The Reality Show of Apps Vs. Responsive Sites

One of the great joys of reality TV is watching two people have a huge argument, with neither of them being close to right.

You can get the same impression today when marketers talk about whether you should create a mobile app or a responsive website. You’ll find plenty of arguments for each side, with some people giving you guidelines for choosing the one that’s right for you.

Here’s the problem. It’s a false choice. Responsive websites are great—all websites should be responsive. But people like apps a lot more than the mobile web. According to Flurry, they spend 86% of their device time using them, a percentage that seems to be growing. Why would that be?  Well, apps and sites have only one thing in common: you find them on mobile devices. In many ways they serve different purposes.

Responsive sites are old school, pull marketing. Done right, they attract users. If people are searching for your brand on a mobile device, they should be able to find it. Especially on a map. But apps do much more than pull: they give brands an unprecedented ability to push their messages. You can reach out to people, wherever they are, at any time.

Obviously, with great power comes great ability to annoy, and brands have to be careful. So let’s look at a few apps that get it right. This is by no means a list of the best ones out there—a lot of times great apps make bad models. Instead, these apps show a good grasp of what you can do to make your brand relevant, useful, and successful on mobile devices.

The PGA Tour

Sports tend to be well ahead of the game at apps, and the PGA Tour is no exception. When a tournament is going on, you can customize the app to receive instant updates via push notification. If you attend an event in person, however, the app really shines. Using iBeacon technology, it knows where you are, and can send you promotions or simply tell you what you are missing on another hole.

 Folgers Alarm Clock

This one shows up on few lists of best apps, but it’s smart and cute. Folgers Coffee wakes you up, and so does the app, quite literally. It’s relevant, on brand, and gives you a terrific reason to keep it on all the time.

Duane Reade

Based in New York, the drugstore chain Duane Reade has a concentrated, wired clientele. It has taken advantage of that with one of the most aggressive digital testing strategies of any retailer. At different times, it has used weather to trigger coupons and iBeacons to target customers based on where they are in one of its stores. Much of the work seems to be ongoing, as the brand tries to zero in on what people want from its app. That makes it a great place to see research in action.

Weber On the Grill

This app is a bit different in that Weber charges for it. While the app doesn’t aggressively market the brand, it can easily become your default source of information about grilling. It can also push tips and other information. Whenever its users go grill shopping, the brand will certainly be part of the conversation.

Like I said, you shouldn’t look at this as a list of top apps. Instead, they show the differences between app makers who get it, and those that are merely focusing on purchasing. The best apps realize their place and try to be there when they are most needed or useful. That allows them to message effectively and become a bigger part of a customers’ lives.  It also ensures the app will have a longer lifespan on a user’s device.

So let’s stop all the shouting about responsive sites and mobile apps. You have to do the former. The latter is where the opportunity lies. Any arguments?


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