In Fight Club, there's a scene where the lead character, played by Ed Norton, talks about the ubiquity of single servings: "Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap."
This use-it-then-lose-it mentality prevails in certain types of digital marketing, too, and can be particularly acute in mobile. We create an awful lot of single-serving media. Like those tiny scented soaps in your hotel room, they're basically disposables.
Brand apps, in particular, are often single-serving media. The consumer mindcast for many brand apps sounds something like this: "I need this immediately, right here, right now—but in an hour I'll never use it again." Distracted, demanding and maybe a little ADD — that's the kind of audience marketers need to satisfy.
You download the Wimbledon app to keep up with the tournament for two weeks, then... delete. You download the skiing app that tracks weather and vertical descent, but when your lift pass expires and your ski trip is over...delete. Since branded apps are generally free, there's no economic incentive to keep one from ditching them —you can always download again later at no cost.
Given the constraints on consumers' time and patience —and the size limitations of their smartphone screens —single-purpose mobile apps should be designed with laser-like focus on their core functionality. Don't get bogged down with extraneous links or layers of navigation. Remember, you're not trying to recreate a website. It's perfectly fine if apps do just one thing —as long as they do it darn well and they're providing the kind of content and services that consumers genuinely want and will actually use.
Yet as the media landscape continues to fragment, and companies find themselves filling more nooks and crannies to reach consumers, marketers should consider whether they're primarily creating single-serving perishables, or something with a longer shelf life. We need to think through how each of these single-serve experiences is playing into defining the meaning and purpose of our brand within the lives of consumers.
The deeper purpose of marketing is to sustain consumer engagement and satisfy appetites over a lifetime, not an afternoon. The objective should be to ensure that your brand's snack mix of single-purpose media adds to something more fulfilling — not just a meal, but an entire menu of meals.
Consider the example of online videos. Most are intended to be single serving;even videos that achieve viral success are rarely viewed repeatedly by the same viewers over a substantial period of time. Sure, you might mini-binge on a particularly hilarious spot, but after watching it five times in a row, you're sated forever. But when a brand aggregates their video content into an owned-media channel on YouTube, they've created something bigger and broader with a better chance of sustained engagement. They've created a place where people who loved their last video can return and enjoy what comes next.
When strategizing app development, brands similarly should think in terms of the overall arc. They should create properties that function as a transmedia channel, not just a haphazard assortment of media consumables. That way, people will perceive a recognizable pattern —they'll see a constellation, instead of a scattering of random stars.
Single-serve interactions can play an important part of a larger brand experience in the lives of consumers if marketers can find ways to transform a series of potentially fleeting interactions into something more valuable. It needs to reinforce the value and meaning of their brand. If ESPN provides a World Cup app, for example, they're doing it so that when the NCAA tournament comes around, sports fans know already where to turn.
People you meet on planes, says the angry fellow in Fight Club, tend to be single-serving friends. You might chat with the person across the aisle for a few idle hours, but as soon as you've grabbed your bags from luggage claim, they're gone from your life forever. The trick is making sure that when people engage with your brand —whether by downloading an app, becoming a Facebook friend or following on Twitter —they're not just strangers on a plane, killing time until their next connection.
Subscribe to receive the latest research
and insights from Engauge.
Engauge is a full-service marketing agency for the digital and social age. We help grow our clients' businesses by leveraging creativity and technology to connect brands and consumers through the most relevant content and channels. The proliferation of content and channel opportunities for both consumers and brands has forever changed the communications landscape. But - what haven't changed are the fundamentals of marketing: The ability to richly understand a consumer, to derive a thoughtful insight, and to create a big idea. For years, Engauge has helped lead its clients by staying true to those fundamentals, while focusing on talent, technology, innovation and building a dynamic range of capabilities - from the tried and true, to social, mobile and whatever's next. Today's marketing is assuredly more complex, but to us the premise is still quite simple: Listen to the client, listen to the consumer, and deliver big ideas at the right time and place. And, most importantly, engauge.