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6 Tips for an Award-Winning Tablet App - 9/10/2014 -


6 Tips for an Award-Winning Tablet App

Heifer International shares important lessons learned when creating a tablet app from a print magazine.

By Kathryn Bibler

Any organization that has ever tried to go digital knows it’s a daunting task — how do you capture the attention of the elusive tech-savvy audience without alienating loyal print readers?

Heifer International faced this question recently when it decided to adapt the association’s magazine, World Ark, to tablet. The magazine has printed for 50 years and circulates to more than 1 million readers, but Heifer wanted to spread its mission to digital users.

Debbie Bates-Schrott, president of Bates Creative, talked about their multimedia strategy for designing a Gold EXCEL Award-winning app at the 2014 Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting earlier this year. Her advice:

1. Work from your strengths.

The initial outlook was daunting: Heifer would need not only a tablet app but also a marketing strategy and a plan to integrate its holiday gift catalog, infographics, and thousands of photos and videos. At first, admits Heifer’s Digital Engagement Manager Casey Neese, "We thought we’d bitten off more than we could chew."

The Heifer publishing team enlisted the help of Bates Creative. Bates quickly established a guiding principle for their plans: Make sure it tells a story. Stories are arguably Heifer's most compelling tool — and they’ve racked up a lot of them in the 70 years that they’ve been helping philanthropists sponsor sheep and cows for families in need around the world. Featuring those stories and images would help them start to decide what the app should look like.

2. Don’t force your audience.

It’s far better, Bates-Schrott explains, to create something that will serve the needs of a new audience than to compel your existing audience to change their habits. The tablet version would cater to a predominantly young, tech-friendly audience. If the print readers switched over too, great; if not, they could continue with print.

3. Choose your medium.

One size does not fit all when it comes to choosing your design platform. The Heifer communications team looked at Apple iBooks, Mag+, Zmags, Aquatadas, and Zinio, but they ultimately chose Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. Adobe could manage their complex multimedia needs and integrate analytics down the road.

4. Make it free.

This is a controversial one — some people argue that you should never give something for nothing. But if you can afford it, it makes sense: A free app means virtually zero commitment from users up front. World Ark is free for both iPad and Android.

5. Consider parallel content.

The marketing and PR plan for the launch included plenty of sideline activity, including culling media coverage, being featured as Adobe's App of the Week, designing a virtual tour to introduce new users — even placing a large ad in New York City. Not every organization will have all of these resources available, but the principle translates to any budget: Know where your audience is and advertise to them there.

6. Find out what’s working.

A month after the launch, Bates analyzed the data. With Adobe, analytics are built into the app itself, which offers more precise feedback than a survey can. For example, Heifer can track how many clicks each button on the app gets, and track traffic from a particular button to a donation page online.

The print audience did not, for the most part, migrate to digital — but that was okay, because they had expected that. Some things, like the gift catalog, did not translate well to tablet; but a new audience had come to check it out — the app was downloaded in 22 countries. Plus, the tablet makes a handy marketing piece for prospective investors.

And what about the print readers? Well, Heifer and Bates agreed that the best course was to leave them alone — they continue to publish the print version quarterly and update the digital once weekly. Making everyone happy may be possible after all, as long as you know your audience.

Kathryn Bibler is an editor and writer at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this session at the Annual Meeting for our members who were unable to attend.


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