The exponential growth of the apps market provides brands with some amazing opportunities to connect with consumers in any market, anytime. Below are some of the agencies and brands that are maximising this potential.Recent months have seen an explosion in the mass market uptake of mobile apps. Their appeal is prompting growth in the range and availability of the apps themselves and in the number of app stores, signalling to brands that there is a new communication channel to use when reaching out to consumers.Consumer demand for apps is growing massively -- operating as the largest independent app store, GetJar alone provides some 35 million downloads per month and recently passed the 400 million downloads mark. And we've all seen the huge impact Apple has made as they break through the one billion downloads barrier. Demand is global, and wherever there are mobiles there are apps being downloaded in volume for applications as diverse as video, maps, games, browsers and social networking.App consumers are also developing a distinct set of habits and preferences for marketers to take into account when planning campaigns, as we recently found when we talked to a group of 2000 heavy mobile users from across Europe about when, why and how they use their apps.Our research revealed major growth areas such as social networking, which was the number one app choice for consumers. It also clearly indicated that mobile is beginning to take over from the internet as the primary communication channel for this kind of social contact.Games still occupy an important niche in the app market (some 24 per cent of our respondents said games were their first choice of app type), which is hardly surprising. But what did come as something of a shock was that a massive 62 per cent said they now play games more on their mobile than on their console or PC.These specific preferences are also part of a wider change in habits for mobile app users -- 70 per cent of our poll group said they now prefer to use their mobile to surf the web and just short of half use their mobile to access their primary sources of news, at the expense of all the traditional channels.Brands are embracing apps
All of these trends have their own implications for the marketing mix. Brands are increasingly incorporating apps in their communications strategies because they enable them to reach consumers in a creative and personal way. The act of downloading and running each app is the first step in an ongoing interactive process which maintains contact between brand and consumer.Brands as diverse and Honda, Warner Bros, Coca Cola and even the British Army have gone down the development route, creating bespoke apps to support a specific campaign.According to Scott Seaborn, Head of Mobile Technologies at Ogilvy Group, the interactive communication offered by apps is key to their appeal: 'The most useful apps for brands are those that support communication between the brand and consumers. We've seen growing interest from major brands to provide app utilities such as Kodak's ski resort guide, as well as highly original ideas such as Fanta's recent app which generates sounds only teens can hear.'Agencies are finding apps attractive because mobile is increasingly seen as the glue between TV and all the other communication channels. 'The creative scope that apps present to agencies are making them attractive options to the advertising industry and the brands who fund the campaigns,' explains Seaborn. 'Apps are increasing viewed as the mobile equivalent of TV, offering the most effective way to build awareness and engage with a consumer.'The scope is growing all the time -- brands are now also being given the option to exploit broader third party channels and wrap advertising around the most popular (or most relevant) apps. So, as users download an app, open it, complete a level on a game or at any other given point they can be shown an ad. That advert can lead to all kinds of options, from branding and awareness activity, to directing the user to a mobile site, to even downloading another new app entirely.Those brands that can more effectively build their knowledge of app consumers will effectively create a more personal and interactive experience with consumers, but keeping pace with their preferences and habits will remain a central part of the challenge.