SES Chicago: Mobile Apps or Sites. That Is the Question

The contentious debate between whether mobile applications or optimized sites are the better choice for marketers led the conversation at SES Chicago.

At a panel session entitled “Metrics for Success in the Mobile and Apps Ecosystem,” panelists agreed that although there is a time and place for both apps and sites, the former may be better placed to create a branded and more realistic experience than its desktop counterpart.

“The desktop can certainly provide a good multimedia experience with video and sound capabilities. However, when you look at apps, they can be much more engaging in the overall experience and definitely interact with human senses in a way that desktops aren’t able to do,” said Jonathan Allen, director of Search Engine Watch.

“Apps such as Instagram or Layar provide specific experiences that can only really work via a mobile. They live in your phone and you can go back to them time and time again. The trick is to build engagement in your app so that the consumer keeps coming back,” he noted.

Adam Singer, product marketing manager at Google Analytics, concurred with Allen. For him, apps can be highly successful but engagement is key in order for this to be the case.

Apps are widely used by loyal consumers and are a great way to utilize value-added services such as one-to-one marketing, Singer said. But asking a consumer to install an app is a big ask, as it means taking up a lot of real estate on a device that is being used everyday.

“You don’t want consumers to install your app and then never use it again because if that happens, then you have failed…If marketers are set on rolling out mobile apps, they need to make sure that it fits their consumers’ needs, as well as engage with the audience on a brand level,” Singer commented.

He added that optimized sites also have their place and marketers could consider them as a nurturing path in order to achieve customer loyalty for a brand. Once this has been achieved, an app can then be installed, which would add greater value.

All the panelists agreed that when in doubt, marketers should invest in both a mobile app and an optimized site strategy. While apps will always have a purpose with a loyal consumer base, the general consumer will look at a site more often.

“The idea that you should choose one strategy is very 2009. There is a time and place for both. Marketers need to look at consumer behavior to establish exactly what it is that they are doing when they are accessing the app or site,” said Diran Hafiz, director of mobile sales at comScore.

Hafiz cited Amazon as an example. As a retailer, it has been very successful in its apps among all devices including smartphones and tablets, he said. However, when looking at purchases being made, the majority have all been through a site or browser on a tablet or desktop.

“When it comes to buying, people seem to feel more comfortable with sites. This strengthens my view that the app/site debate should be an ‘and’ one and not an ‘or.’ What is important is that companies figure out which medium works best for them and go from there,” Hafiz concluded.

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