Should brands focus on mobile apps?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, Inc., and Tim McLaughlin, president and founder of Siteworx, debate.

John Shegerian
Chairman and CEO, Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. More than two decades of technology marketing experience

Mobile device use, and app usage, is growing at breakneck speed. As a result, smartphone applications have become valuable tools for brands, as they've realized mobile marketing is where they must focus their efforts to attract new customers and remain competitive.

The idea of incorporating apps into a corporate marketing strategy is still new, just as websites and social media pages started as innovative concepts. 

Every brand now seems to have a website and social media page, but most organizations still do not have an app. Early adopters that create valuable apps can solidify a fan base and gain experience in this increasingly important medium, as well as glean valuable insight into mobile user behavior.

Despite these possibilities, many companies lack the confidence, knowledge or infrastructure to implement app-based initiatives.

This is unfortunate, because the launch of a mobile marketing campaign does not require a significant expenditure, but connects companies directly to consumers, delivering a complete online experience. 

Apps also give companies the ability to engage with customers in an ongoing relationship, build brand loyalty, and create unprecedented advertising, sales and revenue opportunities. Think of it as a browser dedicated entirely to your brand, your interactive campaign and your content, with your customers directly connecting to you.

I learned the importance of mobile apps earlier this year when we made our "Eco App" exclusively available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The app allows consumers to type in their Zip Codes, select their cities, and choose the items they want to recycle. Its goal is help consumers minimize their environmental impact locally by offering them a simple way to locate the nearest recycling center. We also made our other “My Recycle List” app available for the Android system. 

This demonstrates the demand for simplification in the recycling process, but it also highlights the power of mobile marketing and its value for a wide range of industries. 

Consumers who are given access to brands in valuable and simplified formats interact more. When this happens, brands have future opportunities for growth.

Tim McLaughlin
President and founder, Siteworx. More than 10 years' experience in digital technologies

Before spending time and money on native mobile applications, marketers should start by optimizing their traditional Web presence for the best mobile viewing possible.

Sure, apps have certain advantages. They can often give you better usability and performance, as well as access to more of a mobile platform's APIs. 

On the other hand, they're difficult from a maintenance and content management perspective. 

Most apps will have great difficulty leveraging your site's content management system, and they have to be separately designed for Apple, Android, Blackberry and Microsoft devices. 

Most importantly, they'll reach only a small segment of your total mobile audience.

In December, if your mobile strategy is a holiday drink, apps would be your candy cane martinis. They're different. They're potent. But they're not for everyone. 

A lot of people may never try them, and even those who do might not run back for seconds, as sustaining user interest in downloaded apps has been a significant struggle.

 The mobile-optimized Web is your eggnog. It's the workhorse of the menu. It might not be as flashy as the candy cane martini, but it's easier to make, and it'll reach — and satisfy — a much larger audience. We're not surprised these days to see organizations with 40% to 50% of their Web traffic coming from mobile devices.

If you're still not convinced, there's also the issue of data collection, perhaps the biggest reason of all to put mobile Web optimization ahead of app development. Your mobile-optimized site will take in priceless information about your audience's mobile viewing habits — data that can later be used in an app's eventual, and more costly, development if you decide to embrace mobile applications. Conversely, mobile apps can have difficulty tracking user interactions beyond the initial download, putting them at a significant disadvantage compared to the Mobile web in terms of data collection.

To make a long story short, we rarely — if ever — recommend letting apps supplant the Web as an organization's primary mobile marketing channel. 

DIRECT MARKETING NEWS DECISION:

Marketing apps are a good fit for brands that are household names, or those that offer truly innovative services for mobile devices. Large brands should embrace them, but up-and-coming marketers should think twice before focusing on apps instead of the mobile Web

HAVE YOUR SAY
E-mail your topic to frank.washkuch@dmnews.com.


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