Differentiating an App from a Website

When the mobile app economy exploded, few organizations understood how apps could benefit their business. Even Mark Zuckerberg famously acknowledged that Facebook spent too much time focused on HMTL5 and the web before dedicating resources to native app development.

Awareness began to shift in 2012, but even as the year came to a close, many enterprises were still struggling with how to work inside the mobile app medium.

Part of the solution to this problem for marketers and retailers is gaining a better understanding of how mobile usage differs from traditional web browsing. The other part is finding the right tools to craft an app experience that will measurably deliver value and strengthen customer relationships over time.

Emotion, transactions and mindshare
The mobile experience is vastly different from browsing the web on a computer. To start, consumers have an emotional attachment to phones and tablets that doesn’t exist with a PC. A mobile device is a statement, a connection to the world, and a companion that goes anywhere and everywhere you want it to.

As of 2011, Ericsson found that more than a third of smartphone users check their phones before getting out of bed in the morning. Nielsen reports that 41% of tablet users are on their tablets while watching TV. And a new study by Nielsen and NM Incite claims that 32% of people aged 18-24 even use their mobile devices to check into social networks while in the bathroom.

Why is there such an emotional connection with mobile devices? Both smartphones and tablets have the dual advantage of being personal and portable. Unlike the TV, which is another primary source of information and entertainment, a mobile device is strictly customized for individual use. Unlike a computer, mobile devices are designed to be carried everywhere. What they may lack in power, smartphones and tablets make up for in small, lightweight form.

There’s also a highly intangible quality with mobile devices that can best be summed up as the feel-good factor. You can connect instantly with family, friends and colleagues. Games, shopping and sports are a click away. The world is literally at your command. And it’s ready to deliver an instant dose of comfort and happiness with just the swipe of a finger.

Mobile devices are also good at enabling transactions. Unlike a computer which may be used for hours on end in the service of work, research or information browsing, mobile phones and tablets are better designed for the quick hit.

It’s easier to grab a smartphone than a computer to look up the name of an actor in the latest blockbuster movie. It’s faster to check out the latest eBay auctions on a tablet than a PC. And it can be more satisfying to share content and purchase goods on a mobile device than to open up a laptop and be confronted with life’s clutter and demands.

Few marketers and retailers have perfected mobile apps so far, but when apps are done right, the reward for consumers is a focused experience, and the instant gratification of being able to complete a transaction whenever the mood strikes.

Finally, there is one other area where the mobile app world differs from the web. Users are far less forgiving of a poorly designed mobile app than a badly executed website.

Because an app is typically meant to do one thing – share shopping deals, deliver targeted content, offer access to a personal account – users expect it to do that one thing well. This is compounded by the fact that consumers only have enough mental room to accommodate a select few apps for regular usage.

Nielsen reports that 58% of consumer time on mobile apps in the U.S. occurs across only 50 popular apps. If an app doesn’t resonate emotionally or prove useful to a consumer immediately and consistently, there is little chance it will make it into regular user rotation.

Consumers might return to a mediocre website if circumstances warrant it, but once a mobile app is dismissed, there is rarely a second opportunity to make a good impression.

Prescription for native app success
It is much harder to create an effective mobile app than it is to publish a useful website, but the return on investment can be much greater.

The biggest problem is that marketers and retailers haven’t had the tools to optimize, analyze and personalize native apps efficiently. Optimization and customer experience management are well-established on the web, but the same can’t be said for the mobile app market. It’s difficult to track consumer response outside of user reviews, and resubmitting an updated app to an app store is a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

To increase the likelihood of native app success, companies need an effective way to manage the mobile experience. An app should be dynamic. Brands should be able to collect detailed usage data and tune the experience to meet users’ wants and needs.

On a website, companies can assess what’s working and what’s not, and make changes to improve results. Mobile apps should be no different. Only by changing how the app development and publishing processes work can marketers and retailers improve user engagement and drive mobile conversions.

Until recently, there haven’t been many options for mobile experience management, but that’s beginning to change. Native apps need their own management platform, and new technology is starting to emerge that is purpose built for the mobile paradigm.

As mobile experience management software hits the mainstream, companies will have to jump on board to stay competitive. For online marketers and retailers, website optimization alone is no longer enough.

Bob Moul is CEO of

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