To begin with, let’s clarify the options available to brand marketers who may be considering dipping into or increasing their mobile advertising spend.

We have the mobile website, consisting of browser-based HTML pages. It can display text content, data, images and video, but also access mobile-specific features, such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping.

Then you have apps, which are downloaded and installed on a mobile device rather than being rendered within a browser. Users visit device-specific portals to find and download apps for a given operating system.  

So, the proposition for advertisers looking to invest in app marketing has been quite clear – it offers marketers a better opportunity to target the right audience at the right time. Many would argue that it’s more than that, and that in-app ads capture users’ attention, a bit like cinema ads, and then encourage them to interact without being interrupted. Again, just like ads before the movie, but without being told to turn off your mobile. 

Importance of data

In-app mobile ads are important and the brands’ spend on this medium is certainly going up. The reason this type of advertising works is because it’s supported by location data. This enables advertisers to understand the context of their ad placement, which leads to increased engagement.

As advertisers, we get access to information such as location, weather, demographics and so on to give us a full picture of what’s going on in real time. We can then combine these layers of data and serve ads accordingly. Having access to all these details and being able to use them effectively across the board allows marketers to target their campaigns with greater accuracy and that’s what is turning them towards this medium.Additionally, click rates are much higher with HTML5 ads (wiping, shaking etc., within the ad), and stickiness is greater.

However, before you rush off to spend more of your marketing budget on in-app advertising, you should consider this.  Apps generally work very well on tablets. They work well because people tend to pick up their tablet at home. They’re used primarily for entertainment rather than as a business tool and this lends itself well to apps as viewers get that cinema feel I mentioned earlier.

Different needs

When you consider how most people view apps on their mobile phones, however, the experience is very different. Mobile is much more of a ‘dip in and out’ experience which means the consumption of apps is very different compared to tablets and the results can be very disappointing.

When I was the head of trading at The Mail, we launched Mail Plus, an interactive app that provided a very different user experience to the newspaper and Mail Online. It was expensive to produce and adoption was poor. We found that we achieved more traffic via mobile web than the app and so moved away from it, opting for a flat replica of the newspaper instead. As a result, we saw a huge increase in traffic. We found that users just wanted a copy of the paper available on their tablet.

What we learnt was that the distribution of content was the key.  

Define your goals

If your objectives are related to marketing or public communications, a mobile website will always make sense. This is because a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps, including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness. 

Apps, on the other hand, require the user to first download and install the app from an app marketplace before the content or application can be viewed – a significant barrier between initial engagement and action/conversion.  

The industry can learn from the journey we have taken with mobile advertising and while there are significant returns to be made from in-app marketing and mobile web, the key is to understand consumption and which platform works best for you. 

Research company eMarketer estimates that the total mobile ad spend will top $100Bn by the end of this year. That’s a colossal amount of money. Make sure you spend your slice wisely.