08/01/2012 07:32 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

Campaign Smartphone Apps: Keeping It Strategic

What is it about apps, social media and new connective technologies that make marketers completely forget their ultimate objectives? We've all heard a million times that Facebook is not a strategy and follower counts are not a goal unto themselves. Yet time and again, we see campaigns that are focused on building a strategy for a tool, rather than using (or not using) tools to fit their strategy. The same is true for political campaigns.

This morning, both presidential campaigns released smartphone apps. There couldn't be a starker difference between the two.

The Obama for America app shows a deep understanding of the potential of the technology and is directly tied to the ultimate goal -- winning the election. Recognizing that smartphones are perfect for canvassing and get out the vote efforts, the Obama campaign built a powerful tool that is fully integrated with its offline and online organizing efforts. Volunteers equipped with the app can go door to door with voter information and use the app to report valuable information for the campaign, such as how likely people are to vote for Obama. The app also includes a voter registration tool and helps supporters become volunteers and find out about local events.

Conversely, the "Mitt's VP" app performs the same function as the Obama '08 SMS list - spreading information - but it requires a much heavier lift. While signing up for the Obama list solely required texting "VP" to 62262 (OBAMA), Romney's app has the barrier to entry of needing to own a smartphone, download an app, and provide your mailing address. Perhaps Romney's campaign has plans to expand the functionality of the app, but the limiting name of the app, and the short amount of time before Election Day, imply otherwise.

Further, SMS, while no longer a novelty, is much better suited for distributing information. According to Pew, 73% of U.S. cell phone owners use SMS (as of May '11), while only 53% have smartphones (as of Feb '12). While the median user sends/receives 10 messages/day, the average consumer uses only 15 apps/week (Flurry). And if the goal of the app is to be able to send push messaging, that's all the more reason that SMS makes more sense.

In deciding to create a mobile phone app, the Obama campaign clearly thought about their end objective -- tactically engaging supporters -- and selected and developed the right tool (a smartphone app) to achieve that goal. On the other hand, it appears as though the Romney campaign decided on the tool -- an iPhone app -- and is using it for a function that doesn't fit.