9 Companies That Rocked it On Mobile (& How You Can Too)

Mobile apps are supposed to be these super easy ways to put on wonderful marketing campaigns that significantly grow your business.

At least, that’s what we hear everyone telling us anyway.

So we get excited about the idea and tell ourselves that we should look into a mobile app for our company… and that’s when the overwhelm starts.

Because there are just too many freaking possibilities out there. And while they’re all super cool, they don’t give you any clear ideas on which direction you should go for your business….probably because your business is quite a bit smaller than the businesses everyone’s spilling out as example.

But in their excitement about the coolness of mobile grandeur, a lot of mobile marketing advisors forget about the small businesses, and forget about applying these big and bad case studies into ways their readers can actually put them to use.

And even though big companies do have big numbers, a lot of times the connections between their mobile campaigns and ours are a lot stronger than we realize.


#1 & 2. Redbox & The Red Cross: Simple Text Messages go a LONG Way

A few years ago, Redbox ran a great mobile campaign that didn’t even require a mobile app.

For 10 days, people could text “DEALS” to a designated number, and in return, they’d get a message for a discount ranging anywhere from $0.10 to a free movie rental.

At the end of 10 days, 400,000 people generated a little over 3 messages a piece, totaling 1.5 million received messages.

Redbox boosted their business in the short-term, but most importantly, they collected four hundred thousand phone numbers of interested customers who clearly didn’t mind Redbox sending them discount messages every once in awhile.

So if business got low? Why not send out a 50% time-sensitive coupon code to those 400,000 individuals?

More text messages = more money.

The Red Cross did something similar after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, where people who wanted to help could text “HAITI” to a number to donate $10 to the cause via their phone bill.

They raised $23 million that way, which is insanely impressive.

But beyond that, 95% of the people who donated their $10 via text were all new donors, which meant The Red Cross now had their phone numbers to reach out to for small, as-needed donations when the next disaster struck.

Lesson: The big lesson here is, you don’t even need a mobile app to take advantage of the sheer power that mobile has to reach people.

If you’ve got a storefront, for example, all you need is a sign for people to text a word to a number in order to receive a discount in return.

They’ll happily do it (because who wouldn’t?), and you can use those numbers in the future to push promotions on in-store offers.

[Tweet “you don’t even need a mobile app to take advantage of the sheer power that mobile has to reach people.”]


#3. Motorola: Giving People the Feels

Motorola in Japan launched a simple “Say Goodbye” campaign that let people send one last, loving message to their friends and family at their departure gate, even after they’d said goodbye at the security gate.

The campaign would have obviously been carried out with Motorola screens, yes, but the marketing impact went well beyond that.

And if you’ve ever had to say goodbye to your mother at airport security without any idea of how long it will be until you see her again (or if you’ve ever seen any kind of teary goodbye in an airport ever), you get it.

You got us, Motorola, right in the feel zone.

It’s highly emotional, a little bit scary, and you’re overly responsive to any sort of kind support from strangers in that moment.

So when someone steps in to help you get that last little word in on just how much you love that person you’re saying goodbye to before they board the plane, it means a lot.


Mechanically for a small business, a campaign like this could be executed via the same simple texting strategy above, or as a simple in-app function.

Lesson: Your marketing campaigns don’t always have to be about the direct sale, brand awareness and loyalty can be just as important. So don’t be afraid of getting a little emotional with your customers where it’s appropriate.

And if you help them manage their high emotions in a helpful way with their phones (something else they’re very emotionally attached to)? They will remember you and love you for a very, very long time for it.

P.S. If you don’t know when you should get emotional, holidays are a GREAT excuse to do so.

[Tweet “Don’t be afraid of getting a little emotional with your customers where it’s appropriate”]


#4. Fandango: Making More Sales via Mere Presence

Sometimes, your app doesn’t need to do anything special or have any kind of special marketing campaign behind it to make a big impact on your business.

Fandango is a website that sells movie tickets online, and if you download their app, you can order the tickets from your phone, too.

It’s so simple and straightforward, but they did sell a whopping 19% of all the tickets for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II on their app. (And, um, if you’re not familiar with that movie, let’s just say it was freaking HUGE.)

While I’m sure they probably did some kind of push notification and additional advertising to make this happen, it wouldn’t have been that difficult for them to set up, or much work beyond what they would have normally done for the last Harry Potter movie launch. And the payoff was major.

Fandango’s app is directly in line with their site: all about selling movie tickets. You pick a movie, a location, a time, and then book your tickets.

Lesson: Your app doesn’t need a lot of fancy functionality to generate a lot of sales for you. Simple in-app functions like purchasing can really boost your sales… you’re eliminating the need for your customers to physically come into your store or to wait until they get home to get on a clunky laptop.  

[Tweet “Your app doesn’t need a lot of fancy functionality to generate a lot of sales for you”]


#5. Heineken: Boosting Brand Desire at the Right Time

Heineken is a product people consume during their leisure time. (Usually. But don’t think I’m judging you if like to crack ‘em open at the office.)

So Heineken decided to make their app fit right in with the leisure activities that go best with drinking their beer… watching sports.

With Heineken’s StarPlayer app from the 2011 UFEA Champions League tournament, users could log in 10 minutes before the game started to answer questions on their predictions about how the game would go. (And if they didn’t have a smartphone, they could play via Heineken’s Facebook page.)

But not only that, Heineken kept the game of predictions going throughout the match.

For example, if at any point a user thought a team would score a goal in the next 30 seconds, they could gamble on it by pressing the app’s goal button in hopes of scoring points.

