The Great Enterprise Debate: When to Use a Mobile App vs. Mobile Messaging for Customer Engagement


The Great Enterprise Debate: When to Use a Mobile App vs. Mobile Messaging for Customer Engagement

By TMCnet Special Guest
Steve French
  |  May 05, 2015

There is an ongoing debate regarding which mobile channel is best for customer engagement: a mobile app or mobile messaging? Mobile apps are getting lots of press, but IDC predicts that 45 percent of mobile enterprise app initiatives will be delayed or go over budget in 2015. Meanwhile, the enterprise mobile messaging industry is booming due to the widespread use of application-to-person messaging, which is predicted to be worth $70 billion by 2020.

As enterprises begin to further integrate mobile into their business processes and backend systems, they are diving deeper into the comparative pros and cons of apps and messaging. While they both have their benefits and shortcomings, it’s important that organizations deciding on their mobile engagement strategies understand the differences between each to determine when to use which for a particular customer or employee engagement use case.  

Let’s Get Technical

According to GSMA (News - Alert), there are more than 3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide using 6 billion connected devices. For the best customer engagement, companies need to consider compatibility and reach to these users. Mobile apps are supported on smartphones and tablets. Therefore, if a company’s target audience is smartphone and tablet users who are looking for a rich experience, a mobile app might be the best choice. Meanwhile, a more traditional mobile messaging channel, like SMS, is compatible with all mobile phones, making it a ubiquitous technology that can reach all users. For mobile engagement, the ability to reach all customers is often the number one priority. Furthermore, because all mobile phones natively support SMS, and it is one of the most used features on these devices, it is one of the quickest and most effective tools for direct interaction. In fact, 90% of text messages are opened within five minutes of delivery. Mobile apps, on the other hand, must be discovered, downloaded, learned and actually used regularly in order to promote ongoing engagement.

What About the User?

Providing a powerful experience is a mobile app’s strong suit. Apps are very effective for businesses targeting high-value users seeking a feature-rich experience – the top 5 to 10 percent power-user customers. Additionally, by tapping into the native functionality of smartphones, like the camera and GPS, businesses can create more personal user exchanges within a mobile app and offer a more extensive and interactive experience.

Interestingly enough, this higher quality user experience doesn’t necessarily translate to a higher frequency of use. Just because an app has been downloaded doesn’t mean that customers are using it. In fact, 90 percent of apps are deleted after one use. Alternatively, SMS is often the most frequently used feature on mobile phones. Furthermore, mobile messaging can still offer users a personal and interactive experience through support for features like clickable URLs, click to call, and multimedia messages via MMS.

Implementation is Key

The final puzzle piece to deciding between an app or mobile messaging strategy is evaluating the requirements for development and implementation. For example, mobile messaging can be enabled in anywhere from one to eight weeks, depending on the type of service. SMS short codes, often used for marketing use cases, can take six to eight weeks to receive U.S. carrier approval and implement. But, enabling U.S. long codes for non-marketing use cases (e.g., order or shipping alerts) or text-enabling landlines or toll-free numbers (e.g., call centers / customer support) can be provisioned in less than a week. The average brand mobile app, on the other hand, takes around three to six months to develop. Depending on a company’s specific engagement needs, and the time to market it requires, one solution is often better than the other.

When considering a mobile app and mobile messaging, it is clear that each has its strengths: A very feature-rich user experience for smartphone and tablets users with applications, versus the ubiquitous reach, simplicity of use, and widespread engagement opportunities mobile messaging affords to businesses. When deciding between the two, some enterprises have an obvious best option, while more and more companies are choosing to implement both – to make the biggest impact on engagement throughout the entire customer lifecycle. The first step in developing a quality mobile engagement strategy is fully understanding the business objectives, end user goals, and evaluating all of the mobile engagement options available. By taking into account the specific use case(s), the type of users a business is trying to reach, and the timeline of the implementation, an enterprise can determine which of these mobile technologies will help achieve the objectives they are trying accomplish.

Steve French is global vice president of product management and marketing at mobile engagement company OpenMarket ( 

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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