Unlocking the Best Mobile Connection1 Apr, 2012 By: Pat Cauley Response
Whether you're talking about driving transactions or building stronger customer relationships, the mobile app vs. mobile-optimized website debate rages on.
The fact that consumers are using their mobile phones to access your products and services is already evident. The question, though, lies in how they are using their mobile phones to access your products. And just as the phone is in their hands, the way in which they interact — and their user experience — lies in your hands.
Akin to U.S. politics, there are two main choices: a mobile app or a mobile-optimized website. But, in order to make an informed decision before casting your marketing vote, it’s best to understand the basic issues. So, in layman’s terms, what exactly is an app?
In keeping with the theme, asking Siri, the iPhone 4S’ voice-activated personal assistant, seemed like the logical place to start. However, according to Siri, an app is the human protein amyloid beta.
So, Response decided to dig a little deeper to get to the bottom of the buzzwords and decipher what it all means for direct response marketers.
App: (noun) app-lication
“In the simplest terms, a mobile app is a software application that is downloaded and installed to a mobile device,” says Michael Becker, North American managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA). Moreover, it’s the apps’ uniqueness to the mobile device itself that makes them so dynamic.
“An app is developed in the native language of the handset and can take advantage of some of the built-in features of that smartphone,” says Mike Ricci, vice president of mobile at WebTrends. Whether it’s the camera or that device’s GPS component, Ricci says well-developed apps should leverage those device-specific capabilities to their benefit.
“The application can vary, but normally it’s about consumer interaction and being able to have a richer experience,” says Carrie Chitsey, CEO of Austin, Texas-based 3Seventy. She explained that with apps, brands are able to communicate and engage with the consumer through messaging. “Depending on the app, it’s more of a rich experience than you can deliver through a mobile website,” she says.
However, simply developing an app is the furthest thing from a sound, one-size-fits-all answer to the mobile puzzle. “In the past eight years, if I had a dollar for every brand that I’ve talked to that thinks that a mobile strategy means developing an iPhone app, I could retire by now,” says Ricci. “Most developed those apps, discovered they were costly to develop and maintain, and the vast majority of them are downloaded and not used. Then brands discover that they’ve wasted a lot of money, and they’re rushing to create mobile-relevant site experiences.”
So, what does a relevant mobile site experience look like?
Your Site, Mobile Optimized
“A perfectly optimized mobile site is designed in such a way that it presents content in the most optimal way for the device and network that a user is on,” says Becker. He explained, for example, that someone should expect a very different experience even from an iPhone to an iPad if the site is perfectly optimized.
Ricci claims the problem with mobile websites today is the diversity of handsets. “A mobile optimized site is designed around a mobile experience. The consumer does not behave the same way on a mobile handset as they do on their laptop or as they may on a tablet. They’re looking for quick, convenient features and a simplified browsing experience. A mobile-optimized site is recognizing the kind of platform that is requesting it and able to optimize for it,” he says.
So, contrary to apps — which are developed with a specific mobile device in mind — mobile-optimized sites recognize the requesting device, understand the way in which that device will render a mobile website and then present that site in a friendly way for that consumer’s specific handset. However, marketers should be wary when picking a mobile partner to ensure that their sites are being optimized to full potential.
Chitsey says there are a lot of packages out there that claim for just a little extra cost, they’ll optimize your site for mobile. “All that’s doing is making the font bigger and designing just a little bit of a better experience. So it’s definitely better than nothing, but you’re not giving consumers what they want on the go. You’re just kind of giving them bigger pictures and font types. It doesn’t take into consideration Flash and videos. Most optimized sites you see, it’s only the first two layers of the website and then it goes back to a traditional site,” she says.
Many DR websites incorporate Flash as one of their main components, proving that the seemingly minute details are of the utmost importance when considering a mobile strategy.
According to Chitsey, a perfect mobile site is developed using mobile Web standards, such as limiting to eight font types and different layouts, as well as proper rending technology so you can deliver the appropriate stream per device.
