Crafting your mobile app strategy is like online dating

Your mobile app strategy should accommodate both newer prospects who haven't developed loyalty and long-standing customers who are ready to download an app.

As companies try to solidify relationships with customers through brand loyalty and new channels, they often run up against a common decision they must make about whether to pursue a mobile app strategy vs. the mobile web.

It's not an easy choice. Mobile apps provide custom capabilities and perks for users, as well as better identity management for companies that strive to understand their audiences' browsing behavior. But they require users to download yet another app on their mobile devices. Companies need to invest heavily in mobile app development to make this a possibility. Mobile web technologies have made e-commerce and brand loyalty more possible without an app, which can be more acceptable for users.

But at the same time, companies may have less insight into web users' identities, having to rely on cookies or login information. And, of course, some companies may not get an advantage from developing a mobile app if their users aren't mobile-enabled. So, companies need to think about their constituency before they dive into a mobile strategy and consider mobile app vs. web browsing for users.

Mobile app strategy or web browsing?

Choosing web browsing. Consider skincare e-commerce company Banish, where some 70% of visitors come in from mobile devices, although most purchase products from their desktops, not mobile devices. But are those customers able to use a Banish mobile app? No. "We decided not to go with an app because we did not want our customer to go through the pain of downloading 'another app,'" said Daisy Jing, CEO and founder of the multimillion-dollar five-year-old company.

We decided not to go with an app because we did not want our customer to go through the pain of downloading 'another app.'
Daisy JingCEO, Banish

In fact, Banish focuses more on enlisting other apps to give users access to products, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat. Why? Because Banish's Millennial audience gets most of its information from social media apps, so a custom web app doesn't make much sense. Instead of racing to the app store, Banish tailored its mobile strategy to its audience to reduce friction in the buying process.

Creating a mobile app strategy. With a different customer base, private jet charter company Skyjet has had the opposite experience. After the company noticed a 93% quarterly increase in mobile quote requests in the first quarter of 2015, it decided to use a mobile app strategy, launched in August 2015. More than 20,000 people have downloaded the instant-booking app, which had a 38% week-over-week growth rate in its first 12 weeks in the Apple App Store, according to Jonathan Levey, digital marketing manager at Skyjet. "The app has seen great user engagement," Levey said. "The app's real-time pricing tool processed 1,500 itineraries on average per week in 2016 Q2."

More than 60% of digital activity happens on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), according to comScore. So, many prospects are likely to come to you from mobile devices. You can reach mobile prospects and customers in different ways through your own mobile website, your own mobile apps, and third-party apps such as Facebook Messenger. Today, we'll compare mobile websites and mobile apps.

You probably have a mobile website today. But should you utilize a mobile app strategy as well? All the rage just a few years ago, mobile apps are not right for every company. That's because most U.S.-based mobile users spend 80% of their app time in just three apps, such as Facebook, Chrome and YouTube, according to Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. This is why many smartphone users wait until they know more about your company before they install your company's app -- if they do so at all.

But as we've already seen, mobile apps can make sense. So, when should you use web and when should use apps? It all depends on your strategy and goals, and your audience's key characteristics, and the buyer's journey, which is where we will start.

The mobile buyer's journey

One way to determine where to use web and where to use apps is to consider the buyer's journey; newer customers may be less apt to download apps than long-standing loyal ones. "Marketers need to think about their online onboarding funnels as, in most cases, originating from the web to establish the customer's interest and activation, and then shift them over to the mobile app as a remote control for retention and not a tool for activation," said Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, which connects consumers with local lawn-care firms.

Although there isn't a standard buyer's journey, a mobile buyer's journey might looks like this:

  1. Discovery. Prospect discovers the brand and/or product.
  2. Consideration. Prospect considers a purchase, comparing other options.
  3. Purchase on website. Prospect makes first purchase.
  4. Retention. Customer makes subsequent website purchases.
  5. Mobile app installation and onboarding. Customer decides to maintain relationship with the brand and installs the mobile app; company provides tools to use app.
  6. Mobile app frequent use. Customer uses the mobile app frequently and, ideally, buys more.
  7. Advocacy. Customer is so satisfied with the brand and/or product that he or she tells friends, writes online reviews and more.

As you can see, prospects and newer customers may be more likely to use your website, while more established customers may be more likely to use your app. Of course, you could encourage a prospect to install your company's app before he or she makes a first purchase (as is probably the case for Uber, for example), but then you have to sell the prospect twice: first on the app, then on the purchase. If you wait, the app sell may be considerably easier once the prospect has blossomed into a loyal customer.

Let's take a look at when to use mobile web and when to use mobile apps.