Lesson: If your product has anything to do with entertainment or leisure, think about the times when your target customers are only passively using their phones for entertainment, rather than actively using them to message their boss.

When they’re using their phones passively, they’re looking for something to entertain them, so this is a huge opportunity to build brand awareness and desire during relevant activities.

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#6. Marriott: Making Customers’ Lives Easier

Though Marriott’s app also lets you book rooms, which helps them with their direct sales, it does something else that’s even cooler.

It gives guests the options to order concierge services after they’ve booked a room and checked in via Marriott’s phone app rather than having to go down to the front desk.

It’s not a necessary service, but it is a nice touch.

Especially for tired travelers who are now able to get the items they needed without having to fully dress to go down to the front desk or try to communicate over the phone. (The phone thing is especially frustrating if you’re traveling in a foreign country and either don’t speak the language or find the accent hard to understand.)

Guests can notify hotel staff of exactly what they need, and can even use an in-app chat feature that functions just like texting & has the same personal feel.

Lesson: Provide your service, and then think of a really easy way for you to go above and beyond, even if it’s not necessary. This can easily be done via a question submission on your mobile app as a form of customer support during non-business hours (even if you don’t respond until you’re in the office), making your on-site experience more enjoyable, or just sending relevant push notifications to let your customers know you’re thinking about them.

This strategy can work wonders in bars, spas, and restaurants.


#7. IKEA: Make Your Products More Interactive

By downloading IKEA’s mobile catalog app, users get access to a futuristic shopping experience that uses their smartphone camera to create a virtual reality within the room they’re sitting.

With the app, you can select a piece of furniture and then hold up your phone to the corner of the room where you think that furniture piece would look nice. The app uses your phone’s camera to give you an idea of what that chair/sofa/table would like in your living space.

And within IKEA’s paper catalog, you can use their app to scan certain pages to access even more content.

This reduces your second-guesses about whether or not the design would be a good fit for the look you already have.

In this screenshot, the “Place” icon in the bottom center is what lets you test out a piece of furniture in your home.

It’s such a cool feature that the app has 6.2 million downloads and is the number one downloaded app for any brand. (Even if it did get lots of reviews saying it was slow.)

Lesson: Ok, so the technology required to pull off an app like this may not be within your grasp as a small business, but there are some applicable lessons here that you can implement.

By adding this feature to their app, IKEA made shopping more fun because they put their products directly into the lives of their target customers so they could make more empowering purchase decisions.

If you’re using your app to sell a product or set appointments, make it enjoyable. For example, instead of just creating a calendar invite, create a calendar invite with a funny quote, or after one calendar invite is set up, ask if they’d like another one for 15 minutes before reminding them to remember their [resume/portfolio/insurance card/etc.].



#8. Taco Bell: Location-Based Happy Hour

Beyond putting up posters in their store windows, Taco Bell advertised their 2 pm to 5 pm Happier Hour $1 drinks via their app.

They asked their app users if they’d like to be reminded of Happier Hour, and if so, how.

Users could choose a calendar notification or to get a geo-based push notification when they are in close proximity to a Taco Bell and Happier Hour was going on.

For users that opted in, they also sent out virtual coupons that were easy to redeem in-store.

It sounds like a simple strategy, and it is.

By taking advantage of app users who have their GPS function on, your app can identify when they come into close proximity with one of your locations, and send them a push notification, encouraging them to come and buy from you.

You know how Google Maps always seems to know exactly where you are when you open Maps on your phone or laptop? That’s geo targeting, and it’s so common now that even the smallest businesses can take advantage of it. I don’t seen any Taco Bells in my immediate vicinity, but there are other local restaurants that might do well if they had an app and sent me location-based push notifications during lunch time.

Lesson: The lesson here is it’s easy to ask customers what they want from you, and then to give it to them via app settings that they can choose and control themselves.

It also shows that reminding them of nearby deals that are too good to miss out on is a great way to get business that would have otherwise unknowingly passed you by.


#9. Lifetouch Portrait Studios: A Small Coupon Doubles Sales

In conjunction with their regular marketing efforts, Lifetouch decided they wanted to boost their mobile reach, so they offered a $5 coupon to anyone who opted into their mobile promotions as an experiment.

Five dollars really isn’t that much of a discount considering how much people usually end up spending on a Lifetouch session and prints, but even this tiny little discount proved its weight.

After they ran the opt-in coupon campaign, Lifetouch’s sales increased by a huge 163%. That’s right, they more than doubled their business.

Plus, after customers used their $5 discount, Lifetouch could keep in touch with them more personally since they’d been given permission to talk to the customers directly on their phones.

A $5 coupon to download you app? Deal.

Lesson: If you create an app for your business, the truth is it might be a little difficult to convince people to download it… unless you give them a compelling reason to do so. And apparently a $5 coupon is more than reason enough.

Plus, since you’ll be able to send push notifications via the app, you can increase the odds that the people who do get that coupon will actually use it, bringing you more sales.


Experiment With Your Own App Possibilities Today

The good news is, beyond actually coming up with ideas of mobile campaigns to try out, you can actually create an app yourself without the need to know any kind of coding language… even basic HTML.

We’ve have an app building tool that lets you start with a template based on your business type that lets you set up the different functions you want to feature: buying, direct contact, push notifications, or social media sharing.

The coolest part is, we let you experiment as much and for as long as you want free of charge. And when you do decide to take your app live so you can launch your dreamy mobile campaign?

Our prices are affordable, don’t worry. We get what small business budgets are like.

These are examples from big businesses, but have you seen any awesome local business in your area run any fun and profitable mobile campaigns? Tell us about them!

Ian Blair :BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.