“It would be limited to what consumers want on the go; it would not be optimized to just have a better feel for what you would get on the regular site but would have only what you want on the go,” she says. “So it would have a ‘click-to-call’; with one touch it would have turn-by-turn directions; or it would offer a menu and ordering if I’m a retailer or a restaurant. If there were mobile video, it would be less than 45 seconds from an interaction perspective. All the forms would be true mobile Web, so it would have the appropriate spacing, drop downs and font types so that you don’t have to scroll on the screen or blow your screen up.”
What’s a Marketer To Do?
“When in doubt and with no other information, I would tend to say focus on mobile Web first,” Becker says. “However, the correct answer is that it depends. A mobile website or a mobile app do not by themselves constitute a strategy for creating and developing a mobile presence. Each brand, each retailer, has a unique business, unique customers and unique goals.”
He contends that those business goals need to be considered fully, and a strategy needs to be developed that makes best use of the tools available, whether it’s mobile apps, mobile Web, messaging, couponing, social media or a combination of all of these.
“I’ve been counseling brands to focus more on the mobile Web,” says Ricci. He explained that roughly 50 percent of all U.S. consumers are routine users of the mobile Web, with only 40 percent being smartphone users, making the audience for apps specific to the single devices within that 40 percent much more fragmented. “Mobile Web has a larger disposable audience you can attract, and another reason is that one of the predominant activities on the mobile Web is search.”
People on the go usually aren’t looking to download an app. “People are using things like Siri or GoogleVoice or typing it into a search box and they’re looking for your business and — typically speaking — the search results are taking you a website. You want a mobile optimized site so you’re relevant to people on the go,” says Ricci.
Mobile experts agree that mobile strategy really depends on what type of relationship you have with the consumer. “If I’m a DR company and I’m trying to complete more transactions, a mobile website makes more sense by tenfold because it’s a transaction-based business. If I’m a bank, and you’re one of my customers, an app makes sense because you’re going to download it to your phone and use it frequently to check account balances, or take a picture of a check to deposit it,” says Chitsey.
Once You Go App, Do You Go Back?
Ricci contends that creating apps definitely makes more sense for certain use cases, like gaming. “Native apps tend to be faster and offer a more robust visual experience since they’re resident on the handset and not requesting traffic from the mobile Web,” he says. Ironically, he said that another use case for apps is mobile commerce. For example, an app would make sense for banking or airlines — or even a company like Fandango since it’s a brand tied to a commodity that lends itself to repeat purchase from the same consumer. But to make sense for a DR marketer, it would probably need to be a product or service that relies on continuity or continued engagement past the first transaction. “Q Research found that somewhere in the 90 percentile are downloaded, used once and then never used again,” says Ricci.
Moreover, a recent survey from 3Seventy found that most people have 15 to 20 apps on their smartphones and they use about two or three regularly. “It’s really hard for marketers, because they think everyone loves their brand. But only 26 percent of apps ever get used again after the first time they’ve been downloaded,” says Chitsey.
On the app side, 3Seventy is seeing success on the repeat customer side. “If I have a relationship with a customer that wants to engage with me more than once a month, that’s the most success we’re seeing on the application side. The No. 1 reason apps fail is that they get someone to look at it for the first time and then they never re-engage. They never ping the person, they never send them in-app messages, and there’s never incentive for them to use the app again,” Chitsey adds.
This supports the theory that for a one-time transaction, an app isn’t your best bet, but rather they’re best for maintaining a frequent relationship with a consumer.
However, apps can find that golden sweet spot. Instagram for instance, self-dubbed the “fun & quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures,” has become a verb in certain circles, much like Google and Facebook before it. There’s “Google it,” “Facebook me,” and now, “Instagram it,” which lets your friends know that whatever picture was just taken is worthy of sharing with everyone. And the technology and power of apps is only growing.
“Things like augmented reality and mobile wallets, that is kind of the future of mobile applications. Really cool, engaging, interactive-type stuff, and that you can’t do on mobile Web. But if I’m trying to drive revenue, drive more people for orders, complete credit card transaction on the iPad or iPhone, then mobile website is by far the most ubiquitous platform to give you that 85-percent browsing the mobile Web on their phones,” says Chitsey.
