NEW YORK: Starbucks, Disney and Nike are among the brands making the most effective use of apps to engage consumers, McKinsey has argued.

In a new study, the consultancy stated the number of offerings available in Apple's App Store upon its launch in 2008 stood at 500, measured against 475,000 today.

Users of devices such as the iPhone and iPad have downloaded over 14bn applications to date, often benefitting independent "mom and pop" developers, particularly when it comes to gaming.

"The popularity of smartphone app usage has compelled major companies - from luxury goods makers to airlines to banks - to move into the app space as well," the report said.

"These and other branded players are attempting to make mobile apps an integral part of their marketing and social media strategies."

However, the ways to achieve success in an increasingly cluttered and competitive sector remain "fairly murky", McKinsey added.

As such, alongside NM Incite, a joint venture with Nielsen, it monitored conversations on specialist blogs, forums and social networks like Twitter and Facebook, to determine current approaches.

One method is promoting brand image, as shown by Coca-Cola's Heritage Timeline, a rich media application outlining the organisation's history.

Automaker Bentley hosts a copy of its journal and the latest corporate news via the Pure Bentley tool, while Gucci's app covers music, video, hotels, fashion and brand updates.

Revenue-generating techniques are also growing in importance, with Walgreens chemists empowering customers to order prescription refills remotely, and supermarket group Tesco creating a "store finder" and shopping list features.

Presenting additional services constitutes a third possible model, as demonstrated by Bank of America's app, providing mobile banking and helping clients track down nearby ATMs.

Simply fostering a "fun" experience has also been successful, as evidenced by Nike+, enabling runners to share their routes with friends and fellow enthusiasts.

Similarly, beer brand Heineken's Star Player app lets users predict the outcome of "live moments" in football matches.

Elsewhere, McKinsey and NM Incite assessed the top 100 global brands, as determined by Interbrand, excluding "native" internet players like Microsoft and eBay, and business-to-business firms including IBM and Accenture.

During a six month period, the apps boasted by consumer-facing brands yielded an extremely modest 200 relevant posts on blogs, forums and social media, from a sample of 190,000 items of material.

Just eight brands stimulated 90% of this buzz, with Starbucks and Disney contributing a combined 50% of all mentions.

"While most consumer brands have by now embraced mobile apps, only a few currently generate more than a background hum in terms of social media user buzz," the study said.

Starbucks was praised for rolling out a range of apps allowing customers to configure and pre-order drinks, use loyalty cards, earn rewards, pay their bill and locate proximate stores on wireless devices.

Disney's Magic Guide app also proved popular, giving theme-park visitors real-time information about waiting times and character appearances, as well as interactive maps and restaurant discounts.

McKinsey suggested the dual advantages possessed by these applications are that they mean shoppers save time and money.

The "long tail" delivering 10% of online buzz regarding apps incorporated 20 brands, a group housing Gucci and Tiffany from the luxury sector, and retailers Wal-Mart and H&M.

Breaking down the data in more detail revealed 25% of chatter was entirely user-generated, and thus did not draw on press releases or any other official announcements.

This total fell to 8% when discussing features and experience, rather than troubleshooting problems encountered by consumers.

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff