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Brands weigh pros and cons of global vs. localized apps

As smartphone adoption grows worldwide, big brands such as McDonald?s are eyeing global mobile applications, but do the benefits of having a single app team outweigh the cons of longer lead times? 

Since apps can present different content to users based on their locations, having a single app may sound like a logical strategy for multinational brands such as McDonald?s, that are looking to be more efficient with their marketing budgets. However, since mobile use often varies significantly by region, it may be impractical for some brands to effectively meet the needs of each market within a single app. 

?This is a really big question,? said Scott Michaels, executive vice president at Atimi Software, Vancouver, Canada. ?The answer is actually variable depending on the brand itself and the goals. 

?Since with the technologies available today with location - either by asking or by GEO-IP services - you can tailor the content to the locale, its not just a simple question of ?we must? have different localized applications, but ?Can we? support our initiatives with a single app,? he said. 

Promotion vs. commerce
According to published reports, a McDonald?s executive speaking at a conference last week said the company?s new global app ? which is scheduled to start rolling out this summer - will initially focus on promotional activity over commerce. The app will be rolled out slowly as the brand tries to figure which features should play a bigger role in different geographic regions. 

The global mobile app is part of a bigger strategy to put more resources behind digital, a critical step for the quick-service chain as it sales continue to lose steam, driven in part by a growing lack of interest among digitally savvy younger consumers. 

The pros of having a single global app include simplicity as it relates to marketing and management. A single app also makes it easier for brands to support a consistent message on a global scale. 

Additionally, the lager user base of a single app allows for better A/B testing and end-user analysis, per Mr. Michaels. 

The cons of a global app include that there will generally be a longer lead-time for each release. It is also harder, though not impossible, to offer different features in different regions whereas providing different offers by region is easy. 

?The needs of different regions will need to come back to the organizational mother ship that is controlling the app and its development schedule, can mean delays when time is of the essence,? Mr. Michaels said. 

More is better
Given the significant differences in mobile use by region, some marketers may be more inclined to build separate apps for each. 

Mr. Michaels points to Kellogg?s as an example. The company has a very active app development strategy overall. However, in the AsiaPac region where it launches a more promotional apps and games than are launched in the North America market. For this reason, a single master app strategy does not make sense. 

Despite the challenges of a global app, brands appear to be moving in this direction. 

For example, app developer WillowTree helped BabyCenter create a worldwide app that is a leading destination for mothers around the world. Taking advantage of both iOS and Android customization options, the brand is still able to offer localized experiences within one global app.

?Most of our clients are heading in this direction,? said Tobias Dengel, CEO of WillowTree. 

?Our belief is the trend is clearly in the direction of single global apps, given how much easier it has become in iOS and Android to customize the experience based on language or country,? he said.

?For example, an app could pull up different loyalty programs or payments options based on the country the user is in, or different content based on the language the user has set the device to. Any experiences that are too difficult to localize as native iOS and Android experience can also be done as Web views, giving the global platform even more versatility.?

Organizational challenges
The biggest challenge of having a global app is more about process and communication than it is technology. 

?We've seen successful implementations of a global app where the brand has one central app design and development team, but these liaise with each country/region and allow them certain freedom to turn functionality on/off as desired, or modify content and experiences,? Mr. Dengel said.

?Ideally, this is accomplished via a CMS which give the central team the ability to approve requested changes, or send back requests to the local regions for further changes or clarification,? he said. 

?The main thing is to think through the business processes of how content and functionality will be created and approved.  Technically, a global app is a great solution and can give plenty of options for local customization. However, this requires a organization and processes to be set up going into it that allows each locality the freedom and early access to make the localization changes it feels are needed.?

Final Take?
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York