Ignore apps at your own risk.

This warning comes from marketing expert, Chuck Martin, who says this of mobile shoppers: “Mobile app users were happier with their shopping experience than non-app users. The obvious app development is to automate . . . functions and include them within the apps . . . such as price checking, coupon redemption and shopping lists.”

Sure, apps are getting all the buzz today, but are people really using them to interact with brands? The People’s Web Report “found that only 27% of all users regularly download apps when prompted, with many preferring mobile websites.” Nielsen’s 2013 Cross-Platform Report, on the other hand, indicates that mobile apps are used far more frequently (87 percent of use time) than the mobile Web (13 percent). So what’s going on here? What’s the priority, mobile Web or mobile app?

My answer is both.

You must provide both mobile Web and mobile app channels to consumers, but it’s important for you to understand that there are different reasons, or use cases, for the mobile app versus the mobile Web. Once you get a firm grasp on those different reasons, you can prioritize, plan, and make a strong case for your budget.

In part one (link) of this series, I focused on the almost hands-down, agreed-upon first step for a mobile strategy: building a mobile website or optimizing your website for mobile. Today I will focus on the basics of the mobile app. How are apps being used? Why are they being downloaded and then ignored? And how can your organization integrate mobile apps into your mobile strategy?

Takeaway 1 | Searchers Prefer the Mobile Web

When people don’t know what they’re looking for and they want to cross-shop or compare brands and pricing, they’ll opt to use the mobile Web. So when you think about searchers, remember that many consumers prefer the mobile Web. Consequently, you need to think about how to convert those searchers into shoppers and brand loyalists via the mobile Web experience.

Consumers Think App Downloads Are Mandatory for Mobile Web Searching

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of “surfing” the mobile Web and being prompted to download an app. You may want to continue browsing on the mobile site and you don’t see a clear option to ignore the app download,  so you reluctantly agree. Then you wait while the app installs itself onto your smartphone, when all you really wanted was to continue browsing. Sound familiar?

Industry research shows that one in four apps are never used after they’re downloaded. Why is this? Here are some of the main reasons why people don’t want to download apps in the first place. Searchers 1) only want to browse for information, 2) prefer websites, 3) don’t want to waste time downloading the apps, and 4) already have too many apps.

As a general rule of thumb, most searchers or browsers will prefer not to download your mobile app. They’re not ready for that kind of commitment. They’re still looking. Be sure to integrate this fact into your organization’s mobile website experience and avoid making it mandatory for your mobile users to download an app before they’re ready. Let them come to you. Make your mobile app available to consumers, not mandatory for engaging with your brand.

Takeaway 2 | Brand Loyalists Prefer the Mobile App

In general, once people have become loyal customers, preferring your brand over the rest, they’ll opt to use the mobile app. This group is ready for commitment. They’re ready to press “Install App.”

Consider these two relevant facts: 1) Apple’s app store has over 10 billion downloads. That’s right, 10 billion! And 2) 26 percent of new app downloaders become “loyal customers, using an app more than 10 times over the following months—and many go on to use an app hundreds of times.”

The question before you as an organization considering mobile app development is this: How do you create a high-quality, user-friendly app that people will enjoy using again and again? You don’t want your app to end up in the app graveyard. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, once a customer believes in your brand, they will download your app and use it more than the mobile Web. This was the case with Vail Resorts, which created an amazingly successful app that both drives loyalty and repeat engagement with their brand.

Where to Go from Here? | Build for Apps and Tablets

To inform your app strategy, make sure that you prioritize platform and device type decisions by using analytics. For many brands, the number of consumers with smartphones exceeds the segment with both smartphones and tablets. Starting with smartphones, use analytics to understand the percentage of users with iOS devices versus Android devices that are accessing mobile Web content. Then perform the same analysis for tablets. You may find interesting device choices including Kindle Fire tablets or maybe even Nook tablets. The bottom line is to build apps that reach the largest available audience while working within the constraints of your budget and resources. Remember, ignore apps at your own risk.

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