2013: The year of the family app

Andrew Barrett on how apps of the future should bring people together.

By Andrew Barrett

If you were a fly on the wall in boardrooms across Canada as marketers lay out their plans for 2013, one of the most common aspirations you would hear would be the desire to create “emotional connections with consumers.”

It’s interesting to note that of all the marketers striving for that connection, tech brands are particularly skilled at winning hearts. Interbrand’s recent study, The Best Global Brands of 2012, found that five of the top 10 brands are in tech.

“Technology companies are doing well because they show a real understanding of human beings,” said Jez Frampton, global chief executive at Interbrand, in the New York Times. He added, “It’s irony, a group of technology companies showing the way how to be human.”

Maybe it is a bit ironic, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The role technology plays today in satisfying our basic human needs of communicating, connecting and sharing puts tech companies in a great position to reach consumers emotionally. The marketing message from technology companies has changed from feeds, speeds and features to lifestyle and human relationships.

So how do non-tech brands take advantage of these trends?

It comes down to how the message is delivered. Brands saw this with smartphones and developed apps to enhance the human connection. Kraft’s iFood Assistant app, launched in 2008 for 99 cents, became a top-100 paid app and number two in the lifestyle category.

Users get a large selection of recipes, instructional videos and shopping lists by registering online at Kraft Foods. It features ads and the ingredients include Kraft products. This enabled Kraft to collect info on the most popular recipes and ingredients.

More importantly, it secured Kraft’s role in the kitchen to help moms as they struggled with what to have for dinner and keep the family eating healthy. By providing answers, the app helped Kraft to develop a strong emotional connection with its customers.

In Cannes this past June, I attended a seminar about global moms’ attitudes toward tech. It opened my eyes to a big opportunity for me as a marketing leader at Samsung. It was based on the premise that mom has always faced a love-hate challenge with technology.

She loves her smart device because of the productivity that it gives her, she knows her family loves their smart devices, and she’s come to rely on her family’s love of tech to give her time for herself. But she also hates it because the devices are designed for single users. They send family members into the corners to spend time alone.

Fast forward to 2013, and the same wave of innovation that hit smartphone apps is headed for your living room. This time it will pull people out of the corners.

Television is becoming an interactive medium that lets people pursue their passions together on one piece of technology.  This provides marketers with the next big opportunity – apps geared toward the entire family.

TV still provides a shared viewing experience in the living room. Inherently different from smartphone and tablet apps, which are geared toward single users, Smart TV apps will target groups gathered around large LED screens.

Moms want the entire family focused on a shared activity. The TV used to be a uniting technology in the home, and with Smart TV it is once again the best device to deliver this experience.

So while the 30-second spot may be threatened, new opportunities present themselves through apps that will keep the family in the “family” room. Everything from on-demand content and console-less gaming, to big screen Skype calls and social TV viewing (social feeds integrated with TV shows), can all be delivered through a Smart TV.

The potential for marketers to strengthen the emotional connection with mom is often tied to how much impact brands can have on making life more enjoyable for her family. So as Smart TVs become the norm, brands looking for innovative ways to reach families would be smart to look at how TV apps could become part of their marketing mix for now and well into the future.

Andrew Barrett is VP marketing for Samsung Canada.