The next great expression of “brand love”

by Sonali Shetty

The ultimate expression of “brand love” is an icon on the Home screen of mobile devices.  Our devices are so personal and ubiquitous, that any apps we download and keep, are an extension of our identity.  True enough that many of our devices are a junkyard for apps – long forgotten and seldom used.  But others are so addictive, we wonder how we lived “pre app.”

Checklist from Hilldrup’s Move Pro app

At HDS we just launched an app that I hope will be an incredibly handy resource for many people.  Hilldrup Move Pro (iPhone/iPad), for our friends at Hilldrup Companies, is a full-featured moving platform.  The app is a must-have for anyone contemplating a move.  But, we wanted to make the app relevant to a wider audience.  When creating a strategy for app functionality, we faced a unique conundrum.  How do you extend the life of an app that is built around a discrete event?  You want an app to be a valuable branded tool that people want to access again and again on their mobile device, right?

In looking into consumers’ moving patterns, we noticed that most people don’t unpack their boxes right away.  (True confessions: I still have unopened boxes in my attic six years after stashing them up there.)  So we created the ability for users to visually add items to their virtual box and even take pictures of their items, in order to document box contents.  High value items can be immediately identified.  Finally, users are able to create QR code labels to slap on their boxes.  When a user wants to identify the contents of a box, all they have to do is to scan the label on the box and read the contents. Pretty Cool!  Oh, and as an added security feature, to prevent just anyone from being able to read the QR code, only the Move Pro app on the original device that “packed” the box is able to read its contents.

Some other features and their long-range applications include:

– Ability to notify friends when you’ve moved – applies down the road if your phone number or e-mail address change.

– Currency converter.  For people moving to other countries, this is super useful.  And just as handy for people simply taking a trip abroad.

– Assign a task to a friend – “Honey-do lists” are finally mobile-ized!

Reverse search will be available in the next release. Here’s how it will work – suppose I’m looking for that pair of red shoes I wear over the holidays.  A quick search within the app tells me immediately which box those little babies are in.  That means no more rooting through boxes to find what you’re looking for.  This feature alone transcends moving – it puts a handy organizing tool at your disposal.

We’re pretty excited at what the Hilldrup Move Pro can and will do.  Download it and let us know what you think.  We’re hoping that MovePro will make it to your Home screen.

The birth of Hodges Digital Strategies

This is a blog post that is more than two years in the making.

Past posts have alluded to growth at The Hodges Partnership, mainly focusing on the new two-story addition to the back of our Shockoe Bottom home.  But I have hinted at something more, and here it is.

Today I’d like to announce the creation of a second business under the Hodges umbrella, Hodges Digital Strategies.

HDS is the product of a two-year journey we’re taken with a number of folks including our new business partner in the venture, Sonali Shetty and a number of clients who have jumped into this new digital and social world with us with both feet.  Some of those clients include AMF Bowling, SnagAJob.com, Carpenter, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, ChildFund International and CarMax, all of whom at varying levels are exploring way to reach audiences online, create community and broaden their communications strategies to include digital, social and mobile platforms and everything in between.

As I have written before, I am a big believer that PR firms are well positioned to guide clients through this newer world because we have a great history of content creation for communications programs. Some PR firms have struggled because while they know what should be done to communication on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and iPhones, they lack the design and technological development capabilities to handle the entire assignment for clients.  This is where we hope to succeed with HDS by marrying the power of public relations and technology and providing seamless strategies under one umbrella.

Through our communications, design and development capabilities we can create “digital outposts” for a brand with strategies born out of our public relations experience, delivered across all online and digital platforms.

Specifically HDS will:

  • Build custom websites and web applications
  • Build custom experiences on social media platforms, like branded custom landing pages on Facebook and use contests, games, etc. to leverage its viral nature.  Among our team is one of the first third-party Facebook developers so we have the experience needed to deliver.
  • Build iPhone, iPad and Droid apps for smartphones.  We’re in the beginning stages of building an iPhone/iPad app for Rutgers University athletics.
  • Provide analytics to see how successful your program is.
  • Counsel on social media strategy including everything from initial listening programs, to ongoing monitoring for reputation management issues, to providing advice on how to grow and interact with communities and consumers including social commerce and geo-location programs with Foursquare, etc.
  • Provide strategy and counsel on online video projects.

The combination of all these specialties will help a client leverage their potential audience and engage and interact with them wherever they are.

This coupled with The Hodges Partnership (no the traditional PR side is not going away by a long shot), will allow clients to reach consumers through traditional media (media relations/communications), online (through media relations/communications, social media platforms and web development) and on their mobile devices (through media relations, social media platforms and mobile sites and apps).

All under one Hodges umbrella, which provides one consistent communications strategy and of course, lower overhead and costs.

Speaking of which, we are also offering a small business/non-profit product for Facebook based on feedback we’ve received from a number of folks as well.

So there’s the news.  I know it was a little “salesy” but we’ve been holding this in for so long we wanted to make sure we told our story effectively because as we tell our clients, “you only have one time to launch, so you better communicate effectively.”

We’re very excited about this and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide initial consultation.

Again, we think that PR is perfectly positioned to lead in the digital world, and we’re putting our money where our opinion is.

Thanks for all your support these past eight years and we hope the Hodges brand of companies is around for a whole lot more.

