Media CoverageSeptember 24, 2014

Should publishers choose mobile apps or mobile web?

Native apps have the ability to offer users a much richer experience by accessing device functionality not available via mobile web, providing publishers with entirely new data to act upon.

“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Michael Katz, CEO and co-founder at mParticle.

Although media consumption has shifted to mobile and mobile apps, publisher dollars haven’t followed at the same pace, according to a recent comScore study. As a result, some have suggested that publishers abandon mobile app development in favor of building for the mobile web.

This type of thinking is not only built on faulty logic, it misses the big picture. The reality is that apps can unlock new and valuable data-driven opportunities for publishers and marketers.

Choosing whether to build a mobile website or a native app is a question that every media and commerce organization must ask itself as it readies for the future. But native apps and mobile web are two completely different consumer experiences. As such, they should be viewed as complementary, rather than competitive.

Native apps have the ability to offer users a much richer experience by accessing device functionality not available via mobile web. By accessing device features such as the camera, accelerometer, GPS, microphone, address book and photos, apps have the capability to offer truly innovative experiences to users. These premium experiences, even while offering ad placements, should be thought of differently.

In native apps, data is the real opportunity as properly architected apps can capture an entirely new data asset. One example would be incorporating geospatial data into content consumption. Understanding not only what the user is doing but where they are doing it can have a significant impact on personalization engines. These new, powerful data opportunities can not only augment existing data sets, they can create entirely new opportunities to engage with users both inside and outside of the app.

But there are several other factors that must be considered when deciding how to best allocate investment in mobile. Mobile web allows server-side control and maintenance, and the cost of labor to develop and maintain mobile web properties is significantly less expensive as well. Therefore, if speed and simplicity are the most important factors, mobile web is the way to go. And with more traffic moving to mobile, mobile web has the opportunity to support larger advertising commitments. The single biggest benefit to mobile web, in my opinion, is still discoverability through search and social. Getting your app discovered, if it is not already a popular or featured app, can be an expensive undertaking. Whereas getting users to visit a site has far less friction once a user already has a browser open.

This friction is also why apps have so much value for publishers. Since the process of downloading and using an app has far more friction than browsing a web page, a company’s app user base tends to be comprised of its most loyal and engaged users, often times those with the highest lifetime value. Because of this, the data is the real prize in app usage, not the ad dollars. Investing in creating premium experiences to drive users toward app engagement is a long-term play and must be thought of as incremental with long-term advantages complementary to the immediate, yet very important, ad revenue captured from users passing by a mobile site.

The reality for publishers is that we are moving very quickly toward a world where “mobile-first” is table stakes and publishers as well as marketers must develop a holistic mobile strategy leveraging all the device capabilities.

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