Friday, September 3, 2010

Persuasion, apps and PR: part 2

Note: If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Before we look at a second kind of apps, let’s remind ourselves why PR exists: to create and nurture two-way relationships with an organization’s audiences.

Why? Well, because it's the nice thing to do, of course; but also because people are more likely to do business with organizations that know them, care about them, and work to respond to their needs.

In PR, as in life, long-term relationships are based on listening and mutual benefit. Organizations that succeed in PR understand what their audiences want, and do their best to give it to them.

Relationship-building strategy: give your audience something you know they want (even if they don't know it yet).

At left is the cover of a little recipe book my Mum gave me from her collection – it contains the recipe for one of our family’s traditional Christmas cookies (just look for the page with splatters on it!). She picked it up (for free) in the baking aisle of the Beacon Hill North A&P store sometime in the 80s, and it became an integral part of our Christmas tradition.

Every Christmas she baked the refrigerator cookies from page 6, and every Christmas she (and her little baking assistants) saw the Robin Hood logo on the front.

While I can’t guarantee she always used Robin Hood flour, or that if she did, she wouldn’t have anyway, when I think of baking with her, it’s the big yellow Robin Hood bag I see. Coincidence? Maybe. Related? Maybe!

The point is, the good folks in Robin Hood’s marketing department gave us a reason to want to be exposed to its logo, frequently, and in association with something positive (Mum’s cookies!).

Principles of persuasion employed in persuading Mum to add Robin Hood advertising to her go-to recipe collection:
  • identification – free recipes for cookies my kids will like!
  • action – it’s right here in the baking aisle – I don’t have to mail anything away to get it! And it’s small and easy to read, so it’ll be convenient to use.
  • clarity – I recognize the Robin Hood logo, and the baked goods on the front cover show me what I’ll get if I try these recipes.
  • familiarity and trust – My own mother used Robin Hood flour; they’ve been in the flour business for 75 years (hence the “anniversary edition” recipe booklet), so they ought to know good baking recipes.
Sold! (at no charge)… and Robin Hood’s branding was forever associated with our Christmas memories. Aww!

So… the apps?

Many smart companies and organizations are today using apps to do the same job that little recipe booklet did in the 80s for Robin Hood flour.

Rather than simply giving the customer another platform on which to do business with the company, they’re giving the customer something the customer (or potential customer) will want to use, for free – because they know that with repeated exposures to the company’s brand and expertise, the customer will come to regard that company as a trusted source for whatever they sell.

Example 1: NikeWomen Training Club

This free app allows users to set up a personalized training program (on the Nike website) and then access it on their wireless device: “…simply create your Mini, customize your workout, and invite your friends for a little healthy competition.” The app interfaces with Facebook, allowing friends to track their progress against one another’s, encourage each other, etc., and provides workout advice and videos.

There’s no request for a Nike product proof of purchase or a fee of any kind; just an app that will bring one of Nike’s key target audiences (younger women who are interested in fitness) to interact with its brand in a positive way.

Example 2: My Baby Registry by Pampers

This free app allows users to get around the problem of store- or brand-specific baby gift registries, by making it easy to list all the things the family needs in one place. The user can either type in the name of the product, or use the camera on the mobile phone to scan the barcode, with the associated product name automatically being added to the list. The list is then made available online (and again, on Facebook) for anyone who wants suggestions on what to buy for the new family. Not only that: it promises to help with thank-you notes!

Again, no cost, no limitations related to brands – an app that solves problems for its target audience, new parents. And it helps that, since new parents tend to spend time with other new parents (who else would hang out with exhausted people with suspicious-looking stains on the shoulders of all their shirts?), the branding reaches out beyond the actual user to all his/her Facebook friends and anyone else who accesses the list.

Example 3: Petcentric Places by Purina

This free app is, unfortunately, only available in the U.S. for the time being, but I think it’s brilliant. It offers information about the nearest animal shelters, veterinarians, dog parks, groomers, kennels, pet stores, etc… as well as pet-friendly restaurants, hotels, bars, and a range of other businesses, and instant Google Maps to show where they are in relation to where the user is.

Regardless what brand of pet food & products they buy today, pet owners are bound to see the benefits of this free app, and be persuaded to use it. So the Purina brand will become part of that pet family, positioning it for potential sales down the road.

Apps: the new PR frontier

Companies that understand the principles of persuasion are increasingly going to see the benefits custom apps can yield in terms of building strong customer relationships. Apps can:
  • offer something with value to the customer (“identification” or “What’s in it for me”)
  • make it easy for the customer to interact with the brand (“action”), especially by virtue of the convenience of the wireless platform
  • cause repeated customer exposure to the brand (“clarity”)
  • position the brand’s expertise and credibility in the area of its own products (“familiarity and trust”)
As wireless data devices like the iPod Touch, iPhone, and BlackBerry become ubiquitous and apps become a mainstream way of connecting with organizations, good PR practitioners will be looking for ways to use apps to enhance customer engagement and position their client as “the” resource for whatever they sell.


  1. Very informative post Melanie! I especially like Petcentric Places by Purina. There are many occasions when my wife and I go out that we have to leave our dogs at home. It would be nice to know where our "fur family" is welcome, and we would definitely patronize these businesses more often. If this app comes to Canada, it will make the face of my iPhone.

  2. This reminds me a lot of sponsorship and other community relations stuff we talked about last term.

    In fact, apps like these would probably be a great addition to any business' community relations arsenal - instead of lending your name and services to an annual family fun bbq, create an app. It's much cheaper, and with people repeatedly using it, the amount of exposure you get will be greater.

  3. Similar to how companies would distribute everyday products (travel mugs, key chains, pens, etc.) emblazoned with their logo, these same companies can now take it a step further by creating a useful app that is also an accurate reflection of the business they're in.