One of the downsides of the constantly evolving nature of the Web is that it provides fertile ground for hyperbole.
With changes in digital marketing occurring so swiftly, tech writers and digital thought leaders readily take to blogs to announce the end of what was, seemingly just yesterday, an effective process or technology.
Specifically, I’m referring to the popular tactic of taking a widely used digital platform, say blogging or pay-per-click advertising, or SEO, for example, and authoritatively announcing its demise, simply to create debate and draw attention to the author. This type of link bait, which appears daily on the Web, classically takes the form of:
“Is [insert technology] dead?”
Taken seriously, these types of pronouncements can cause a business to lose focus and even suffer paralysis at critical junctures when they need to be decisive.
I feel for these organizations. How can they possibly make a strategic decision when according to the experts, tomorrow some major marketing channel may disappear, leaving their entire business in the lurch?
Take for example the very serious consideration of how a business will address its mobile strategy. Do they need a native application (i.e., one that is built specifically for the device and is downloaded via an app store)? Or are they simply better off with a mobile-optimized or responsive Web site? (i.e., a Web site that adjusts to the viewing specifications of the user’s device).*
Listening to the Web, you’d be entering a labyrinth from which there would be no way out.
Say, in the Fall of 2013, a business committed to laying out the substantial funds and time required to build a native application. Shortly thereafter, (if they followed digital marketing news closely), they would have come across this, in the January 2014 issue of the Economist:
Ah, so according to this author (Aaron Shapiro of digital agency Huge – by all accounts a digital marketing pioneer), we should all stop building native apps and throw all of our energies into the Web.
“Oh, okay (says the now humbled CEO or marketing manager), we made a mistake going the native app route. Let’s go ahead and build a responsive Web site so that we can take advantage of the efficiencies and cross-device potential of the Web. We now have our mobile strategy down. Excellent.”
Not so fast. Just in time for the new responsive site to go live (May 2014), TechCrunch reports:
Wow. Maybe this poor company should have spent their marketing budget on print ads.
If you're the individual responsible for an organization’s mobile strategy, these debates can leave you with nowhere to turn. That is, if you believe the hype.
The truth is that both native and Web platforms have strengths and weaknesses – but neither of them is outright dying (at least not for the foreseeable future). These positions, unfortunately, are taken by authors trying to stake controversial claims to draw in more eyeballs. This is great for debate fodder and for traffic to the author's Website - but hardly useful in helping companies make the right call.
So what’s a person to do? We say ignore the hype -- and listen to the voice that matters – your user's.
In the end, it’s your customers – where they reside, and how they want to be reached – that should determine which digital paths and platforms to employ.
And this doesn’t mean that you need to undertake an overly elaborate or even scientific approach. It means establishing a good, common sense route, based on a few key considerations:
Look at the numbers
The numbers don’t lie. Especially when it comes to deciding where to spend digital marketing dollars. A simple review of Google Analytics will show how rapidly users are migrating to their mobile device as their main means of reaching your Web presence.
Looking at that same analytics information, are you seeing a significant drop off at the moment of truth – i.e., when a purchase or conversion should be made? This could simply mean revamping a shopping cart process – or it could suggest that users would prefer the stability and smoother checkout afforded by a native app.
Finally, looking at metrics such as Facebook Insights or Twitter Analytics will show how successful users are in both joining and engaging with your social platforms. If you’re seeing a steady but significant shift in traffic from your Website to your Facebook page as an example, it may be time to start investing more in social.
There are a myriad of analytical factors at your disposal – too many to mention here – to help measure user behavior across digital channels. The bottom line is that you can and should be using this information to help make a better choice with respect to the future of your digital presence.
Watch the masses
If you’re starting to see a wholesale shift of an entire audience from one medium to another, you’d be wrong to not at least take a step in that direction. (The obvious current example being that of users moving to mobile from desktop en masse). Granted, in the world of technology, it’s hard to see with great certainty where things are going to be even a few months down the road, but I'm referring to the truly big shifts. In the case of the onset of mobile, this was something buzzed about for years prior to its occurrence.
Actually listen to your users
How often do you ask your customers how they most interact with your business online, or better yet, how they would prefer to interact with the business?
This can be as simple as querying your social media communities (“we’re thinking of developing a mobile-specific Web site for our users – what do you think?)” or as extensive as creating a formal focus group. Basic survey tools like SurveyMonkey can help you gather surprising insights about all types of user needs and preferences, all of which will inform your digital marketing program.
Do the most that you can reasonably do to provide the best possible mechanisms to reach your audience, without putting your business in financial hardship.
For example, if a business can afford to build one, a native app offers a better and more reliable mobile experience than a mobile Web site. After all, it’s built for the phone itself. However, a well-planned and executed native app is expensive, and once you consider that you'll have to build for at least two operating systems (iOS and Android), it may mean a significant dent in overall cashflow.
There are exceptions, i.e., in the case where not making the more expensive move can be detrimental to your business down the line. But, the point is that you should be using budget as mechansim to help refine your available digital options.
And when all else fails, trust your gut
In the end, no one has a better grasp of your business than you. Taking the previous factors into consideration, your own intuition will help you decide how best to reach your users – much more so than some expert's inflated opinion.
While trying to stay informed, it's easy to become bogged down by all the noise that has become the Web. But there are simple tools at your disposal to gauge your customers' behavior and help you make your next move in digital. So, let’s not pay too much attention to all the nonsense about the next “thing” being dead. Don’t be swayed by headlines. Instead, listen to your users; they’ll help guide the way.
* For those of you who are in fact sick of the whole Native vs. Mobile Web debate, we recommend reading John Gruber’s outstanding post Rethinking What We Mean by ‘Mobile Web’, which argues that in the end, "it's all the Web."