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5 Mobile Content Strategy Investments to Replace Native Apps

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Dear Mr. Ruyter,

My name is John Doe and I represent the mobile technology firm ABC Company, Inc. While looking at your company’s digital presence, I noticed that you have a mobile-friendly Webite, but your brand lacks a mobile application. We at ABC Company would like to help you close this gap by offering our services in mobile app development.

Can we book just thirty minutes to discuss this missed opportunity and how ABC Company, Inc. can assist you in catching and surpassing your local and regional competition’s mobile efforts?

Sincerely,

John Doe

Inside Sales, ABC Company, Inc.


The above letter is a fictionalized summary of my professional life in 2015. As a marketing leader, I received messages similar to the above from technology providers and agencies at least once per week, if not more frequently.

My first inclination when reading a pitch like this is likely similar to what yours or other marketing professionals’ would be: “Oh my gosh, they’re right. We don’t have a mobile app. We need one!” I made researching mobile marketing strategies my mission in early 2015, because I felt like I was behind the curve and needed to catch up–fast.

Mobile Apps: The “Haves” and “Have-Nots”

There are many stats out there about the proliferation and popularity of mobile applications. Sure, mobile app usage has seen a spike in recent years and overall mobile (app and Web) use is still on the rise. But when someone tries to talk me into building a mobile app, the first question I always ask is: Why?

If you dig deeper into the mobile app usage stats, only a handful (between 5 and 25, depending on who you ask) of apps dominate the usage metrics (80 – 90 percent) most of us marketers are used to seeing. Among my favorite research pieces are this one from The Guardian and this article from Morgan Stanley via Marketing Land. They’re my favorites because they’re both from reputable sources, they’re only eighteen months apart, and yet their conclusions are vastly different. Take, for example, these two quotes:

From The Guardian, quoting their source, Flurry (now part of Yahoo): “one thing is clear—apps have won and the mobile browser is taking a back seat.”

From Morgan Stanley: “US mobile browser audiences are 2X larger than app audiences across the top 50 mobile Web properties and have grown 1.2X faster over the past 3 years.”

The whole topic really comes together in a December “Whiteboard Friday” discussion from Rand Fishkin at Moz. The path to answering the question of whether you should develop a mobile app or focus elsewhere is a winding one and I think Rand’s article and video provide a great overview of when to choose apps and when to choose mobile Web.

Macro photo of a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Shiny Things vs. Relevant Research

I almost fell victim to a combination of my own knee-jerk reaction, a shallow knowledge of mobile trends and a little vendor pressure. I knew mobile was growing, but until I researched the details and framed those details in relation to my specific scenario, I was heading in the wrong direction and didn’t even know it.

I think many of mobile stats presented to us are nothing less than misleading for the majority of companies, driven by organizations trying to sell unnecessary and expensive digital products. Data are just numbers, and numbers can be shaped to tell any story we choose to represent—especially when context isn’t carefully considered. Rand’s statement summed it up best regarding mobile apps:

“Because if you’re not going to be best in class, app world just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it.”

Mobile apps are still worth researching, but what if you come to the same conclusion that I have? Where should you divert the resources you would otherwise devote to building and maintaining a mobile app? A few of my favorite alternatives to mobile apps are provided below.

Top 5 Alternatives to Mobile Apps for Marketers

Mobile app development isn’t right for every organization. If you’re looking for a few alternatives to investing in an app, below are my top five favorites.

1. Web-Optimized Mobile Content Strategy

What do both a mobile Web and mobile app have in common in almost every scenario? Content, of course. You can’t build a mobile website without it, nor can you create an app without content. If one of your primary app goals would have been simple content delivery and helping your customers by providing them with information, don’t bother building an app for that. Spend your time and budget improving your mobile content strategy and optimizing for things like microdata meta tag optimization, schema mapping, lowering your page load times, and other incremental changes. Individually, these improvements may provide only a marginal return, but when combined they can show some serious ROI.

2. Advanced Mobile Web Experiences

There are very few functionalities relevant to the majority of tasks we marketers ask our customers to perform that can’t be done on the mobile Web. A few of my favorite functionalities that likely aren’t in our mobile Web experiences but should be include location-aware features (i.e.: “near me”), mobile alerts and push notifications, and even an “offline mode” via Service Worker HTTPS events that send secure data from the device to the Web as a connection becomes available to the user. As a marketer, you can essentially simulate a mobile app experience on the mobile Web with some of these functionalities.

Mobile Web vs Mobile App Functional Comparison Tool

3. Topical and Detailed Video Content

I am passionate about video content for marketing and know that others share this perspective. I still believe that too many marketing teams feel that mobile video is out of reach, and that’s just not the case. Video is really a cross-channel, multi-platform content resources and, unlike mobile app development, can be more incrementally scaled. Relevant statistics also show that mobile video consumption may actually be outgrowing mobile app use, and is a perfect alternative investment opportunity for many brands.

4. Detailed Email Marketing Nurturing Campaign

Email marketing is another tactic that has been proven time and time again to be worthy of the investment. That said, I’ve seen that email marketing receives some attention from most marketers, but not nearly as much as it’s worthy of receiving. Simple newsletters and a few “thank you” emails don’t constitute an email marketing strategy.

Instead of investing in that expensive mobile app, why not take the time to define and build refined email marketing triggers, customer personas and their sales journeys along with the content necessary to support those campaigns? I’m confident you’d see a lift in your revenues far in excess of what a mobile app would provide.

5. Social Media Campaign Strategy and Supporting Content

Despite its increasingly pay-to-play nature, I still feel that social media marketing strategies provide among the best return to marketers. The key to leveraging social really comes down to the value you provide to your potential customer. An effective content strategy, along with strong customer and sales support can provide infinitely more opportunities for growth over a mobile app, and usually with a much smaller price tag as well.

Don’t get me wrong, brands like Uber and Airbnb’s app-as-the-product approach have proven that the right mobile app can become a powerful force as the we continue to move toward an untethered digital world. Unlike Uber or Airbnb, the vast majority of us won’t build our app to produce a product and won’t see the returns we’d like to on our mobile app investments. It’s the responsibility of us, as marketing leaders, to carefully examine our own situations, customers, and goals before committing to any mobile marketing strategy.

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