Mobile web

Mobile websites are optimized for mobile devices -- especially smartphones, but also tablets. This includes responsive design that "responds" to the size and orientation of the screen so that text and images are easily read and viewed. But more important, mobile optimization should encompass a complete mobile web experience fully designed for the device size, variable bandwidth and smaller keyboard (i.e., less typing). Let's consider where mobile web is most useful.

Discovery stage. As you reach out to prospects and leads at the top of the funnel and as prospects find you, mobile websites are ideal. It's like dating -- in the beginning, your prospects don't want to make a commitment, and websites are the perfect opportunity for them to get to know you more before (if ever) they decide to make a commitment. "The reality is that much discovery occurs through the World Wide Web and not through the app stores," Clayton said.

First call to action. If a prospect finds your company using search but knows little about you, you're better off sending them to a low-commitment webpage or a landing page with an offer than directly to a higher-commitment app download.

Frictionless commerce. For new customers, web-based orders save the step of installing and setting up your app, saving time and increasing the chance that the customer will complete the sale. "The barrier to purchase is usually lower on mobile web," said Michael Griffith, VP of performance marketing at e-commerce consulting firm BVAccel.

Transactional and less-frequent purchases and interactions. If you have a transactional offering with low likelihood of repeat purchase or infrequent purchase or interactions, focus on the web instead of apps. Get the order first, instead of forcing a user to download an app he will use infrequently.

Static offering. The mobile web is also ideal for companies that sell a small number of items that don't change frequently, said Griffith.

Lack of loyalty among younger customers. The less loyal your customers are, the less likely they are to install and use your app. Accounting and consulting firm Ernst and Young has found that Generation Z kids (born from 1995-2012) were less loyal than Baby Boomers, while retail consultant Daymon Worldwide found a similar trend among Millennials (born from the early 1980s to around 1994). Both tend to use big apps like Facebook and YouTube, but they are less likely to use your brand's app and use it continuously since they tend to be less loyal. (i.e., they are more likely to be buying from another brand than buying from you.)

Cross-platform. Mobile web just works across the Apple iOS and Google Android mobile platforms. And HTML5 includes features that deliver some of the capabilities of native apps right in the web experience. By contrast, to gain maximum exposure to the most people, mobile apps must be built and continually maintained for both the iOS and Android operating systems, adding complexity and expense.

Mobile apps

Now let's take a look at some of the key drivers for developing a mobile app strategy. More than anything else, your app must deliver value -- through greater ease of use than your mobile website, information that is updated frequently, special deals, additional features that extend beyond what you're selling and more. Let's take a deeper look at some other drivers.

In the moment -- anytime. Consumers have access to their mobile devices most of the time. Mobile apps enable them to take action without wading through your website. For on-demand laundry and shoe-shine firm Laundri's customers, "if they are in the laundry room looking at a pile of dirty clothes, they can pull their phone out of their pocket and order a pickup while they are … thinking about it," said cofounder David Burrows.

Frequent usage. "For companies who sell products and services with frequent usage, like cab booking, fashion accessories, apparel, and grocery shopping, it is critical to have app presence, said Prasanna Arunachalam, product manager at e-commerce technology firm Vizury. "This way, users can use your app every time they need a service, instead of searching the web. This helps to build a loyal user base."

Engaging. The most successful apps are engaging and provide value far beyond just selling an item. "It's not just enough to present content -- the user must have a way to engage through the app and do something," said Karolyn Hart, chief operating officer of InspireHUB Inc., which builds marketing campaigns for nonprofits. For example, a car insurance company might provide an app that includes not just policy information but also a car maintenance record.

Higher lifetime value. Some online retailers have found that app users buy more. Twenty-five percent of Laundri's customers use their app. "We have found that people who download our app order almost twice as much and tend to be bigger fans of our service," Burrows said.

Customer advocates. Apps are a great tool to transform loyal customers into advocates. Laundri recently ran a referral campaign using app-based push notifications that yielded performance four times that of their regular email, and two times that of web-based notifications.

Older users. "If you have a 40-plus demographic and recurring purchases, build an app!" advised Colton Chorpenning, marketing director at Veppo Inc., which sells vaporizers and e-cigars online. While they started with, and still maintain, a mobile-optimized website, Veppo's age 40-and-over customers have been drawn to their app, which makes it easier to reorder favorite items, customize orders and store information for one-click payment on reorders. While the mobile app has helped, Chorpenning still said that they owed their business to mobile and desktop websites.

Next Steps

Developing mobile apps guide

A guide to mobile CRM

Mobile marketing needs its own strategy

Dig Deeper on Customer experience management

Content Management
Unified Communications
Data Management
Enterprise AI