Mobile Web first – the consensus from mobile experts and global brands… pinch me, I must be dreaming

In 2010, the agenda and presentations at mobile conferences (also mobile awards) tended to focus more on mobile download apps than mobile Web or messaging. This isn’t surprising considering the huge sums that brands had invested in developing and then promoting these apps through advertising and PR/media coverage; not to mention the profits that agencies (often found on the conference rostrum) of all descriptions have made off the back of app mania. However, if the report from the Mobile Insider Summit below is anything to go by then, it seems that in 2011 things will be different, the indication being that “mobile Web first” could be a popular rallying cry on conference stages.

The context
What frustrated mobiThinking and others through 2010 was that these apps stories – so popular at conferences, awards and in the press – were rarely presented in context. The context is that the vast majority of – if not all – brands with the most successful mobile apps, already have the most successful (usually more successful) mobile Web sites and permission databases. Note: comparing performance of mobile Web and apps is difficult because most companies keep performance of mobile apps secret or will only reveal download figures, which are not the best measure of performance, as 1 in 4 mobile apps are never used again once downloaded (according to Localytics).

The concern
It is essential that newcomers to mobile understand that these mobile apps they hear about at conferences are just the latest piece in a mobile strategy that builds on five, if not 10, years of mobile experience (technical skills, customer know-how and opt-in subscribers) with mobile Web, SMS and email engagement. If this isn’t understood, it is only natural that newcomers will expect any old mobile app will deliver a miracle and, unless their agencies give good advice, they could be (and have been) sorely disappointed and out of pocket.
This frustration has been vocalized in the rallying cry of “mobile Web first”. This argues that mobile apps are not the natural starting point for a newcomer to mobile due to the level of sophistication, expense of development and promotion and may exclude most of the customer base. In 2010, it was rare to hear “mobile Web first” at conferences, but if the following report from the Mobile Insider conference is anything to go by, that is all going to change in 2011.

The reality
Nobody is claiming that mobile apps can’t be successful or even more successful than mobile Web. But apps are more likely to deliver ROI for a company that has got mobile Web right first. Take eBay, for example – this is one of few mobile apps success stories that gives a meaningful metric for performance by providing revenue rather than just downloads. In 2010, m-commerce sales on eBay were US $2 billion in 2010 – this is the amount of goods bought and sold via eBay; obviously eBay just takes a margin of these. 78 percent of this is via eBay’s mobile apps for Apple, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and 22 percent of this is via mobile web (mobiThinking was given these figures by Steve Yankovich, vice president mobile, eBay).
eBay’s story raises three questions:
• Would eBay have been so successful with all its apps if it hadn’t done mobile Web first?
• If eBay had ignored mobile Web, it would have missed out on US $440 million in mobile Web sales in 2010 and would have made eBay mobile an exclusive club for Apple, Android and Blackberry owners – is that wise?
• Would the earnings ratio between mobile Web and apps still be the same if eBay had invested the same technical and promotional budget and publicity into the mobile site as it has into mobile apps over the past two years?

The following Mobile Insider article is reproduced with permission from Steve Smith and Media Post.

Lesson from the summit: putting the app before the horse

One of many clear messages that came from the Mobile Insider Summit in Key Biscayne, Florida, is that marketers are following the eyeballs to the mobile platform, but they are being much more disciplined about keeping their own eyes off the bright shiny objects. My read on many of the keynotes and panel discussions was a spirit of getting the basics right.
Google's Jason Spero started us off by showing the staggering growth in mobile searches the company has seen in just the last year. Mobile discoverability is job one. As the networks and devices improve, people are bringing a decade of Web learnings to their handsets, so a mobile Web site is fundamental.
In his day three keynote, Digitas' President Colin Kinsella underscored this need for brands to ensure a smooth mobile experience for customers when they naturally look for you on their phones. The challenge here will be significant, however. As I recall, Kinsella said that about 90 percent of mobile Web searches are clicking on the first result.
I was amazed at how little discussion there was overall about apps, at least relative to recent mobile events. In fact, in her notes to me about the day one roundtable on branded apps, InsightExpress' Joy Liuzzo, the discussion leader, reports many brands thinking deeper. Instead of having executives asking where their iPhone app is, the larger question is, what kind of strategy is behind the app and where is the data going? Perhaps most interesting is that even in a roundtable focusing on branded apps, the consensus was that brands should have their mobile Web sites in order before investing in an app.
On day two, Coca-Cola's Tom Daly brought that idea to a fine point in his very clear declaration of how this mobile pioneer prioritizes mobile efforts. Text is first and foremost, because for a global brand, it is all about reach, Daly reminded everyone. The company's versatility is still impressive. Daly recounted one European example of how enabling text-based mobile payments for a Coca-cola vending machine lifted sales 13 percent. Is there an app for that? After SMS comes the mobile Web - and, only after that, comes an app. In fact, Daly set a very high bar for app developers when he invoked the most beloved Super Bowl ad of them all: Mean Joe Green tossing his towel to a young fan. App makers should be aiming to produce mobile experiences with that kind of story and impact for brands, he suggested. So I gather that Coke's own customizable spin-the-bottle app is not quite what the brand is aiming to achieve on this platform.
None of which is to suggest a growing anti-app sentiment. Throughout the three days of the Summit, I still heard my fair share of CEO app-envy stories. Apparently the worst thing that can happen in first class nowadays is to have a fellow CEO show off his bright shiny new app when you have nothing to show in return. I understand that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been dumped into these vanity apps as a result. One mobile agency CEO admitted they had made a lot of money over the past few years just from companies blindly asking for apps for no particular reason.
One of the most telling bits of app-related data from the Summit came from a custom report Joy Liuzzo did for us about mobile user attitudes and usage patterns. It seems that 25 percent of smartphone users don't even regard their handset as a smartphone. They either don't know they have the extra features or never bought the thing with these enhanced capabilities in mind. But this rather large segment of the supposed smartphone surge acts like feature phone users and rarely engages with apps at all (16 percent) or even plays games (8 percent). These less-than-smartphoners do, however, use the mobile Internet at a higher rate (21 percent) than feature phoners and they do use mobile email (29 percent).
I was also struck by how much more down-to-earth mobile marketing discussions had become in just the last year. The focus has moved from technology to real-world use cases, integration of mobile with other marketing plans, getting the user experience right and leveraging the data. Mobile is starting to sound like a platform that is less emerging and more already here.



More on mobile apps:
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• Do mobile apps deliver ROI?
• Mobile applications: native v Web apps – what are the pros and cons?
• What is a mobile Web app? Here’s expert opinion from the W3C
• The open market approach: Q&A with GetJar, the No1 independent app store
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Follow mobiThinking on Twitter: @mobithinking

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