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The Apps - Loyalty Paradigm

Thursday 20 September, 2018

Why Manchester United’s Mobile App Is Playing A Very Different Game

The Manchester United Official app turns the traditional relationship between apps and loyalty on its head. Here’s why.

When the Official Manchester United app launched last month, it rapidly scaled the App Store’s download charts, becoming the most popular sports app in 68 markets across the world.

What’s more, it’s proving a hit with users, with great reviews (at time of writing, 4.7/5 on both the App Store and Google Play) and impressive stickiness (early user sessions have lasted an average of seven minutes).

Manchester United may not be the first football team to the app party, but with a staggering 659 million devoted fans worldwide, it offers the perfect example of how a club’s motivations for app development differ to those of almost any other business.

Simply put: football club apps turn the traditional relationship between apps and customer loyalty on its head.

To understand how, let’s review how apps work in other industries, before diving deeper into the immense value the Manchester United Official app is set to deliver for the club and its global partners.

The Apps/Loyalty Paradigm In… Retail

For retailers, customer loyalty is notoriously hard to win. And mobile apps are now either a vital part of the retail experience for bricks and mortar, or indeed the sole store front for digital only retailers.

Whether it’s an app that digitises your reward points at John Lewis, or an app that lets you take a picture of your friend’s shirt, and instantly find similar ones within the ASOS range, the user experience within retail apps  aim to keep customers coming back to both virtual and physical stores (where these exist).

The Apps/Loyalty Paradigm In… Utilities

Like their peers in retail, today’s smartest utilities companies are using apps to supercharge loyalty. By simplifying their customers’ lives, and integrating products, these apps help ensure they’re less likely to turn to a competitor for their gas or electricity.

E.ON’s smartphone app, for example, lets its customers track their energy usage over time, pay bills, and enter meter readings – providing service transparency and simple functions that support customer stickiness. Utilities are now looking increasingly towards additional products and services, that build upon the hygiene factors above to try and attract, rather than just retain, customer.

(It’s worth noting that – at the same time as it’s making customers’ lives easier – a great utilities app will help lower the cost of serve, whether it’s by digitalising meter reading processes, reducing administration, or simply deflecting customer calls.)

The Apps/Loyalty Paradigm In… Financial Services

Banks also use mobile apps to drive customer acquisition and loyalty, by cutting the complexity from customer journeys and strengthening account security.

As customer experience has become a key battleground for both young disruptors and trusted household names, app-based features – like securely checking your balance and moving money between accounts on the go with the help of fingerprint or face recognition – have rapidly become table stakes.

In short: if you don’t have a brilliant app, the increasing percentage of digital savvy customers will quickly become frustrated and look around for a bank that does.

Why Manchester United’s App Is Playing A Different Game

Football clubs, however, are in a position of extreme luxury when it comes to loyalty.

After all, if you’re born a Manchester United fan, the chances are you’ll die one too.

Manchester United has over 73 million followers on Facebook, over 22 million on Instagram, over 20 million on Twitter – and the list goes on, adding up to over 150 million connections across 16 platforms, worldwide.

The challenge for Manchester United isn’t fostering loyalty; it’s monetising its loyal fan base to benefit the club and its network of global partners. And that’s exactly what its app sets out to do.

By providing a direct channel for those 659 million fans to engage with team stats, live match updates and more, it creates a multitude of new data capture, audience segmentation and targeted advertising opportunities – on a platform that, crucially, the club controls.

The unique way football clubs are using apps is also reflected in Manchester United’s app development process and launch strategy.

A company that’s primarily building its app to win customer loyalty can afford to pilot it with user groups, iterate, and improve. But with such an engaged and fervent fan base, Manchester United had to work to deliver a premium product that was right first time.

Equally, if you use the app today, you might be surprised by how little it asks of you. Your phone won’t suddenly explode in a rush of push notifications, and your screen won’t fill with ads.

This deliberate soft launch is a smart move – Manchester United’s goal right now is simply getting those legions of loyal fans using the app.

In the future, however, you can expect to see the functionality, and monetisation, grow, as we expect the club to integrate everything from ticketing and MUTV, to Apple and Android Pay.

The Mobile App – A Key Player In Digital Transformation

For Manchester United, as for most businesses right now, its new mobile app is one, crucial part of a much wider digital transformation. If you’re looking for independent, outcomes-focused help with your own transformation strategy, be sure to get in touch with our expert team.

Blog by Director of Coeus Consulting, Ben Barry

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