Mobile Apps: The Evolution of a Mobile App
The top brass at TextureMedia (formerly The NaturallyCurly Network), a social network and community for people with wavy, curly, kinky hair and the brands and professionals who service them, launched a multifunctional, free mobile application called Curls on the Go this past summer.
Why did the Austin, Tex.-based company launch a mobile app instead of a mobile website? Because that's what its devoted followers wanted.
"Last year we started thinking about going mobile and started talking to our audience about it, and we learned that they're always on the go," says TextureMedia CEO Crista Bailey. "As as a result, we wanted an app. In fact, the mobile app's content and functionality were community vetted prior to release and prioritized as indispensable information when it comes to curly hair."
NaturallyCurly.com is the company's flagship brand. It attracts 700,000 unique monthly visitors. Other TextureMedia sites include CurlStylist.com, a community for stylists servicing a curly clientele; CurlMart.com, an e-commerce site with more than 60 brands and 550 community-vetted products; and CurlyNikki.com, a blog on ethnic hair.
"What we didn't want to do is throw everything from our website onto the iPhone or Android," says Bailey. "We sent a survey to our subscribers this last winter asking them what they thought would make the app indispensable and functional. We wanted to know what would make them pick it up every day." Within 24 hours of sending the survey, TextureMedia had 1,500 responses.
About the App
Curls on the Go is a targeted app designed to sell products and provide reviews, weather forecasts and recommendations to all people with curly, wavy or textured hair.
"We developed this as a tool that could be used on a daily basis to help solve problems for this audience, who were looking for styles while on the go," says Bailey. The app is designed to be personalized to each user. When a user first downloads the app, for example, it asks her several questions about her hair. Once the user's hair type is recognized — she could be a 2C, meaning her hair is wavy or a 3C, meaning her hair is kinky/curly — products and videos related to that hair type are served up to her.
Much of Curls on the Go's content is created by the 1 million unique visitors to the network's websites every month, including "thousands of user-generated reviews on products, salons and textured hair-care regimens created over the past 14 years at NaturallyCurly.com," Bailey says.
The Curls on the Go app takes users' favorite features and functionalities from the NaturallyCurly websites and makes them available to them on the go. The website has a Salon Finder tool, for example, while the Curls on the Go Salon Finder tool locks in a user's GPS coordinates and displays the curl salon closest to them via Google Maps. The app allows users to post a review of their experience with a stylist as well as read reviews of other users' experiences.
Another popular feature of Curls on the Go is its Frizz Forecast, which provides the weather forecast based on how frizzy a subscriber's hair may be on a given day. Subscribers can also purchase certain products via the app, although this isn't currently a mobile-optimized experience. Subscribers who are browsing the more than 5,000 product reviews on the app can click through to TextureMedia's e-commerce site to make a purchase.
Building the App
To help build Curls on the Go, TextureMedia turned to BestFit Mobile, also of Austin, Tex. BestFit Mobile is a mobile app development firm specializing in mobile strategy, design and development.
"During March we started mapping out the scope of the app, and in April we began designing it," recalls Bailey. "Then during May and June we developed the app, and on July 1 it launched."
Curls on the Go was made available on the iPhone first (based on customer survey data), but later in the summer it was made available on Android mobile devices. To help spread the word of the app's launch, TextureMedia promoted it in iTunes' App Store on July 1.
"We actually got prominent placement on iTunes — it was featured by Apple as 'New & Notable' and in the 'Great Free Apps' tab, which helped get the word out about it," Bailey says. TextureMedia also sent an email out to its members so they could be in on the launch as well.
Hair-care brand L'Oréal Paris signed on as the launch sponsor of Curls on the Go. Its ads appeared on the app from July through September. TextureMedia plans to add other national advertisers for future sponsorship opportunities.
TextureMedia is an attractive media outlet to hair-care brand advertisers. On average, people with curls buy three hair-care products per month compared to just one product per month for people with straight hair, according to TextureMedia's 2011 Texture Trends Survey that was answered by 4,000 of its community members. What's more, nearly 50 percent of respondents said that even when they're satisfied with their hair regimens that they will buy and try other products.
Advertisers can also reach Curls on the Go users by hair type, location, current weather conditions and forecasts, or a combination of those factors. Since the app can geo-target users by hair type, advertisers can send very specific ads. For example, an ad can be served to a user in New York during the dog days of August saying: "Feeling humid in New York City this morning? Well, here are recommended products for your hair type."
"Brands seeking deep engagement with the hair community — and a relevant mobile presence — will find Curls on the Go addressing that need," says Christopher Burkhart, TextureMedia's chief marketing officer.
The Future of the App
Now that Curls on the Go is up and running, TextureMedia has entered its second phase of development, which includes a few design tweaks as well as offering advertisers the ability to offer coupons on the app. Ironically, the mobile app has been such a success that it's now being looked at as the future for TextureMedia's websites.
"We've seen such success with the mobile app that we're using it as the model for where we want to take our websites," says Bailey.