Everything you need to know when choosing between an app or a website

October 8, 2021

Steve Jobs said, “There’s an app for that.” And look what happened to him. 

Only joking. As a technology consultancy that is technical and works with marketing smarts, we’re great admirers of the late Apple CEO. But the truth is: while every business needs (at minimum) a site, not everyone needs an app to go with it. 

Some put up a holding page on WordPress and focus all their energies on climbing the ranks at the App Store. While others treat their site as the be-all-and-end-all and concentrate on engaging customers without even optimising for mobile. 

The crux: while applications and websites share some common ground, people use them in different ways for different tasks. So how do you decide which side you’re on? Site front, app centre, or a mix of both?

It might sound strange that an app-savvy agency might question your decision to develop an app. But at Purr our focus is on….

Reducing short term mindsets through proactivity

Eliminating technology silos through unification

Helping our clients stay up to date with trends to maintain relevance

And helping them become more competitive through digital resonance

Despite what you might think, our focus is not on how many billable hours our coders can log. So we came up with this quick-and-dirty model for your decision making. As always, we’d love to hear what you think of it—so after you’ve given it a read, why not contact us for a chat?

A model: promoting a position vs. enabling an action

Among the oldest concepts in brand, marketing is positioning. Variants include the value proposition and USP, but they’re all related: it’s all about what impression of your company you want to create in the customer’s mind. 

When someone thinks about you, what do they feel?

The various brands of beer, car, and supermarket all fulfill the same function—but Stella occupies a different space in your head to Desperado, as does Aldi to Waitrose. The products are much the same—in the case of, say, Audi and Skoda, exactly the same under the skin—but the positionings are different.

And positionings aren’t an accident. Innocent Drinks set out deliberately to make health more amusing. Nike’s is empowerment through sport. Apple’s is about taking delight in creativity. What matters here is that a brand positioning is separate to the product or service on offer. And it’s something you, as a company offering products and services, can actively choose.

The lean-back experience: to enjoy and be entertained

Here’s the thing: a brand positioning is built through sensory experiences. Words, visuals, watching videos, listening to music. It’s a lean-back activity, where you’re absorbing the bits and pieces of a brand and forming an overall impression.

Most of the time, the bigger your canvas, the more completely you can convey your brand positioning. That’s why brand advertising tends to be full of exciting visuals, intoxicating guitar riffs, and human stories. It’s also why people still buy big-screen TVs and outdoor media (posters) haven’t faded away. 

Building your impression of a brand is largely a passive experience: seeing, hearing, absorbing information. You’re in the audience, and the brand is performing to you.

Lean-forward: when you’re in the mood for action

Let’s contrast that lean-back experience with lean-forward: when you’re less interested in being entertained, and seeking to get something done. You want to complete a task. Whether that task is to pay a bill, fill in a form, or impress your Tinder target in the corner of the bar.

When you’re task-oriented, you’re doing the performing: it’s an active experience. The best apps recognise this and focus huge efforts on making sure their UX (User Experience) assists the consumer in reaching their goals as quickly and easily as possible. 

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SIDEBAR: Where apps score over sites

Apps are built to execute actions more than display information. So if your business need is to drive user behaviour by providing them with tools they can use on the go, prefer an app. If you want to display large quantities of information, focus on your site. If you want to connect to data sources in real-time, both can work. As always, Purr can help.

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Few companies do both well. Virgin is great at branding (some might say it’s all brand) but has famously hard-to-use customer applications. Expedia is brilliantly task-focussed, but its brand is a capital-M Meh. While some companies, of course, do manage both. Amazon is both a fascinating emporium and shopping trip, both fun to browse and easy to order on, whether you’re using a large laptop or compact phone.

But most companies know what their priorities are. And that’s a useful way to determine whether your focus should be on building an app or improving your website. Is your business goal to build a distinct brand positioning … or to get people to use your product or service? 

Now for our model. (Yes, it’s yet another version of the “Boston Matrix” from BCG Consulting.)

Now ask yourself two questions. 