Mobile Moving Forward
“Sadly, too often, a brand’s presence on the mobile Web is left to chance; a dedicated, optimized mobile site is an investment that can yield massive rewards in terms of customer experience, loyalty and purchases,” says Becker. “What doesn’t work — and many marketers have found this to their cost — is the one-shot app, non-integrated into your marketing plan, that gets downloaded and simply isn’t used. What does work, time and again, is making mobile an integral part of your marketing mix. If your plans do not include mobile, then your plans are not finished. Mobile has to be an important and central part of your marketing thinking; not an add-on tactic.”
This is especially true as DR continues to successfully permeate the mainstream. Chitsey contends, “If you’re targeting that under-30-year-old demographic for supplements or fitness equipment, skincare and things like that, they’re not calling 800-numbers anymore. The stats for that demographic show that an 800-number has negative connotation. So, DR marketers need to think about how they’re going to adapt with the times and get on board with the communications devices that the people they’re trying to sell to are using on a minute-to-minute basis.”
Given that 95 percent of people younger than 25 have their mobile phones within reach as they’re watching TV, Chitsey suggests having them text in for a chance to win free skincare for a year and use then use that as a lead generation mechanism, rather than telling them to call an 800-number. “Let them engage the way they want to engage, rather than the way your brand wants to engage,” she says.
And whether that means developing an app or optimizing your site for mobile, well, the vote is yours.
The Ups and Downs of a Direct Response TV App
Three years ago, Brad Feldman, vice president of business development for Aurasma, set out to develop a universal app for the DR industry. What’s the journey been like for his “As Seen On TV Official App”?
“I was thinking, ‘If mobile apps take off, this industry has a lot of problems because no one is going to download a Snuggie app to buy a Snuggie,” Feldman says. “But, companies like eBay and Amazon had big enough portfolios of products that people would actually download that app if they wanted to experience that brand and its offerings and then use it over and over again.”
So, sort of like an Amazon, he thought, “What happens if we can aggregate the entire industry under one mobile application and sell direct response products? Because people do like direct response products, and people who buy direct response products buy multiple times.”
So by launching the As Seen On TV Official App, the idea was that all of the marketers could have a place where they could stick their products and sell directly to consumers through a single mobile application.
“It’s still out there (available for both Apple and Android devices) and it sells a little bit of product,” Feldman says. But the product has struggled to find a foothold. “Not for lack of app strategy,” he contends. “It has more to do with how the industry works. The problem is some marketers are short-sighted in how they think about their channels. They just want to push it through the very cheapest channel possible. Even if it’s incremental, they don’t see that. They see it as just the cost of each channel.”
Feldman says a second problem with mobile (when he approached the industry) is that DR marketers are very comfortable working in unique situations (an 800 number dedicated to Snuggie, or a website address that’s dedicated to the Snuggie). But the As Seen On TV Official App is not dedicated to the Snuggie. “So that was sort of another challenge to this industry: Can you all play nice in the sandbox together?” Feldman says. “This was one of the bigger challenges, because in order to get scale, you really need to get lots of people to download your application. Once you have that kind of scale, you as a marketer have access to lots of people whether they’re watching TV or not. In order to get there, you have to promote an application — along with your potential competitors promoting the same application — to get people there to buy your products.”
If Feldman has his way, the As Seen On TV Official App icon would appear alongside URLs and 800-numbers within DR campaigns so consumers would be aware of the additional order platform. He likened the app’s reception to the way in which websites were initially perceived in the industry — as something that would pilfer sales from the call centers. “There were a certain amount of people that did move from calling to buying online, but also it ended up increasing the amount of sales. It increased the pie,” Feldman says. “If you give people more channels to purchase your product, the number of sales will actually go up.”
His hope was that by adding another channel, DR marketers would actually pick up incremental sales. “It’s a third way — I’m just facilitating a transaction, no different than Amazon facilitates a transaction,” Feldman adds. “Only, I’m facilitating it on behalf of the marketers themselves.”