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Why a mobile app-only approach is a mistake

App Store

Many marketers believe that a mobile application is all they need. However, a mobile app is just one piece of the puzzle and companies need to branch out and implement a variety of channels into their repertoire to accommodate tech-savvy users.

Often, marketers roll out a mobile app because either their competitor has one or just the sole need to put one out there. When thinking like that, marketers are faced with many challenges and clearly are not taking the right approach.

“At the very least, a mobile Web site should also be available for users who are not able to access your mobile app due to their device,” said Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar Mobile.

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“An app should be integrated into a larger campaign, or be a part of a larger mobile presence that should also include mobile Web and social campaigns,” he said.

It is important for marketers to have a rounded strategy.

Marketers should realize that by simply having a mobile app, that does not mean they have a full mobile strategy.

While mobile apps are engaging and a great way to drive brand awareness, they are not everything. Marketers need to test the waters and think about other channels such as mobile sites, SMS, QR codes and mobile advertising.

“After working with large media companies for over five years, we've learned that a best practice is to make content available on as many screens as possible,” Mr. Gupta said. 

“It's nearly impossible for anyone to predict which devices will be popular in a few years from now, or even next year, so a best practice is to ensure users can easily access your content from whichever device they choose,” he said.

Marketing tactics
According to Kevin Dillon, president of Ratio Interactive, depending on the type of product a marketer is marketing, a mobile app-only strategy can or cannot be effective.

Mobile is becoming an increasingly larger part of the way audiences engage with brands.

Based on the type of content, we are seeing some brands lead with mobile, while others have a more integrated marketing approach.

“What tactics marketers decide to lead with inside their digital strategy should be completely defined by the use case and the audience segment,” Mr. Dillon said.

“By in large, serving your customers via a mobile app-only strategy will most likely not be effective and will require an integrated marketing approach, whether that be just digital or offline,” he said. “At Ratio, we feel that a mobile strategy should be an extension of a company’s overall brand.

“In order to effectively achieve that we need to support the tenants of that brand. That requires us to conceptualize and create a mobile strategy that support other marketing tactics, one should be an extension of the other.”

Mobile should continue to be represented as a tactic that is part of a digital strategy, which rolls up into an integrated marketing strategy.

Furthermore, a mobile strategy should be dependent on the use cases for how a company wants to serve its customer segment, and it should be a part of a larger integrated approach.

“While a mobile strategy is an important extension to a company’s brand and its audience, it is important to remember that mobile is only one channel for reaching or serving your customer’s needs,” Mr. Dillon said.

“Marketers should breakout their audience segments and define the best methods to serve their customers,” he said.

“By doing this they will find that some audiences will be best served with mobile being the first-screen experience and other audiences will be best served with mobile being a third-screen experience supporting desktop and television.”

In today’s hyper-connected, multichannel world, marketers need to optimize every digital channel. 

Simply rolling out a Web site, Web app, or native mobile app without dedicating resources to enhance each will have a disastrous impact on brand image and loyalty and therefore bottom lines. 

"The problem is that although optimization solutions exist for Websites and Web apps, there has been no similar solutions to optimize native mobile apps," said Bob Moul, CEO of Artisan.

"To successfully drive brand loyalty, conversion, and revenue, it is absolutely imperative to reach customers across all digital channels," he said. "It’s important for marketers to understand, however, that an app is not a Web site and vice versa – each channel is unique and requires a purpose-built platform that allows marketers to create, modify, optimize, and personalize the user experience. 

"Consumers and business buyers are increasingly using multiple devices to interact with brands, and organizations who do not implement an effective strategy for each channel will be left behind."

According to Mr. Moul, to increase the likelihood of native app success, companies need an effective way to manage the mobile experience.

"An app should be dynamic," Mr. Moul said. "Brands should be able to quickly and easily distribute A/B tests, collect detailed usage data, and then continually refine the experience to meet users’ wants and needs.

"On a Web site, companies can assess what’s working and what’s not, and make changes to improve results – mobile apps should be no different," he said. "Only by changing how the app development and publishing processes work can marketers improve user engagement and drive mobile conversions."

Mobile evolution
Marketers should have very good reasons for choosing to go down a path focused only on native mobile applications.

"Although an app-only approach might be a fit for certain unique business models, the majority of businesses would not be served well going that route," said Tom Nawara, vice president at Acquity Group. "To be truly effective, marketers need to consider and address customer acquisition, engagement and retention via a variety of mobile tactics: mobile apps, mobile Web, SMS/MMS and more.

"It is absolutely essential for brands to have a plan that addresses their business drivers and customer needs across digital tactics," he said. "Specifically in the area of mobile tactics, brands should first ensure they at least have a mobile compatible web presence.

"Optimally, brands will have Web and email experiences optimized for audience interaction occasions across key mobile devices. Beyond that baseline, brands should then branch out to those tactics that make sense for engagement with their particular audiences."

According to Mr. Nawara, it is very important for marketers to think omnichannel and ensure they are considering the full customer lifecycle and all of the engagement touchpoints along that path, not only mobile.

"Although it has become clear that mobile technologies are the hub of consumer/brand engagement, creating a holistic and contextually relevant experience across touchpoints should be every marketer's goal," Mr. Nawara said.

Final Take
Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

Associate Editor Rimma Kats covers media, television, research and social networks. Reach her at rimma@mobilemarketer.com.

Related content: Strategy, mobile applications, mobile marketing, mobile

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Comments on "Why a mobile app-only approach is a mistake "

  1. Mike White says:

    January 17, 2013 at 2:34am

    Missed this article last year around the holiday. Catching up on some missed reads I had a chance to circle back around and this is absolutely great! Awesome job on both the writer and guests part. Great information and good high level insight. Thank you.
  2. Dan Ramthun says:

    December 22, 2012 at 9:14am

    A very common sense approach to marketing. I agree completely and give the same advice. Too often one piece of marketing is pushed onto businesses without looking at the big picture.
  3. Retailigence Corp says:

    December 22, 2012 at 12:01am

    Although I found the article a bit repetitive I wholeheartedly agree. When I started talking to retailers about 3 years ago about mobile, the only thing on their mind was getting an app into iTunes, with very little thought about it's value or purpose and with young Junior management making all the decisions. Then about 2 years ago, major retailer's top focus was on creating an Android app. Then 1 year ago, it was on the HTML5 mobile web. I'm glad that now retailers are realizing that there is the "99%" opportunity to actually generate NEW foot-traffic and NEW customers, not just create apps for the 1% of existing loyal customers. And now retailers are moving fast. We're now helping 300+ major retailers get in front of 20M+ new shoppers. What a change in 3 years! There are many dimensions to being successful in mobile.
  4. Bill Ganon says:

    December 21, 2012 at 9:33am

    Rimma, thanks for this story and the guests' contribution. I did not see one of the classic media planning guidelines that further support this case of using mobile web and apps together: reach and frequency. Apps tend to deliver high frequency (page views) against a smaller audience, due to device limitation / willingness to download the app. The web is on virtually every smartphone and thus delivers important reach metrics that apps generally don't achieve. Verve works with hundreds of local media companies across the country on their local mobile strategy, and we continually reinforce this message to local ad sales teams. Happy Holidays,
    Bill Ganon
    SVP/GM Local Markets, Verve
  5. Lama Jabr says:

    December 21, 2012 at 7:13am

    Thank you for this article, very important insights covered. I agree with you, mobile app is only one channel out of many marketing channels available to marketers today and should not be relied on as the only marketing channel for any business.
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