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Direct Response Marketing

Going Mobile: The Mobile App vs. Mobile Web Debate — Do You Really Need to Pick Just One?

1 Mar, 2011 By: Brad Feldman Response


You hear or read about it almost every day. Mobile commerce is the hot topic in the marketing world. And reams upon reams of research tout mobile as the next big thing.

Need some examples? Adobe reported in January that 62 percent of smartphone users have purchased physical goods from their mobile devices in the past six months. ABI Research says that mobile shopping sales will top $160 billion by 2015.

Apple’s App Store is closing in on 10 billion total mobile app downloads. And yet research firm Lookout said last month that the Android Market app sales platform is actually growing three times as fast as Apple’s App Store.

The momentum for mobile commerce is incredibly strong. However, this emergence has led to a great debate: Which is a more effective tool to reach mobile consumers — the dedicated mobile app or websites optimized for the mobile format? Certainly, this turf war has vested interests on both sides, and each side is able to present plenty of research and backing for its side of the argument.

For instance, Nielsen reported last June that nearly one in three smartphone owners used a mobile shopping app during the previous 30 days — a number that’s sure to have risen with the ongoing explosion of the smartphone and app markets. Yankee Research Group also reported last year that nearly half of iPhone users want to make mobile transactions from their phones. On the other side, mobile website backers point to InsightExpress’ survey that showed 48 percent of users prefer mobile websites to 38 percent who prefer mobile apps.

What is not up for debate is that mobile commerce will become the norm, especially when you include the new tablet market on the mobile side of the equation. Even in the infancy of the tablet era, smartphone devices outsold PCs in 4Q 2010 (101 million to 92 million), while OnDevice Research says that, already, a quarter of U.S. mobile Web users only access the Internet from the mobile devices.

Like I wrote above, there is no dearth of research and/or predictions about the mobile commerce marketplace. But what do all these numbers tell us, in the end, about whether you — the marketer — should choose a mobile app or a specialized mobile website as your base for attacking this burgeoning space?

In actuality, there is an absolute need for marketers to maintain both. Picking one or the other will clearly leave some of your prospective customers out of the loop. While research shows that the more committed and active mobile shopper still prefers using dedicated mobile apps, less experienced mobile shoppers prefer mobile websites, which feel more comfortable to them. Apps provide an experience that is more integrated with the user’s phone functionality, but mobile sites may offer better search optimization. By having both, you can also cross-promote both shopping environments and maintain a more sizable customer base.

But, as direct response marketers, how do you know what the right mobile app platform is? The answer: Marketers need to maintain as much control over their own mobile sales as possible in the current regulatory environment, but — at the same time — with the expansion of the app marketplace, the need to gain significant audience scale for your mobile sales is just as important.

The right mobile app for your DR products must have a standardized industry-wide platform that enables true consumer scale. At the same time, a pay-for-performance plan is just right for this new and emerging market. Marketers should only have to pay an agreed-upon fee on successful sales via the mobile app platform. Together, these concepts can result in greater incremental revenue for every marketer using such a mobile app.

There’s no question you should add the mobile weapon to your sales arsenal immediately. Using an industry-wide mobile app platform in conjunction with your own optimized mobile website looks to be your best bet. ■

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