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.