Section 508

June 26th, 2013

Why apps will continue to rule mobile marketing engagement



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)
March 2012
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Age 18+ on iOS, Android and RIM Platforms
Source: comScore Mobile Metrix 2.0
Audience Engagement
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%
Google Sites 93,954 96.9% 18.9% 81.1%
Facebook 78,002 80.4% 20.0% 80.0%
Yahoo! Sites 66,185 68.2% 25.3% 74.7%
Amazon Sites 44,028 45.4% 14.3% 85.7%
Wikimedia Foundation Sites 39,073 40.3% 99.8% 0.2%
Apple Inc. 38,309 39.5% 0.3% 99.7%
Cooliris, Inc 28,543 29.4% 0.0% 100.0%
AOL, Inc. 28,021 28.9% 47.4% 52.6%
eBay 27,190 28.0% 17.6% 82.4%
Zynga 26,619 27.4% 0.4% 99.6%
Twitter 25,593 26.4% 3.5% 96.5%
Rovio (Angry Birds) 25,057 25.8% 3.7% 96.3%
Weather Channel, The 24,131 24.9% 47.1% 52.9%
Microsoft Sites 23,938 24.7% 82.1% 17.9%
ESPN 23,317 24.0% 56.8% 43.2%


% Time spent & Ad spend on each medium in 2012 (U.S.)


Source: Mobile Marketing Universe

2. User Experience

Ultimately the brand experience is key to most companies. Services such as Pinterest, Flipboard,, 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.

3. Updates/notifications

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.

4. Utility

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.

Tags: app development Customer Experience Definition mobile apps Mobility Strategy Responsive and Adaptive Web Development User Experience Design ux/ui

Connect with us

Job Openings

Want to be part of our growing team?

View More
Work with us

Learn how DMI can help you grow, or launch your business.

Get In Touch

See all of our locations around the world

View Locations