Many well-established brands have been turning to millennials to advise them about the best way to grow their businesses digitally. The logic behind this approach is that this generation, which has grown up with social media and the internet, will instinctively know about what online audiences want. The result has been a happy time for established social media platforms, which have received billions in advertising spend, and a boom in the development of mobile websites to cater for consumers who aren’t using a fixed device. In our opinion, it is time to review this approach and wake up to the possibilities that apps can offer businesses instead.
Firstly, it’s important to challenge the view that “millennials” – which is after all a term which can refer to anyone aged between 18 and 40 - have a monopoly on the digital world. A new, younger generation known as Gen Z, currently encompassing 16-20 year-olds, is already displaying different habits online. According to a study by GlobalWebIndex, members of Gen Z are using different social media - shunning Facebook and Twitter in favour of Instagram and Snapchat for example - and spending more time on their phones than on all other electronic devices combined. What’s more, they will happily mix their social activity with online shopping or research on these devices.
Secondly, it is time for brands to stop thinking about their mobile websites as the ultimate destination for consumers. Mobile sites have been popular historically because they can be accessed across platforms, shared easily, and are relatively inexpensive to set up. They are, however, very limited when it comes to personalisation and engagement, and are unable to use many of the features that are inherent in smartphones. They are also less secure. To keep up with the current habits of consumers, brands need to invest in an app. Below are four key reasons why:
If you drive a customer to a mobile website, the presentation of your pages is at the mercy of the browser. Ad blockers or image display restrictions can spoil the look of your site, and a change in the rules - such as Google’s decision to block display ads containing Flash technology – could completely destroy an ad campaign. Keeping up with all the changes to browsers, while ensuring that your content can withstand all the variables of network access, quality, and speedis enough to keep a development team busy full-time.
By contrast, if you use a native app, the problems are dramatically reduced. Working at the level of a device’s operating system means that you are unlikely to experience sudden changes, and you’re able to create a “deep link” from your mobile site which will take the customer seamlessly to the app. It’s important, however, to distinguish native apps from web apps or progressive web apps (PWAs), which are as yet unable to provide the same level of control.
Advertising on third party social media platforms has been highly fashionable. The ability to target specific individuals whose interests relate to a particular product or service area has been very attractive. As everyone is now painfully aware, however, entrusting your whole brand experience to the social media platform of a third party, such as Facebook, can be a risky business. If your customers’ data is in the hands of someone else, you can never be completely confident that you know what will happen to it. Even a browser will conduct an impressive amount of tracking – just take a look at your own Google history, or install an app like Ghosteryto find the full story. An individual device is also far harder to hack than a browser, so an app is inherently more secure than a mobile website.
The tide of public opinion is turning against the social media giants and people are becoming wiser to the fact that their personal data is commercial currency, making this the right time for brands to offer customers their own app. It’s not just about the security – it’s about earning the trust of customers by being able to guarantee that no personal information will be passed on to third parties. With the GDPR coming into force, this matters more than ever from a legal standpoint, but it’s customer confidence and loyalty that will count more in the long term.
A native app makes it possible for you to offer a better and more personalised experience to your customers. We all expect a trusted brand to know what we want and when we want it. If you’ve ever subscribed to a news service from another time zone, you’ll know how annoying it is to receive alerts at two in the morning. You can design an app not only to avoid these issues, but to tap into all the features of a handheld device – from the camera to the location - in order to offer the best possible customer experience. By using location services, for example, your app can identify when a user is standing near a point of interest and use this to alert them of a nearby offer. This simply isn’t feasible for a mobile website.
The final point in favour of an app relates to the action you want the consumer to take. There’s no point in spending thousands of advertising dollars attracting customers unless you persuade them to buy something when they arrive. Consumers will abandona purchase very easily, so it’s essential to keep the number of clicks as low as possible. The most flexible mobile website is generally much harder to navigate than an app, as the original site will have been designed for a much bigger screen. When designing an app, it’s far easier to chart the customer’s path to a specific action, making the experience simpler and far more compelling. The offline functionality also means that a brief break in internet access won’t lose you a sale.
The uptake in mobile apps is increasing. Gartner predicted last year that over 268 billion mobile downloads would generate an income of $77 billion in 2017, while an App Annie report suggests that the app industry will be worth $189 billion by 2020, up from $41.1 billion in 2015. To develop a better, more personalised and more secure relationship with consumers, and to take back control of the customer experience, it’s time for every brand to get an app.