In order to generate an audience from nothing for your mobile endeavors, you must take into consideration how most people arrive at websites and apps.

Month four already? Time flies when you’re busy diagnosing mobile woes for all the loyal PM360 readers. This month’s question comes in from Sam R.:

Dr. Mobile!
Thanks for all the great articles about mobile websites and apps. We’ve started working on both and are now planning an approach to attracting an audience for them. What do you recommend?

We like to refer to this particular challenge as audience generation, mostly because it sounds cool, but also because it’s a pretty accurate description. Although you could call it audience attraction, that implies a more passive approach to drawing people in rather than actively generating interest. The mobile version of audience generation isn’t much different than the more traditional desktop web one. The key here is to always think of Kevin Costner, standing in a field of corn. He was promised: If you build it, they will come. Your peril is the opposite: If you build it, no one will show up. In the past we turned to things such as search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and display ads (DA) to attract an audience. The increasing personalization of search results (and prominence of links from your social network) has rendered SEO a lot more difficult. SEM and DA still work, but they’re traditionally aimed at a desktop audience. What’s a mobile marketer to do?

The first thing to consider: What are you trying to generate an audience for? Since we’re talking about mobile here, let’s assume that this falls into two broad camps: Mobile websites and mobile apps (see September’s column for some info on when to use both tactics). You’re probably most familiar with audience generation for mobile websites since it’s similar to approaches you might have taken for more desktop-oriented sites, so let’s start there.

People generally arrive at websites through one of four channels: They type the URL into their browser (direct traffic), they do a search and find your site in the organic results (search traffic), they click or tap on a link on another site (organic traffic), or they click or tap on an ad on another site (paid traffic). There are a few specific instances that cross over—clicking on an SEM ad on a search engine result page for example—but those broad categories will serve our purposes.

Each of those channels is similar to its desktop equivalent with minor considerations for mobile:

Direct: Remember that people need to type URLs, so keep them short. This applies to domain names as well as the path that comes after them (e.g., both http://rellyant.com and http://rellyant.com/some/path should be as short as possible). You can use tactics like QR codes and NFC tags to avoid having to type domains, but remember that they get very low adoption rates.

Organic: Make sure that your site’s mobile version either has all of the same pages as its desktop cousin or that you’ve provided redirects for all the URLs to an equivalent mobile page. It’s a pretty weak experience to follow a very promising looking link from another site only to get a 404 page or redirected to the mobile-optimized homepage.

Search: There are reports that Google is now giving more prominence to results from mobile-optimized sites when users search on a mobile device, which will become the majority of searches in the next few years. Again make sure that the results that turn up there actually lead to a page and not an error.

Paid: There are mobile ad networks that specialize in inventory for display on mobile devices, including Google’s AdMob and Apple’s iAds. Have your media agency consider the most appropriate placements and keep in mind that mobile ads are often similar to the so-called “rich media” ad units on desktops in that they expand when tapped to create entire interactive, touchscreen experiences. More on that below.

Let’s take a look at the situation if you’re generating an audience for a mobile app. The primary distribution channel for mobile apps is the platform-specific app stores (Apple’s iTunes App Store, Google’s Play Store, Amazon’s Appstore, RIM’s BlackBerry App World, etc.). Each store has its own mechanisms for getting featured, which often change from update to update (e.g., the app discovery process changed radically in the iTunes App Store with the release of iOS 6). There are a number of app store optimization (ASO) tools out there that are the equivalent to automated SEO tools of old, including Appcod.es, MobileDevHQ, SearchMan SEO and Apptamin. All of those will help you and your agency to understand the competitive landscape around your apps and to optimize your app store listings to increase your discoverability.

Outside of the app store, there are a number of paid and owned tactics that can be very impactful. Within the world of paid media, most mobile ad networks now carry inventory of ads that can appear inside other apps. Use target apps that are likely to get high use by your patient or HCP demographic to feature rich media ads that expand into interactive experiences. There aren’t many great examples of these new formats from within the pharma world, but there are quite a few from other industries. Some of the top ads from the last year include a Google campaign for Coca-Cola that enabled participants to send a free Coke to a special vending machine somewhere else in the world (http://www.projectrebrief.com/coke/) and an interactive virtual soccer game between the top two teams in South Africa to promote Carling Black Label beer.

You’ll also want to focus on building an audience for your app through your owned properties, including your branded and/ or unbranded websites. There’s no special magic to doing so, other than to make sure that any landing pages you build to promote apps also look great on mobile browsers. An iOS-specific note: Apple’s release of iOS 6 brought a useful app-promotion tool in the form of the apple-itunes-app meta tag, like this:

Including the tag in your website’s HTML will trigger the display of a smart banner on iPhones, iPod touches and iPads that visit the site, either linking to the App Store or to the app locally. See the example above of the TED.com site from two different phones.

You can use a slightly more sophisticated form of the tag on subpages in order to instruct your app to display specific content when it opens. Continuing with the TED.com example, this is the same tag as seen on the page for a specific TED Talk, which causes the app to open on the same page:

 

The primary takeaway for brand marketers is to make sure that your app agency has included an audience generation strategy, including ASO and analytics, and that you continue to optimize that strategy after launch.

The Advantage Of Meta Tags
The TED.com website viewed on two different iPhones running iOS 6. The banner at the top is triggered by the presence of an apple-itunes-app meta tag in the TED.com HTML code. The phone on the left doesn’t have the app installed and so it features a link to the app store. The phone on the right does, so it provides a button to “OPEN” the app.

  • Jay Goldman

    Jay Goldman is a Managing Director at Klick Health and leads Kick’s Sensei Labs team in addition to heading the company’s Innovation group. He is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Decoded Company” and has been published in the “Harvard Business Review.”

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