Large, established companies are rarely considered innovative. They’re often viewed as polar opposites from new, edgy technology startups. For every ubiquitous Fortune 500 company, there are thousands of smaller, lesser-known organizations who can often beat their larger competitors in the mobile marketplace by embracing new technology and producing killer mobile apps.
For longstanding companies, the emergence of smartphones is a very recent milestone on their company timeline and, regrettably, it’s all too often a very small, insignificant blip on their radar. These companies have grown themselves successfully long before the advent of mobile technology, and that might lead some to believe that they can continue to be just fine without it. Many large companies take this point of view and treat mobile technology as some kind of peripheral, marginalized afterthought.
But, there are a few very admirable large companies that have taken big risks and invested serious resources in their mobile technology efforts. Here are five well-known companies that have been particularly successful in grabbing mobile technology by the horns and staying on top of the ever-changing technology landscape.
Geico was founded in 1936, so it goes without saying that they’re a very old company. (I’ve been to their headquarters myself, and they haven’t redecorated since the early 1970s.) Despite their age and their size, they have stayed fairly savvy, as illustrated by their gecko marketing campaigns, as well as their extremely helpful iPhone app. They’re known for their customer service, so it shouldn’t be surprising that their app is yet another well-crafted effort to keep their customers happy.
I won’t pretend that Geico’s iPhone app is thrilling or entertaining, but it’s definitely useful. If you’ve lost your insurance card, the app can display it digitally right on your smartphone’s screen. If you’ve gotten into an accident, it offers a step-by-step guide for handling it the right way. If your car is stranded, broken, out of gas, or if you’ve simply locked your keys inside, it can guide you to the nearest gas station, locksmith, or auto shop to get you back on the road.
Geico didn’t necessarily need to have an iPhone app, but since auto insurance is generally considered a commodity, it seems like Geico saw an opportunity to offer a little more than just collision coverage for their customers. For an old company, their efforts in new technology have gone very well.
It sometimes seems like there’s a Starbucks on every corner, but once you’re actually looking for one, they’re not nearly as easy to find. The Starbucks mobile app has a store locator, as you might expect, but it also includes a surprising array of other features that make it much better than the we-made-a-basic-app-because-we-felt-like-we-had-to approaches of most large companies.
Beyond guiding you to your nearest Starbucks, the app also has a “Drink Builder” that helps you make sense of the baffling array of Starbucks options. For very occasional coffee drinkers like myself, ordering at Starbucks can feel as stressful as a legal deposition or a spy interrogation. (Whatever you do, don’t simply ask for a “large coffee.” Trust me.) A guide for ordering is a great way to handle the overwhelming amount choices that you have to sort through at the counter.
You can also load your app with Starbucks credit and buy drinks for yourself or your friends via email and Facebook. And, best of all, frequent coffee drinkers (is there any other kind?) can earn Starbucks rewards without having to keep track of cards, account numbers, or keychain accessories.
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
Whole Foods Market, one of the largest natural and organic supermarket chains the world, could have made the expect mobile app that contains a store locator and a few promotions and coupons. But, they went above and beyond by developing two different mobile apps that are purely for the customer. Whole Foods Market Recipes and Whole Foods Market Missions offer cooking tips, health advice, recipes, and a variety of other valuable information without any strings attached. There doesn’t appear to be any “hard sell” within any of these apps; both apps are free, and the content within both apps is simply valuable information without any cost or catches. The Market Missions app even includes some health-oriented achievements that users can pursue, which offers some additional (and often much-needed) incentives to eat healthy.
Despite being a “Giant” in the industry (no pun intended), Whole Foods has remained as customer-friendly as your local grocer, and that approach is reflected in both of their free, helpful mobile apps.
eBay is at its heart a technology company, so one would expect a spectacular mobile app from them. I’m guessing that it’s already on your mobile device, so I don’t need to reiterate that they met those expectations and delivered a terrific app for all major platforms.
It’s not an easy task balancing the browsing of millions of product listings with securing time-sensitive bids and personally-sensitive payment information. If you throw in the limited screen size, limited processing power, and limited software capabilities of mobile devices (as well as the small bandwidth of cellular devices), that makes the job even harder. I think that we take popular apps like eBay’s for granted, especially considering the fact that without such a well-designed app, we might have to sit through tense auctions at our desktop, even if they end at inconvenient times.
eBay enjoys obvious benefits from the mobile app; more bids and more transactions translates to more revenue for them. But, the unquestionable fact that the app benefits the average bidder just as much as eBay itself makes the app a source of a truly symbiotic relationship between company and customer, which is likely the way that eBay got to be so large and successful to begin with. Clearly, they haven’t forgotten how they became so successful, and that they ultimately work for a massive army of bargain hunters, auction snipers, and occasional bidders.
Avaya’s one-X Mobile application integrates any iPhone into an office phone network. Users can make and receive calls from their work number as if they were right at their deskphone, regardless of where they really are. They can also view their office voicemail as “visual voicemail,” which allows to user to handle their voicemail much more easily and elegantly compared to the archaic “Press 1 to save…Press 2 to delete” systems that are deployed in most offices. (Avaya is actually partly responsible for those old, unbearable voicemail systems of decades past.)
You can also program special treatments for certain callers (“Send my boss through immediately, send that bothersome colleague to voicemail.”), and you can toggle between your true mobile number and your office number at will. In a globalized workplace where traveling, remote work, and outsourcing are becoming more and more common, this is an incredibly valuable iOS app. Despite being one of the guilty parties for old, obsolete office phone networks, Avaya has embraced mobile technology instead of dismissing it or viewing it as a competitor. Well done!
Do you have any favorite apps from large, established companies? Do you expect stellar apps from companies with a lot of customers and resources, or have you been conditioned to expect mediocre apps that were essentially released because of a reluctant obligation to enter the mobile marketplace?
Peter is Chief Digital Officer of CuriosityStream, a multi-platform nonfiction streaming service by the founder of Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Animal Planet, etc.). Peter is also Co-Founder of True North, a management consulting firm and digital marketing agency with clientele that includes WebMD and Salesforce.