  1. How much do I need to build a distinct brand positioning?
  2. How much do I need to enable customer actions?

Both your answers will be driven by your business goals. If you’re in a niche market with few direct competitors, you’ll be more interested in making sure the market knows who you are and what you do. If you’re a pile-it-high retailer whose profits come from high-volume sales, you’ll prefer an outcome that enables lots of purchases.

SIDEBAR: Real-life examples

Answer the two Q’s with two dots on the model above. First dot first. 

For your brand positioning, think about how desperately you need to differentiate your product or service from others, and whether you want to create that impression by visuals and videos alone (as beer and food advertisers do) or by training people to use your product (as Amazon and most software companies do.) If you’re all visual, put your dot hard in the top left corner. If you’re all about teaching and training your customers, put it further to the right. 

Just for reference: Virgin would be top left. Innocent would be at the top, halfway along the first box. Apple would be close to Innocent.

For your enabling action, place another dot judged on how strongly you need to acquire and convert paying customers. If you’re a faceless big-box retailer, you’ll be squarely at the bottom right, with no other goal except to drive today’s sales. (Which is perfectly fine. Many web retailers never bother with brand positioning.) But if spurring your customers into action needs them to have feelings for you too, slide that dot upwards. (Most consumer products that aren’t essentials fall into this category. If you want consumers to reorder pods for their coffeemaker, you’ll need to remind them of how rich its aroma is, too.)

Government sites where you pay your taxes, of course, should be all the way to the right. (However rarely do their apps deliver.) Audi would be a bit out towards the right—it still wants to sell cars, after all, not just interest drivers in them—but still on the left, in the upper lefthand quadrant. (Since Audi buyers have generally made their decision to purchase before they go near a showroom.) Amazon, by the way, would be all the way to the right … but more than halfway up. Caring both about the buying experience and how the customer feels. 

So you’ve got your two dots. Now let’s do something with them, to decide whether your focus should be on developing an app, improving your website … or both.  

Joining the dots: interpreting your answers

Short version: if both your dots are in or near the top left quadrant, you need a website more than you need an app. (You’re more interested in getting your name known.) But if both dots are nearer the bottom right, you should focus more on your app. (You’re more interested in driving sales.)

If your first dot is in the bottom left square but your second dot is in another, you should definitely concentrate on your app, or on improving the mobile version of your website. Because you want to empower customers to embark on a buying journey, and the lean-forward nature of an app enables that. 

While if your first dot is in the top right box, but your second is elsewhere, it’d be wise to take a look at updating your website. Because this suggests you want customers to harbour strong emotions about your brand—in other words, you want to stake out territory in their minds—but you also want to leverage that brand equity into greater sales.

One more thing to think about. How close are your dots?

When people look at a website, they’re in the mood to learn and be entertained: something interesting to read, watch or drool over. When people open an app, they’re goal-driven: seeking to complete an action by clicking, swiping, driving a journey forward.  

If your dots are close, it suggests you need to work on both your website and your app and make them work together as seamlessly as possible. That may mean separate versions of a website tailored for large and small screens; it may mean a single application that adapts to different form factors; it may mean a website whose sole purpose is to draw attention to your mobile app. 

If both your dots are at the bottom left, you’re already a market leader. While there are still things Purr can do for you, we’ll probably get along better if at least one dot is at top left, top right, or bottom right. Because our experience runs the gamut: marketing savvy that matches technology to your customer journey, technical expertise that can implement complex marketplace technology solutions and rich user experiences, and above all a consultative approach that starts with the question: what does success look like to you as a business and to your customers?

CONCLUSION

In summary: the more your business relies on a strong positioning, the more you need a branded site that delivers rich experiences to the senses; the more you rely on a volume of transactions, the greater your need for a great app. We hope this simple model aids your thinking. Whilst we hope this has helped start your decision-making process, there are many other considerations when choosing between a website or an app. In part 2 of this mini-series of blog posts, we’ll be exploring the costs, complications and realities of building and maintaining apps and websites 

And we’d like to go further. Website, mobile app, or a beautiful combination of the two, our team—virtual at present, but spanning 20 professionals from the worlds of digital technology consultancy, web development and app development — is ready to talk. 

Fancy talking us through an exciting project you have? Get in touch today