Since the emergence of the worldwide web as a communications medium in the mid-1990s, individuals and organisations have been able to use websites to showcase their products, projects or services portfolios. Almost inevitably, many early websites were little more than electronic brochures, with limited interactivity and few graphics – and those images tended to be low-resolution so they could load more quickly on the painfully sloooooooow dial-up modems then commonly used.
Today, Web 2.0 websites are much more interactive, and the rapidly expanding availability of broadband communications has meant increasingly media-rich content: not just photographs but audio and video now form an increasingly important part of the online armoury. However, a website still requires connectivity and there can be instances where this is impossible. There may also be times when you want to quickly show your portfolio to a prospect in a more interactive way, perhaps via an iPad or similar tablet device.
London-based Woobius, which has a track record of developing applications for construction professionals (including a simple collaboration platform – post – and a mobile visualisation tool, Woobius Eye – post), has been developing just such a marketing tool. Its latest application, Showcase (so new it hasn’t even got a website yet), can help businesses create a branded interactive electronic portfolio or catalogue that can be downloaded to a tablet or smartphone and explored by the prospective customer. I recently met up with Woobius CEO Bob Leung to look at the example it had created for designer Make Architects (Make’s website now highlights the news that its app is available for download from Apple’s App store).
Showcase is, in effect, an authoring tool that enables users to create a branded app, a “Project Book”, showcasing their company and its portfolio. The Make app reflects many of the design attributes of the existing Make website, with simple navigation taking end-users through Make ‘Annuals’ (yearbooks showing current and completed projects) as well as identifying relevant projects by location, sector or building type. Customers could search for, say, education-related projects, and then click through to case studies, photographs, videos and other downloads, eg: brochure PDFs, plus web links, about particular schemes or services offered by Make.
However, Bob is sure Showcase has much wider potential. As well as professional services businesses, it could be used, he says, for product manufacturers or suppliers that wants to help their customers explore their product ranges. The app could deliver details of local stockists, photographs, CAD details, specifications and other technical information about the products, customer testimonials, and even videos showing installation or maintenance procedures. Particularly where businesses are dealing with technologically-savvy customers or where they want to differentiate themselves as innovative, this tool could be an invaluable way for sales executives to showcase their products or to enable the customer to explore the range in their own time, Bob said.
More easy to keep up-to-date than a printed brochure, an app is also inherently more portable and can provide feedback about what customers find interesting. Businesses can monitor how often and where their app is downloaded and which projects/products or sections are most popular. And in keeping with Woobius’s adoption of Web 2.0 marketing, Showcase also allows company staff and customers to easily share interesting projects via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, helping generate ‘word of mouse’ leads.
Aware that many businesses will not have the necessary in-house expertise to create a well-presented app, Woobius is offering two adoption routes. Woobius itself can be commissioned to deliver a complete branded solution for customers, or it can provide and configure the content management system, and train relevant staff, so that agencies or in-house marketing teams can develop apps themselves (the CMS can be licensed for in-house use, but Woobius also offers a hosted online content management service – currently priced at £900 a year).
At this stage, Showcase can only author apps for Apple devices (iPad and iPhone), but Bob assured me that Woobius is planning versions that would deliver similar apps for Android and other popular smartphone operating systems. If you want to find out more about Showcase, contact Bob (firstname.lastname@example.org) – and tell him you read about it here.