Earning your place: does your brand actually need an app?

Originally featured by The Drum, June 2021.


Almost a decade and a half after the debut of the iPhone, does your brand actually need an app, when an excellent mobile website might do the same job? 

I bought a foldable mobile last month (yes, I am that person). When it comes to tech, I’m a researcher. I covered a lot of ground to make sure I didn’t miss the best one. But, if I’d downloaded the app of every website that offered me one during the search, I’d have about 10 new apps clogging up my shiny foldable screen by now that I would have no regular use for.

Apps can provide a brilliant customer experience for users, and unrivaled behavioral and transactional data for brands. But it seems to have become almost a forgone conclusion that every business needs an app. If you’ve got a well-designed and user-focused website that works perfectly on any device or screen size, what are you actually adding to your customer’s journey or experience by offering them an app? I strongly believe that every app, and brand, has to work hard to earn a place on a user’s phone/tablet/watch/fridge.

Why have an app?

An app can be a great core way to connect with your customers and can provide a brand with really fantastic data insights, especially when used in conjunction with other channels such as email, SMS and social. This, in turn, is great for driving measurable and attributable ROI.

However, you should only commit your time and resources to developing an app if you’re offering something to me as a user that makes my life easier – a cool or slick customer experience that is elevating what I could get from your website – or you’ve already proven to me that your brand is one I trust and has become one of the main places I will always look for that service or product.

That’s it. Follow those rules and, for a brand, there is loads to be gained.

Take fast food ordering, for example. If a customer orders in person or over the phone then you get the money but no personal insights. If they order on your app then you get usable first-party, transactional data plus behavioral data. So it’s super tempting to dive into developing an app.

For the user, the experience of using the app to complete a transaction has to have tangible benefits; quick access to their favorites, contact-free payment, order history, Apple or Google pay, or loyalty rewards.

It’s got to be really great because you’re asking the user to accept less choice and, instead, come straight to you. Conversely, if I Google something, I have an immediate set of results from multiple brands and I can compare and find the offering that matches my full set of criteria.

Why not have an app?

It’s those tangible benefits that are key. If all an app is doing is taking a mobile website and putting it on your home screen, that’s not a worthwhile investment.

Think of a retailer that sells one thing, such as electronics. What benefit is it to have that app on my home screen?

How about a 10% discount if I download it? If you’re offering that alone, it’s a one-hit wonder in the making. It’s not the intangible benefit that persuades me to download the app. There’s no point in offering unrelated discounts or perks and not actually looking at customer behaviors. That could be done with emails or flyers. If it’s a bribe, it’s snackable value and not meaningful in the long term.

Your app must be easier to open than the website. Offer your user a slick experience and ensure they get more out of it than they are putting in. Value can be added in the form of easy access to customer service through video calls or chat; push notifications that provide useful info, not just more marketing messages; or being able to use your camera to scan products or your biometrics to log in, for example.

Where to start

First, ask yourself, is the website utterly amazing? Apps aren’t there to make up for shortcomings with your website. Ensure it’s nice to use, that it’s easy to find everything you want and that users feel serviced. Are you adding to brand equity every time someone’s in your world?

Next, ask how an app is going to elevate that. What’s better for the user about using your app? Through consistently good brand experience – in store, on social media, CRM – prove to your users that they are valuable and that they will get out more than they put in.

If you’ve done your app well, it becomes that key touchpoint of the relationship between you and your users. An app has to build upon the amazing service you already provide and be used more than once. An app for app’s sake will only frustrate.


Originally featured by The Drum, June 2021.