For a long time marketers argued over whether brands should focus their efforts on a mobile Web site, or a mobile application. The answer is both.
The mobile Web is about discovery, according to Jonathan Stephen, Head of Mobile and Emerging Technologies at JetBlue Airways, and apps are for loyalists. That means that taking your mobile site and repurposing it in an app environment isn’t going to work. Each needs its own strategy.
“The mobile Web is informational,” Stephen told CMO.com in an interview. “People are finding your information organically and discovering your site. Someone who downloads your app has a loyalty or a commitment to you and that means a more personalized experience is needed.”
By personalized, Stephen means things like allowing customers to save account information within the app, use the camera to scan bar codes or get access to exclusive content or savings. For JetBlue, specifically, the mobile Web is pull mechanism. Users can come to the JetBlue mobile Web site to check out flights, book and get flight updates. The JetBlue app, on the other hand does all of these things and allows loyalists to view their loyalty card. Flights are saved automatically, so the app issues flight updates, without requiring the user to inquire. App users can also get mobile boarding passes through the app. It’s a more personalized experience. Juat another way to keep customers happy.
Sol Masch, Director of Mobile Sales and Strategy at Time Inc., agreed that the difference between app and mobile Web users is that app users are brand loyalists.
“Accessing a brand’s content through an app means that you have to seek out that brand, download the app, open it and find content,” Masch told CMO.com in an interview. “If the user isn’t loyal to the brand, they won’t invest the time to go through those steps. Apps enable users to save personal preferences more easily, so content can be more personalized.”
For example, the Time Inc.-owned People Celebwatch app has a tab called “Your Celebs” that allows users to customize their feed and follow the celebrities they care most about. Whereas the People mobile site provides quick access and immediate discovery for the biggest headlines in celebrity news that are breaking at the moment.
Masch noted that from a publishing standpoint, apps are great for content personalization and placing premium content behind a paid wall. But deep linking into apps from social posts and search engines can be very difficult (usually impossible), so mobile Web is very important for discovery.
“I think if your brand is looking to expand its mobile footprint, the best practice is to build your audience through mobile Web and then determine what kind of experience you want to deliver to your loyal users via an app,” Masch told CMO.com.
Jeff Hasen, CMO of mobile marketing service provider Mobivity agrees that going mobile Web-first and then creating an app is the way to go. Consumers are looking for mobile Web sites and rewarding the brands providing a good experience, while punishing the ones that don’t. The mobile Web has a larger penetration than mobile apps. That said, a mobile app is complementary to the mobile Web experience.
“Because the mobile Web is more of a broad offering and you’re not catering to a particular user, or smartphone, basic information is the way to go,” Hasen told CMO.com. “For example, in Seattle there’s a pet store called Meeker’s Pet Market. I would advise the owner to have a mobile Web site with information like store hours, directions and a list of what’s on sale. For the app, I’d suggest contests, video and other content that would make customers more aligned with the brand and more inclined to frequent the business.”
Not only should the experience be different from a content perspective, but mobile advertising, too, is different within apps than on the mobile Web, for a couple of reasons. First, JetBlue's Stephens explained, apps have different capabilities. Publishers could make available ad units that leverage the phone’s native functionality, like the accelerometer and the camera. Second, publishers can (and should, per Stephen) create units that don’t take consumers out of the experience, whereas on the mobile Web users are taken off the site when they tap on an ad.
“Now, I know there are mixed opinions on this and there are people out there who will say they can do it, but I’m in the opinion that you can provide a more robust experience via mobile apps, than you can on the mobile Web,” Stephen said.
But according to Masch, there are challenges when it comes to advertising in-app versus the mobile Web. Namely, deploying rich media in-app is more complex because of all the SDKs and differences in framework across device operating systems. The mobile Web is device-agnostic, so there isn’t that big of a problem there.
Regardless, all three executives agree that it’s not a question of one or the other. Brands and publishers need both. The Web is for discovery and apps are for loyalists. They key is finding out how to differentiate the experiences.
“So I’ll reiterate,” Stephen told CMO.com. “The Web will bring them in and provide them with the information they need, but once they’ve made the move to download the app and give it a place on that screen in your pocket, you need to enhance their experience and give them a reason to keep coming back.”