Gap app taps into mobile marketing

Screen shot of Gap's iPad app.

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Kai Ryssdal: The technology news of the week so far is that Apple has finally put Microsoft in the rear-view mirror. It happened yesterday. Apple's market capitalization -- that is, the value of all of its outstanding shares -- beat Microsoft's by a couple of billion dollars. Really cool new hardware beating out stale-ish, old software is one reason why that happened. Another is that businesses, retailers and marketers especially, are finding all kinds of things they can do with Apple's mobile toys. Mobile's where it's at in marketing today. Retailers trying to figure out how turn those toys into bigger sales.

Marketplace's Steve Henn reports on one company that's diving right in.


Steve Henn: If you locked a mad scientist in a room and asked her to create the ultimate marketing device, she might come back with something that would follow you around, track your desires, slip into your pocket and would always be on. In short, she'd hand you a cell phone.

Ivy Ross:There's incredible possibilities of what this little square can do in the future.

Ivy Ross isn't exactly a mad scientist. She's the vice president of global marketing at Gap. And truth be told, her ideal marketing gadget would have one thing your phone doesn't have, a nice big touch screen -- kinda like an iPad.

Ross: You know, you can explore and slide and move. And then you find something that interests you and you press and all of a sudden, a video goes on. And you press again, and you can buy what's in the video. So it's just kind of keep going deeper.

Ross thinks tablet computers are a marketing paradise in the making.

Ross: It's almost like Alice in Wonderland falling through the rabbit hole.

So Gap's jumped in and developed one of the first retail apps for the iPad. Gap won't say how much it spent, but experts say a slick iPad app could cost more than half a million dollars to develop. And right now only a handful of retailers have taken the plunge. Gap's app delivers a full immersion experience in Gap World, a place were everyone is young, hot and looks fabulous in jeans.

Julie Ask is the queen bee of mobile marketing research at Forrester. I asked her to check it out.

Julie Ask: I'm scrolling with my finger, up, down, left, right. And I just have the impression that it's endless content.

Henn: Endless Gap content.

Ask: No, the graphics are good. You know, the branding is good.

Sound of music

There are music videos. You can hear contestants from "Project Runway" discuss the virtues of denim and see celeb photos. It's all clickable, interactive and easy to e-mail to friends.

But unless you are, like, really into jeans, why would you come here? Ask says building a marketing campaign around a brand-new technology is treacherous. No one really knows yet how people use their iPads. And Gap's media-rich app design makes it a space hog and a pain to download.

Ask: It's at least bigger than AT&T wants me to download over their very crowded 3G network here in San Francisco. I then had to go three steps back, find a local wireless network and connect.

Ask says companies need to figure out what's going to make their app worth the hassle for consumers.

Ask: When it comes to mobile, it's got to be simple and it has to be contextual. And by contextual, it needs to be personal, it needs to be tied to location and it needs to be tied to my past behavior.

Ask says mobile marketers need to give you what you want, when you want it. On the iPhone, Gap sends costumers special discounts when they're near a store. In the industry, they call that "luring you across the lease-line." Target lets you scan barcodes and check prices. There's a bank the lets you photograph checks with your phone, and then deposit them instantly via by e-mail.

Ask says this is the kind of mobile customer service where the iPad is probably headed, but for now Gap's Ivy Ross says they are just offering their consumers is a good time and maybe a chance to shop.

Ross: With technology, you just have to make a decision to jump in and go on the journey with the technology and with the consumer.

And Ross is watching. Marketers, like her, will be recording everything.

Ross: The great thing for us that is we measure how many people open videos, how many people listen to the Truth & Salvage song, how many people you know clicked on celebrities? And then we're even able to tell how many people looked at the clothing and then chose to click through and actually purchase.

Even if this app is a sales flop for Gap, the company will still end up one step closer to understanding exactly how to make mobile marketing pay.

From Menlo Park, Calif., I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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