From Brand Ideals to App Purpose

February 18 2015

To a certain extent, a manager can use brand ideals to directionally guide the brand’s efforts toward a consistent product and communication innovation. The same applies in the digital environment. A brand is a brand anywhere, whether the context is mobile apps or physical goods. Therefore, it is easy to find examples of mobile services that clearly play in connection to a specific fundamental human value

The Shazam app, for example, recognizes music and media playing nearby. The app’s purpose is to inspire exploration by discovering what a user is hearing at that moment. Once you have identified your brand (and, in this case, the app’s purpose), it becomes straightforward to:

find your service value proposition, assess the landscape to identify competitors in that area, position your products considering Point of Parities (POPs) and Points of Differences (PODs), and make a clear prioritization of the new feature you intend to launch. 

On the latter point, Shazam has recently announced a new feature called “Auto Shazam” that can continuously recognize popular music and TV around a user, even if their phone is locked.


Fig. 1 - From brand ideals to app purpose - Adapted from Stengel (2011)

This means that if someone is unable to whip out their phone to Shazam a song, the phone will still be able to record it. As Shazam wrote on its update, “Flip the switch on the Shazam home screen to turn on Auto Shazam, and automatically recognize while you commute or watch a movie, even if you leave the Shazam app or lock your phone” (Cnet, 2013). This new feature is massively connected to the brand ideals and the app’s purpose of “Inspiring exploration,” and is consistent with the imaginary that the brand has got in the consumer’s mind. 

My point is that Shazam might have launched other features that did not necessarily serve the purpose of letting users discover more of what they are experiencing in the physical world. 

However, it has rightly decided to prioritize product features that build the brand equity in that specific area, which is strategic for the company. Shazam could have created features in relation to any other brand ideal. 

If the scope is to enable meaningful connections, it could have created a community of people that are curious about the same music at the same time. Alternatively, if the scope is to create joy, it could have created a quiz game among the community members to guess the search song, and so on. Similarly to Shazam, also other services have a defined business strategy focused on brand ideals upon which they build their product innovation and marketing strategy. 

For example, Whatsapp is about connecting people in a convenient way, while Instagram allows you to express your personality to the world, Angry Birds delivers happiness, and Waze impacts society positively by reducing traffic.

Volkswagen SmileDrive App - Case Study

Any time a brand manager wants to add an additional touchpoint or asset to its campaign as a means of interacting with consumers, he or she should carefully evaluate the coherence of these with the brand ideals and brand strategy and under the perspective of a unique customer journey. 

A recent example of a branded mobile app that deeply connects its purpose to the brand promise and wants to form a deeper relationship with a strategic target comes from Volkswagen. The German car manufacturer presents its slogan – “It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them” – (eliciting joy) in the majority of its communication assets. Despite the different consumer perception of the brand, both in and outside Europe, the message Volkswagen wishes to emphasize appears to be clear and recognizable on every channel, platform, or tool being used for marketing purposes. 

The customer insight behind this campaign is that people spend increasing amounts of time in their cars, looking for ways to share their experiences and create meaning around everyday journeys. In particular, consumers born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s (also known as Generation Y) are the hottest target for most brands; they are relatively easy to approach and willing to interact with the brand during their morning commutes. Based on this insight, Volkswagen has, in conjunction with its partner agencies, created the new mobile SmileDrive app (Mediacom, 2013).


Fig. 2 - Volkswagen SmileDrive 

This app provides an engaging new way for commuters to keep track of their drives; for example, by using the app to record distance traveled, time, and weather, and pass that info to friends and family. SmileDrive allows you to unlock “virtual badges” for going on extra-long rides or passing other drivers of similar cars. 

According to several sources (see Google Think Insight, 2013), the app generated 9000 downloads within the first month from launch, with the average time driven with the app being 73 minutes. Interacting with a branded app for an average of 73 minutes is uncommon, especially because this app was not solely distributed to Volkswagen’s customers, but also to potential ones. 

Going beyond the definition of the value delivered through this app, which obviously changes from customer to customer, I find a relevant lesson coming from the way the consistency of the idea was assessed against the brand promise. The idea itself, used for a different brand, and therefore with different ideals, would have shown no impact in terms of overall brand equity contribution. 

In this case, the meanings the brand has generated towards its customers and potential ones are perfectly coherent with the previous campaigns (for example, see the “fun theory”), current messages, and among touch points.

Alex Mari

Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate