Who wins the apps versus mobile sites debate?

By Rimma Kats

October 1, 2012

There is a continuous debate in the mobile industry on whether mobile applications or optimized sites are a better choice for marketers. Companies looking to invest in the space should first set a goal and have a clear understanding of their target consumer.

Many industry experts believe that while mobile applications are great, they are mostly used by loyal users. Unless companies have a big loyal base, they should first introduce a mobile site or consider rolling out a mobile app and optimized site at the same time.

“To those looking to invest either in a mobile Web site or a mobile application, the truth is that they must invest in both,” said Eric Newman, vice president of products and marketing at Digby, Austin, TX.

“Mobile sites are for the masses, rich apps are for the loyal,” he said. “Using this comparison as a guide, the intrinsic uses of mobile Web sites and apps become quickly revealed.”

Know your customers
Consumers primarily use the mobile Web as a quick search tool, and most mobile searches are for general information such as store location and hours or contact information.

Having a mobile presence is critical.

Consumers are constantly on-the-go and therefore, a mobile presence is now a necessity.

Many times, marketers roll out a mobile application because their competitor has one. But, at the same time, companies must remember that one size does not fit all. Just because their competitor has a mobile app does not mean that it will be a good fit for them.

Marketers must first figure out who their target demographic is and go from there.

“Those new to a brand enjoy mobile Web as a way to gain access to product catalogs while they’re on the go, as a way to quickly learn about a brand’s offering, so the information provided must be quick to consume and to the point,” Mr. Newman said.

“Mobile applications, however, are hubs for a brand’s loyal fans,” he said. “Given that apps are always apparent on a consumer’s phone and must be tapped into, consumers more deeply engage with the app depending on that app’s capabilities ranging from entertainment to informational research to just plain fun.

Mobile loyalty
Mobile applications are a great way to utilize value-adding services for the loyal customer ranging from more targeted 1:1 marketing and customer service features such as interior maps of retail stores or access to loyalty programs.

There is not a lot of real estate on a mobile device, and with a mobile application, marketers are asking to use up some of that real estate.

If marketers are set on rolling out mobile apps, they need to make sure that it fits their consumer’s needs.

“Consumers have gotten clever with how to maximize real estate on their phones,” said Carin Van Vuuren, chief marketing officer of Usablenet, New York.

“You need to know what you want to achieve with a mobile site or app and your strategy should encompass both,” she said.

Go with both
Many industry experts believe that when in doubt, roll out a mobile site and app strategy.

“While apps will always have a place for the loyal customer, the first place people are going to go it to the Web to contact that brand and an app will come later as real estate will become precious,” said Roland Campbell, senior director of solutions engineering at Usablenet.

“The general consumer will hit the mobile Web more often,” he said. “They’re not going to grant you space on their screen.

“Once they have become a loyal customer of your brand you can add something, like an app, that really adds value.”

The mobile space is growing at a rapid speed and marketers who do not have a mobile presence are missing out on a big opportunity.

The mobile apps and mobile site debate will continue to go on for years.

Companies need to figure out which medium works best for them and go from there.

“As for the future of mobile in 2013, the mobile industry is in a truly exciting place right now,” Digby’s Mr. Newman said. “A number of groundbreaking technological innovations have entered the playing field this year and they will be forever altering the way we market and sell.

“Mobile’s intrinsic understanding of consumer’s context—their current time, location, and behavior—will lead to much more personalized style of marketing, which is centered around location,” he said. “Mobile POS will become much more common in stores, as pushed by providers like Square and brands like Starbucks and Finish Line.

“Lastly, Apple’s release of Passbook will have a huge affect on the mobile wallet race.  The emphasis will turn from NFC to comprehensive, rich offers that retailers are able to seamlessly integrate into their current POS systems.  Combined with location-marketing, offers will be easy to use, personalized, and seamless.”