BEIJING: Brands can connect with young smartphone users in China by creating apps helping consumers "play", "plan" or "problem solve", a study has argued.

MediaCom, a unit of WPP Group, allied with China Youthology, the insights provider, to poll people in the 18–30 year old demographic, alongside interviewing several industry experts.

According to the company, over 2,300 branded apps are now available in the country, spanning categories from luxury and electronics to automotive and financial services.

Almost 80% of the potential audience downloaded apps, and 45% spent more than an hour utilising these tools daily. Some 7% were found to engage in such an activity for at least five hours every day.

The typical smartphone owner installed 41 apps in the course of a year, a figure which had grown by 28% compared with 12 months earlier. Nearly half employ between three and eight apps a week.

Among the key qualitative findings of the study was that the leading apps serve three "need states". The first was "play", such as providing an interesting diversion when commuting.

DHL, the delivery firm, successfully tapped this trend with its "Friend Express" app, giving consumers the opportunity to have friends who were often late picked up and "delivered" to a pre-selected location.

The second area was assisting with "planned" tasks, like buying clothes or improving fitness levels. Brands hoping to connect with shoppers in this way must "help them reach their goals".

Volkswagen, the carmaker, was an example here, with its "BlueMobility" app tracking the speed and distance travelled by drivers to show if they were wasting fuel, and supplying tips on how to avoid this.

The final type of app which is most attractive to young smartphone users aids their efforts to solve problems, for example by offering up a unique experience or expert information.

Starbucks, the coffee house chain, has excelled in this field, partnering with mobile check-in platform Jiepang to create an app giving out virtual "badges" to customers uploading "their Christmas wishes", who also received free drinks.

"Understanding why apps appeal, what tasks they can perform and who they appeal to is essential for brands that are planning to invest in this space," Michelle Fu, national director of MediaCom Insight China, said.

"This research highlights the clarity of thinking that brands need to apply to app development and ensure they maximise consumer usage and conversation around their tools."

Data sourced from MediaCom; additional content by Warc staff