A com­mon ques­tion that I am hearing from mar­keters is this: “If I have a lim­ited bud­get, which is more impor­tant to my mar­ket­ing efforts: the mobile-opti­mized site or the mobile app?” During a previous Adobe Summit, I had the opportunity to ask this question to some key industry leaders. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Mobile Site Approach: “Amer­i­can Eagle Out­fit­ters focused on devel­op­ing the mobile site first because you can reach every­one via a mobile site ver­sus an app that requires down­load. Even­tu­ally, after fully think­ing through the busi­ness ratio­nale, we built an app focused on loy­alty mem­bers and included some cool shop­ping fea­tures to sup­port these customers.”  – Eric Schmitt (Amer­i­can Eagle Outfitters)
  • Hybrid Approach: “Mobile web and mobile apps will co-exist for now. Clients build­ing apps want to tap into device spe­cific fea­tures, enable off-line sup­port, or pre­mium user experience.” – Julie Ask (For­rester Research)

Confused? Welcome to the conversation. I believe that the more important question is this: What mobile strategy is best and most appropriate for your organization today? This blog series will cover some of the latest industry research, empowering you to decide for yourself: mobile website, mobile app, or hybrid?

Today we will focus on what I believe to be the foundation and first step to a solid mobile strategy: building the mobile website or optimizing your site for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Mobile Apps and Mobile Websites Have Plenty of Room for Improvement

I want to begin this conversation by saying that, overall, there’s plenty of room for improvement in both mobile app and mobile website development. According to the Adobe 2013 Mobile Consumer Survey, “On average, people appear to rate their experiences on apps and websites equally. A 60% average satisfaction rate for both websites and apps indicates a clear opportunity to improve experiences for all mobile audiences.”

Mobile audiences continue to be, for the most part, neutral or only partially satisfied with their mobile experiences. Why? Well, consumers continue to be more advanced than the majority of organizations in terms of mobile usage for everyday life. Few organizations are ahead of the mobile technology adoption curve. When the pupils outpace the teacher, what typically happens? Students become bored, frustrated, or disengaged. In order to maintain the edge, organizations must study and learn from their consumers: What are their mobile consumption behaviors and how can organizations get out ahead of them in order to acquire new customers, drive sales, and more?

Paul Berney, CMO and managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association, remarks in the People’s Web Report, “We are no longer divided into a world of digital natives and immigrants … increasingly, the world is dominated by digital dependents.” For most of us, our smartphones have become more permanent than our fingernails. They’re constantly in our hands, pockets, and purses. How can organizations leverage this new digital dependency? First, get to know the sentiments and behaviors of your customers. Do you know how customers use their mobile devices?

Shoppers Prefer Mobile Websites

What do shoppers prefer? Apps or websites? In the Adobe consumer survey, an overwhelming 58 percent preferred mobile-optimized or regular websites over apps, “indicating that consumers might not be willing to download, install, and continually upgrade applications.” (More on the pros and cons of apps in part two of this series.)

However, it’s important to hone in on the verbiage used here: “mobile-optimized websites.” This means that your website is highly functional and wonderfully user-friendly on their mobile devices. Recent studies affirm the fact that “44% of consumers will not return to a website that is not mobile friendly” and “76% of people won’t even bother trying to use a non-optimized site, or will turn to a competitor instead.”

Additionally, when performing a basic search or digging for information, the majority of people prefer mobile websites over apps. Forrester Research calls this ability to do quick searches during short spurts of time throughout the day Web snacking. Mobile Web snackers prefer to get their snacks through the mobile Web.

Building for Mobile? | Start Here

Similar to what is proposed by Forrester’s Julie Ask in “Mobile Maturity Equates to Mobile Competency,” I recommend beginning with the mobile Web and setting aside apps for later. “The mobile Web offers a broad-reach, relatively low-cost play that helps many eBusiness professionals get started with mobile services.”

Step 1 | Use Analytics to Make Discoveries

How are your customers using their mobile devices? How can you improve their experience interacting with your organization? How will you find out this information? If you’re not already using analytics tools to manage your Big Data, let’s take a quick step back and ask, “Why not?” The mobile world will only accelerate its pace. Data will continue to pile up. It’s imperative that you utilize a tool that provides the necessary analytics as you move forward with mobile website development in an intelligent and informed manner. You don’t want to just guess and “go with your gut” about your customer’s behaviors and patterns.  Leading organizations rely on hard data in order to assess reality. This will enable you to build a mobile website that meets customers’ needs and expectations.

Step 2 | Set Up a Mobile Center of Excellence (MoCe)

Don’t get overwhelmed here. This doesn’t mean creating a separate division or business unit, but simply a focused, talented team with mobile always on their minds. Start small, gather the right group of people, and begin the collaborative process that will catalyze your brand for mobile. For more on this topic, see my previous blog.

Step 3 | Build Your Mobile Website

Take a look at what American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) did. They began their mobile strategy by optimizing their website for mobile. Their innovations include launching geotargeted versions of their “landing page for visitors in areas where the company is introducing new stores.” This enabled them to “offer coupons on the website within specific metropolitan areas, redeemable within the new stores and specifically targeted to attract new customers for the company’s youth brands.” Through their mobile-optimized website, they track sales and orders from mobile devices, allowing them to adjust investments and improve the mobile version of the site based on data. From there, AEO moved on to build apps for their loyal customers. Today they are one of the exemplars in mobile.

Stay tuned for more on mobile strategies. Next week I’ll be covering the pros and cons of mobile app development and what you should know before you build your own.


When I look at the headline for this post, I think the answer is, "Yes." You've nailed the approach perfectly, Ray. And in fact, it's the exact approach I've taken at my company too. Start with the lowest common denominator (a responsive website for us), then build and augment from there. If you can't serve your base mobile user in whatever use case they're experiencing, you have no business diving head first into a native application. Thanks for helping marketers see the light in this conversation!


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