
Play context apps should include exploration, customisation and sharing features to make killing time a rewarding experience. Such apps are ideal for brands looking to raise awareness but brands need to think and find relevance to their category or culture in such moments of boredome and provide apps that bring out the hidden purpose in the situation.
Examples include DHL’s "Friend Express", an app that allowed perpetually frustrated friends to have their habitually late friends literally delivered to them at an assigned time.
Planned: When the target group is undertaking a specific task, such as getting fit or buying clothes, apps can help them reach their goals. In this need state, consumers tend to develop regular habits around their apps and build relationships with them.
Planned context apps should include convenience, achievement, structure, and support to help consumers complete personal projects with ease. Such apps are ideal for brands looking to provide consumers with information and help them learn more about a product or service.
Examples include Volkswagen’s "BlueMobility" app, which tracked and analysed consumers' driving and provided an Eco-Score. Low scores meant the driver was wasting fuel and could do more to save money, while a high score meant eco-friendly driving. The app also offered practical energy-saving suggestions.
Problem: When the target group faces a barrier or a decision, they need apps that give them a solution. Although they are less likely to become regular users, apps that deliver in this scenario will generate brand warmth.
Problem context apps should provide multitasking, fast reaction, alternate choices, and clear the way for smoother experiences. They are ideal for the buying or brand experience stages of the consumer purchase journey.
Examples include Starbucks partnership with check-in service Jiepang to create the "Let’s Merry" Christmas campaign. Users of Jiepang could check in at Starbucks stores across Jiangsu Province, Zhejiang Province and Shanghai and get virtual badges by uploading their Christmas wishes. The app also offered free cups of coffee.
Brands that want to drive uptake and usage of their new tools also have to understand the very different motivations and willingness to use apps of three core consumer segments: specialised, dominant and laggard. Each group has a different involvement with their apps and will require different approach.
Specialised users are rational about their choice of apps, they will search for apps to help with specific tasks. They will download rival apps and retain only the best. Once an app has been selected, however, they will become long-term users. Specialized consumers have the influence and authority to encourage wider distribution.
Dominant users are more emotional in their choices and look to apps to improve their daily lives. They rely on those around them to help select apps and selection is a social decision; they want their friends and family to make the same choice. Therefore they are keen to spread apps they like in their social circle. Long-term usage, however, depends on regular updates to keep apps fresh.
Laggards generally consider that apps do not add value to real life. They have little interest in technology but will use what friends introduce them to or apps that are being talked about. They rarely talk about their own apps and are more likely to use pre-installed apps.
China Apps Study is an ethnographic research project conducted in conjunction with specialist research agency China Youthology. The results are based on detailed conversations with young consumers aged 18-35 in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou as well as industry specialists.
"Understanding why apps appeal, what tasks they can perform and who they appeal to is essential for brands that are planning to invest in this space. This research highlights the clarity of thinking that brands need to apply to app development and ensure they maximise consumer usage and conversation around their tools," says Michelle Fu, National Director of MediaCom Insight China.