Mobile site vs. Mobile App?

This post was fueled as many these days are by two things, a conversation with a client and our soon-to-be-announced new company.

The client conversation was focused on her initial interest in creating a mobile app (iPhone, Droid, etc.) to help promote her organization, what it does, etc.  Using this app would also help her consumers navigate her business.  After doing a great deal of research in her industry, the client and her team decided not to pursue the app strategy but to instead put their money into a mobile version of their website.  They discovered that based on their consumer, what they do and how they do it, the mobile version of the site would be more helpful and more cost-effective.

So that got me thinking, given the “cool factor” of apps these days (everyone wants one and HAS to have one, it reminds me at lot of websites in the late 90’s), is it better for a business or organization to invest in apps or to create a mobile site, a version of their existing website that is optimized for mobile devices.  Since our new venture will help clients design and develop both Mobile sites and Mobile apps, we really don’t have a “dog in this hunt” and we can look at this question objectively.

After a short conversation with Sonali Shetty, our partner in our new venture, here are some considerations to think about when weighing Mobile app vs. Mobile site:

  • Casual vs. hardcore:  Are you creating the mobile presence for a casual maybe one-time user or someone who you expect will come back often?  If casual, you might consider the mobile site, if hardcore you likely will want to focus on the app because of its “richer” experience.
  • Basic info vs. optimization:  Similarly if you want the information to mirror some of the basic functionality of your existing website, then the mobile site might be the way to go.  The mobile app by its very nature can and should be that richer experience with additional and enhanced functionality and information.  It can include exclusive, stand-alone features such as games, widgets, offers, etc.
  • Branding:  Just by the very nature and size of the medium you have a better opportunity to brand with the app than you do with the mobile site, although each have their pluses and minuses.
  • Cost:  In this world of Apple, Droid and Blackberry in many cases you’re not only building one app but you’re building two or three and there is little economy of scale.  The mobile site is just one element and since in most cases it is an extension of your existing website, it should cost less than the app.
  • Access:  The mobile site is available easily off the device’s web browser.  The app is available through a third-party like iTunes or Android market.  In those cases, you need to get it approved by those third-parties before being able to offer them to your consumers.

So if you in charge of making these decisions in your organization what do you do?  I would default to how you think most people are using their mobile devices.  In my case with my Droid or iPad (I go both ways :)), I tend browse first and app second and if you look at either of my devices, aside from Paper Toss HD (greatest game in the world), you will see apps that pertain to my business and things about which I’m MOST passionate.

My takeaway from that is that the Mobile site is more of a must have and the Mobile app is more of a luxury.

What do you think?

At the mercy of a platform

Editor’s note:  This is a guest post from Stacey Brucia, commonly known at The Hodges Partnership as “employee number one.”  Stacey works for THP in Seattle.  We blame her husband for that.

Usually, my gripes about Apple are purely personal – and from the typical consumer standpoint:  Husband calls.  Speak for two minutes.  Dropped call.  Repeat.  (Until we got so frustrated here in Seattle that he has now switched back to Verizon, and our Apple love is restricted to the coveted iPad.)

But in working with one of our newer clients this week, I was reminded that as great as technology and social marketing can be, your particular product or consumer offering can only be as good as the platform you’re working with…and in the end, you don’t have total control.  Far from it, actually.

Some background: Barefoot Explorers, an independent, iPhone game studio I’m working with – shameless plug for Panda Hero, which reached No. 4 in paid Kids’ Games in the app store this spring – is built on a Play2Plant model.  The theory is that people are going to play iPhone games anyway, so why not help them help the Earth and be environmentally responsible at the same time?  For every paid game downloaded, Barefoot Explorers plants trees through its partnership for Trees for the Future.  Just this week, the game studio run by husband-and-wife team Jacques and Jodi Ropert made its contribution for Panda Hero’s launch, over 20,000 trees.  And this quick accomplishment was partly made possible because Panda Hero was featured as “New & Noteworthy” in the app store, quite a feat among all the apps released each day.

But things were going too smoothly.

Apple rejected Barefoot Explorer’s second game this weekend, this time a casual arcade game for players of all ages, DreamScape.  The controversy?  Well, trying to be a good citizen, I suppose.

Since Panda Hero launched in April, Apple has changed its policy, and says it cannot be responsible for making sure that nonprofits receive the donations a paid app helps foster, either because customers are directly making that payment or the developer is doing so on their behalf, as is the case with Barefoot Explorers.  More about that here on Mashable.  And so, app developers cannot mention donations within app store descriptions or within an app itself.

And yes, I get the fact that Apple has to make some blanket policies because it cannot easily police all of its apps or deal with potentially irate customers who end up dealing with unscrupulous charities.  I’m not arguing its decision.  Frustrated for my client and wondering why doing some good is so complicated, yes.

For now, this is another lesson learned in rolling with the punches.  Credit to Barefoot Explorers for quickly re-writing its app store description so that it was vague enough to please Apple but still inspiring to potential customers who would like to spend $0.99, play a fun game and plant a tree (oh, wait, they can’t say “tree.”)  That’s the short-term solution that was needed to get DreamScape out the door on schedule.

For now, I’m just glad I can still talk about the tree-planting efforts in all of my pitches.  And if you want to help plant one directly, download Panda Hero with your kids or play DreamScape yourself.

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