As apps continue to grow as an important part of everyday life, marketers continue to ask, “Do I need to have an app for my business?”
Fortunately, unless your small business product is an app – or you have skilled developers – you probably don’t have to spend a lot of time and money building an app. Brainstorming, developing, launching, and promoting an app is a lot of work for a small business. In the same amount of time, you can launch a mobile-optimized website or mobile email strategy that can provide you with solid awareness and ROI.
However, if you’re a marketer at a digital startup, agency, or tech company who thinks an app could be helpful for businesses, a cheaper development option might be on the horizon.
In 2020, some tech companies will start investing in “mini-apps”. And as these programs expand, companies may be able to test the water with a more compact app experience.
What are mini apps?
Mini-apps, also known as mini-programs, are small apps with limited functionality that are present in a larger app. They are often developed or co-created by a brand that works with the main app company.
Mini-apps only became a commodity on major Chinese social media platforms in 2017. That year, WeChat’s founding company, Tencent, announced the launch of WeChat mini programs.
After the success of apps like WeChat, experiences with miniature apps recently caught the attention of western tech companies like Apple and Snapchat. These companies have started building and launching programs similar to WeChat.
But what exactly do these apps look like and how do they benefit from the brands that introduced them? Below, I’ll highlight a few key mini-program platforms and give you a glimpse of what these branded mobile experiences look like.
Early mini-app platforms
WeChat mini programs
A 2017 report by TechCrunch described mini-programs as basic app experiences that can be accessed through WeChat. Although tech journalists refer to these as mini-apps, Tencent couldn’t label them as “apps” because they feared infringing the trademarks of Apple and Google.
To give you a visual perspective of what mini-programs look like on WeChat, here is a screenshot of what users will see when accessing them. Although the text is in Chinese, the app’s native language, you can find that all programs are sponsored by other companies:
If you tap on a mini-program like Tesla’s, you’ll stay in the WeChat app but enter a new experience. With Tesla’s basic program, you can find charging stations for your car or plan test drives:
For users, a mini-program like Tesla’s offers the ability to connect with friends on WeChat while learning about Tesla in the same session. Meanwhile, Tesla’s content is spreading awareness of its business among potential audiences or buyers who use WeChat.
Currently, the WeChat Mini program is only available for the original Chinese version of the app, Weixin. However, if a marketer is trying to raise awareness on this platform, they can apply for a mini program account. For mini-program app developers, a developer is required to create the experience. According to a WALKTHECHAT mini-programs review, this aspect can be a little tricky:
Snap Minis, announced in 2020, are miniature branded experiences within the Snapchat app. To access Snap Minis, a user opens a chat with a friend or group. Then they click on the spaceship icon, which displays a series of searchable mini-programs. This includes a range of different branded experiences, from games to planning tools to meditation applets.
When users click on a thumbnail like Headspace, they can interact with it in basic ways, such as: B. by playing daily meditations. You can also share in-app experiences like the meditations you’ve heard or a score in a gaming app with your Snapchat contacts.
While Tesla’s WeChat Mini program raises awareness of the car brand and its physical stores, Snap’s Minis go a step further by offering content that audiences can share with, rather than just interact with. This is a great option for tech marketers or digital brands who want people in the Snapchat demographics to actively share branded content with others in their community.
According to Snapchat, some development work is required before a Mini will launch on its platform. However, it is unclear whether Snap or the partner company will do most of the app development. Snap notes that minis are easy-to-use builds with HTML5 code.
At this point, interested brands must apply for early access to the Minis program. The Snap application requires companies to provide their contact information and explain what the Mini will be used for.
Apple app clips
At this point, Apple Clips will still not be accessible to brands that cannot create their own Apple App Store app. However, they’re still an interesting example of notable mini-apps, especially if your brand has an app.
Apple App Clips, which launched with the iPhone IOS 10.14 update in 2020, are small features of a larger app currently available in the App Store. Users can access App Clips by scanning QR codes, walking near an App Clip store with an NFC tag, visiting the brand’s website, or clicking a specially crafted link. However, users can also find them using other apps like Apple Messenger or Maps apps.
Whenever someone is discussing or searching for something related to a business with an Apple app clip, they will see a call to action that allows a user to “open” the clip without having to download a full app. From there, a user can use one of the basic functions of the app.
For example, if two friends are talking about a restaurant chain that has an app via text message, they might see an app clip CTA asking them to open the restaurant’s clip to see a menu. When the user enters the clip experience, they can do a small task, e.g. B. scan the menu or make a reservation. Users can also click a CTA in the app clip to download the full program from the App Store.
While companies that can’t easily build an app probably won’t benefit from app clips, digital startups and tech companies should stay on their radar. The app clips CTA options allow users to literally test an app before they download it, and can be notified through a brand’s app when they are close to their store, friends about the products that the brand offers inform or browse local businesses on maps. This way, app promotions can literally hit audiences where they are.
Mini takeaway app for marketers
While some mini-app programs like Apple and Snapchat are currently more exclusive and less accessible to smaller brands, they could be a helpful marketing tool for more businesses in the future. Here’s what marketers should keep in mind as mini-app programs grow and expand.
1. Brands committed to digital transformation get better “mini” opportunities.
First, your brand likely needs to offer a digital tool or business that enhances the experience of another important app. For example, on the Tesla website you could already search for car charging stations and schedule test drives, so it would be much easier for developers to turn them into a mini-app.
Additionally, some of the WeChat audiences were interested in technology, cars, and Teslas, which were a business model for creating that experience. While viewers focus on Tesla’s offerings, they are still spending time on the WeChat app.
Because you need a strong digital presence and online business capabilities, mini-apps may not yet be possible for many small businesses – especially in the US where they are just beginning to be adopted. However, as the world becomes more connected to apps, this strategy may become more accessible to you later.
2. Large apps only host mutually beneficial mini apps.
Imagine mini apps like a website integration or a brand partnership project. A large brand would likely not be integrated with a competitor’s tool or work with a company that didn’t target similar audiences. Thinking could be similar in the mini-app area.
Ultimately, major app brands will choose to host mini-programs that introduce companies to similar audiences and provide digital experiences that keep users on their main app longer. This is probably why companies like Snapchat and WeChat require brands to apply for their mini-programs rather than just buying space for a mini-app.
3. Brands still have to lay the foundations for creating mini-apps.
In some cases, you might not need your own developer to have a mini-app. In the case of WeChat, the company offers a mini-program where brands can apply and pay to create and launch a mini-app experience for them.
Despite being easy to work with some platforms, others like Apple require you to have an app already developed. Meanwhile, Snapchat’s website (at the time of posting) is unclear what creating a Mini means in full.
4. Not all brands can access “mini” partnerships.
Despite the possibilities that mini-apps might have, marketers – especially those of small businesses – should still keep in mind that this may not apply to them or their strategy.
As mentioned above, major platforms that offer mini programs are selectively looking for partners who can offer digital tools or experiences that improve each user’s time on their main app. While larger platforms may have more to do with creating a mini-experience for smaller brands, these partners will likely still invest some time and money to ensure that their program delivers a smooth experience.
The good news? While many companies can’t start a mini-app just yet, they don’t necessarily have to. If you never see this tactic fit into your strategy, there are plenty of ways to raise awareness about mobile or online apps without any type of app.
If you want to take advantage of no-app mobile marketing alternatives, check out this ultimate guide.