Are apps more tools than toys? Here are 10 Great Marketing Apps

by Brad Spirrison

"Apps have nothing to do with marketing. They are all tools or toys." This was said by my friend Andy of Orbit Media. He seems to think that mobile apps have no power to connect brands with customers. Let's disabuse him of the notion with a list of ten apps that are part of kick-ass marketing campaigns.

Yes, these apps are all “tools and toys.” Most of these were created and promoted to build a closer relationship with existing customers, and not necessarily to connect with a new audience.

But every marketer knows the value of branding, client retention, subsequent sales, and referrals. These are the cornerstones of marketing to an existing customer base. You might not call them marketing apps, but each was built with marketing in mind and each yielded huge marketing results.

Macy’s

Department stores were hit in the kneecaps in 2011 by “showrooming” apps like Price Check by Amazon and eBay’s RedLaser. Tackiness didn’t prevent shoppers from ordering merchandise they could touch and feel at the store via their smartphones for a cheaper price. Last holiday season, Macy’s struck back by updating its app to include exclusive sales (triggered minutes after shoppers entered their stores) and in-store navigation at its flagship New York City location. This app is both cool and a tool for self-preservation.

Super 8

Some Hollywood studio apps offer little more than cheesy intros and trailers. This gem from Paramount and producer J.J. Abrams goes deeper. The app serves as a Super 8 camera emulator for your iDevice. Amateur and seasoned film auteurs alike took to the app and its myriad filters to make retro video clips. These were, of course, shared - along with Super 8 film propaganda - with Facebook and Twitter friends.

Benjamin Moore Digital Editions

Ever visit a restaurant or home of an acquaintance only to find yourself envying the colors they have painted on their walls? Brighten up your outlook with this clever app, which identifies the exact Benjamin Moore color of paint that you photograph from your device. =

iFood Assistant by Kraft

There are plenty of free and easy recipes offered in this nicely-designed interactive cookbook. It generates a shopping list based on what recipes you tag and conveniently points you to Kraft ingredients.

Chase Mobile

Depositing checks is less of a drag when you don’t have to wait in line at the bank. It’s downright cool when you can just snap pics of your checks and deposit them with this app.

Once a customer gets used to a feature like this one, it’s hard to imagine switching to another bank. When Chase stays out in front of the pack with an app like this, customer retention is a likely outcome.

Starbucks

The last thing over-caffeinated professionals need is the ability to score their Starbucks fix from their mobile devices. Quick and easy payments along with store locators (as if you couldn’t find one otherwise!) is the essence of this app. Passbook integration in iOS 6 serves as an extra shot of Espresso.

Zipcar

Urban hipsters who embraced Zipcar from the beginning also appreciate the ability to honk the horn and unlock the doors of that borrowed car they can’t locate in the parking lot.

Walgreens

Being able to refill an existing prescription just by scanning the barcode of a pill bottle is just what the doctor ordered. The Walgreens app also sends push notifications when a prescription is about to expire, and lets users upload photos to their photo album and pick up prints minutes later.

Pampers Hello Baby Pregnancy Calendar

The folks at Procter & Gamble extend their marketing mastery to mobile devices. The Pregnancy Calendar features rich content about what to expect  - for both mommies and babies - while expecting. Of course, once the baby is born Pampers already has a hook into your diaper decision.

GEICO BroStache

We can’t really tell you how growing a virtual moustache relates to buying auto insurance. Yet like most other GEICO commercials and promotions, we somehow find ourselves talking about the brand anyway.

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing You can find Andy on