A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to speak to the marketing executive for a consumer brand with over one billion USD in annual marketing spend. He boldly stated that mobile apps will be the number one marketing engagement platform over the coming years.
I will give you his rationale for the bold statement but first lets look at what marketers are doing about mobile in general.
Most marketing teams acknowledge the importance of mobile but usually as an afterthought (our website needs to work on mobile and we should spend some money on mobile ads) rather than a strategic direction. A couple of years ago this also meant rapidly getting a mobile app out since this was on the checklist of every CMO but now apps require a clear ROI just like any other marketing channel. Unfortunately the lack of a long term plan when companies launched their first mobile app also means that most failed and that every marketing department now has a skeptic that questions the value of mobile apps. Usually it’s either because they are among the minority that doesn’t use apps themselves on a daily basis or that they’ve previously been part of a team or organisation that have failed with apps in the past (see our post about why your mobile app will fail).
The typical arguments are:
- Most people only use about 10 apps and ours won’t be one of them
- Mobile web can do everything that apps can anyway
- It’s too hard to convince people to download our app
- The cost of mobile app development is too high
Marketing executives and marketing planners are generally conservative. It took a long time for them to transition to digital marketing when consumers moved online and it takes time for them to move into mobile when consumers are going mobile. And this has nothing to do with the native apps vs hybrids vs HTML5 debate. The technology of mobile apps should always be treated secondary to the strategy.
So what is the marketing executives argument for mobile apps as the best engagement channel? While social is a great conversation channel for brands it’s usually limited to a few likes and comments. Apps can drive true engagement:
1. Time spent with mobile apps vs mobile web
All data point in one direction. Although more people access brands through mobile web, the engagement level for apps is much higher.
|Top Smartphone Properties by Total Unique Visitors (Mobile Browser and App Audience Combined)
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Age 18+ on iOS, Android and RIM Platforms
Source: comScore Mobile Metrix 2.0
|Total Unique Visitors (000)||% Reach||Browser % Share of Total Time Spent||App % Share of Total Time Spent|
|Total Audience (Browsing and Application combined)||97,007||100.0%||18.5%||81.5%|
|Wikimedia Foundation Sites||39,073||40.3%||99.8%||0.2%|
|Rovio (Angry Birds)||25,057||25.8%||3.7%||96.3%|
|Weather Channel, The||24,131||24.9%||47.1%||52.9%|
Source: Mobile Marketing Universe
2. User Experience
Ultimately the brand experience is key to most companies. Services such as Pinterest, Flipboard, Fab.com, Zappos, etc get users because they are beautiful services proven by their 5 star ratings. Mobile apps can deliver a user experience that is better than web despite the smaller screen by simply staying focused on the core use cases.
With every brand now doing email marketing, spam mail constantly on the rise and challenging Facebook newsfeed algorithms it’s difficult to communicate with customers. For mobile apps this comes naturally using push notifications and updates as long as you bring value to the customer with every engagement.
In the best scenario the branded mobile app is a utility or an entertainment service that the user keeps on coming back to. Great examples include Nike+ Running app, J&J Babycenter apps, the Starbucks app, Kraft Cookbook, etc. Utility can also be simple gimmicky apps such as a mirror app (L’Oreal), a flirting tool (Axe/Lynx) or Zippos lighter.
And to be clear. Mobile apps do not replace mobile web. The purpose of the app is to provide something beyond a destination page for information.
So can every brand achieve the goal of providing an engaging mobile app experience? Probably not but most can if they make an effort to create an engaging experience for their existing and prospective customers. At least give it a serious consideration before you say it’s impossible. And if you don’t then your competitors will be happy just like Starbucks currently completely dominates the coffee shop app space.