Branded mobile apps are about to get a boost from iOS 14

App Clips lets brands show previews of their apps without requiring a full app download. It’s like a movie trailer for a brand’s customer experience. …

Apple is set to release its new mobile operating system, iOS 14, tomorrow. Of all the bells and whistles being rolled out in the software update, App Clips is the new feature that brands probably need to know about most, because it has the potential to strengthen the sales impact of their mobile app.

With App Clips, brands can offer consumers a preview of their apps without requiring a full app download. It’s like a movie trailer for a brand’s customer experience (CX); it is a frictionless, non-committal glimpse of the app and can end in a sale if the offer is relevant enough — or it can end in an auto-delete after a period of inactivity. Google developed something similar in Instant Apps in 2016 that it finally launched for game developers and game players in 2018.

Apple seems to be thinking more broadly when it comes to App Clips. The feature is designed to be highly discoverable in the Apple Store and will be lightweight — so users can open Clips quickly to meet a particular need, such as ordering wine delivery or renting a scooter, without downloading the app. Or, in another likely use case, if a restaurant or retail chain offers a digital payment or loyalty program, consumers will be able to quickly transact with the business via App Clips.

Coming at the right time

Mid-pandemic, the stakes have never been higher for mobile app marketers as consumers have gotten more accustomed to placing orders on their phones. Before the crisis, my company found that the average number of app opens per user had dropped 29% to 17.6 in February compared to the same month in 2019. But then average app opens per user reversed course, trending upward in March to an average 22.6 app opens per user and a higher average direct notification open rate of 8.2%. Meanwhile, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Abercrombie & Fitch reported big surges in app downloads during the second quarter.

The branded app is back in the spotlight. App Clips can help brands build on that momentum, driving their app engagement and downloads.

A new form of alert

Technical details are important to App Clips’ potential impact. The feature comes with an ephemeral notification permission setting: When a user adds an App Clip to their device, the brand automatically obtains permission to send them transactional notifications for eight hours. After that, brands can ask users if they want to extend notification permissions for up to one week.

What an opportunity! That window of time can be used to streamline the user’s experience with messages that usher them through their immediate goals and demonstrate the value of the brand’s app, even if just for a portion of its overall functionality. And of course, marketers should focus on getting App Clips users to download the full app where a deeper customer understanding and more fine-grained user-level controls can cultivate valuable long-term relationships.

To make the most of engaging consumers with this new feature, marketers should experiment with different features, user flows, and offers through A/B and multivariate testing, which is key to significant and incremental improvements and how brands like HotelTonight increased bookings by 15%. When download-focused app marketers have a consumer’s attention, they want to make the most of it because getting a brand’s app discovered in the first place is challenging.

Why App Clips are unusually discoverable

App discovery has been a problem for almost a decade. So how do App Clips help with this? Let me explain.

There are several new mini-features that will encourage the use of App Clips. Likely by the end of this year, Apple will release App Clips Codes, which will let users quickly access an app without installing it by visiting a URL, scanning a QR code, or tapping NFC tags with their iPhone to launch an App Clip at places like store windows or retail countertops. This feature will power not only app usage but also mobile wallets and micro-payments. If you’ve scanned a QR code to pay a retailer via Venmo or see an eatery’s menu during COVID-19, this experience will be similar — except your phone will not have to be unlocked first.

App Clips also provide a viral element. Soon, iPhone users will be able to text-message links to share the feature with their friends and family, who will simply need to tap to open an App Clip. Additionally, location will power App Clips’ potential. Marketers can register App Clips to appear on a place card in Apple Maps, which users will be able to open directly.

A win for CX

Even though marketers want consumers to download their full apps, more users will likely take advantage of App Clips when they haven’t yet decided if they want to use the product or service repeatedly. It’s then a marketer’s job to make a brand’s CX strong enough to earn that commitment.

So when iOS 14 goes live, marketers should dedicate themselves to both feature and messaging experimentation that will drive their ability to capitalize on this chance to grow app engagement, downloads, and, ultimately, customer acquisition. It’s a significant opportunity to give new life to brands’ mobile app playbook while improving the customer experience.

Mike Herrick is SVP of technology at Airship.

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