Responsive Design versus Dedicated Apps: Which is better for Your Brand?

Responsive design is the preferred method to disseminate information to a wide audience, but if you desire a close relationship with the user, a mobile, dedicated app will take you much farther.
Branding goes beyond images and slogans. Strong brands elicit opinions, emotions, and responses from customers, penetrating the observer’s heart and mind to elicit an action or a reaction. With the abundant access to data that most companies have today, it is critical to get the right information, often personalized, to resonate with your target audience. As Internet connection speeds have increased, Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous, and web technology has blossomed, we have seen a large jump in the prevalence of mobile-friendly web design and development.

WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE?

While most of us are new to Smartphones, rest assured that the professional organizations behind the apps and mobile web pages are new to them as well. Digital agencies and software companies alike are now learning from our online tendencies in real-time as we move about the world. As such, there is a growing shift toward responsive web design, but abandoning dedicated apps may not necessarily lead to more sales. Responsive design is the preferred method if your goal is to disseminate information to a wide audience. If, however, you desire a close relationship with the user, a mobile, dedicated app will take you much farther.

WHAT ARE OUR TOOLS?

Responsive web design is a technique used to build web pages that adapt based on the size of the user’s screen. The benefit to the developer is having to create only one HTML code for the page. This is a growing trend, even for ecommerce sites, as well as one of our top 4 SEO updates this year.
Kai USA Ltd features a responsive design website for all three of its knife brands, including Kershew.com.
Dedicated apps are written specifically for the platform they are native to, allowing the developer to leverage all of the hardware on the device (often generational).
   
Chase Bank offers mobile apps that combine the benefits of Chase.com with the power of your iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS, MASTER WAYNE

Everything has a limit. Planes can only fly so high, and trains only travel so fast. If you analyze what makes these objects fly or travel, you’ll find an intricate system of components working together to accomplish the task. It may be only one component that constrains the maximum speed of a train. Both responsive design and dedicated apps face the same challenge.
A responsive website is constrained by the web browser (i.e. Google Chrome). A dedicated app is only constrained by the technology of the device (GPU capabilities, camera(s), speakers, etc.). The management paradigm known as the Theory of Constraints tells us, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” Applying this to our topic is not meant to disparage responsive design. Rather, it’s meant to be used as a compass after gathering the requirements of your goal. It’s a business decision that should not be taken lightly as an organization can spend tens of thousands of dollars heading in the wrong direction.

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

My rule for responsive design: Use it when your goal is to quickly and conveniently get information into the hands of your customers. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study shows that 45% of Americans own a smartphone. That’s 144 million people. Not all of them bank with Chase or trade with eTrade.  These smartphone users are browsing the web from their devices dozens of times a day. A study conducted by Sterling Research and SmithGeiger surveyed 1,088 U.S. smartphone users in July 2012. What they found is that 61% of people said they are likely to quickly move to another site if they didn’t find what they were looking for right away. As you consider a new web experience for your customers, consider the implications of an overcomplicated website. If you get most of your customers via phone, your responsive design should showcase the phone number regardless of the device used to access the website.

AN INCH WIDE AND A MILE DEEP

My rule for a dedicated app: Build it if your customers require a deep engagement level with your organization. Take advantage of systems. Connecting to a CRM solution, for example, will yield greater functionality with an app than a responsive web design. It’s all about limiting agents. With a responsive web design, data are still flowing though the web browser, limiting the use of hardware. This means the users may communicate with the server through a variety of devices, so it doesn’t matter if you use an iPhone or Android device.
On the other hand, with a dedicated app, the user experience now draws from the capabilities of the native device.  Take, for example, the Chase Bank iOS app (see above). With this app I can achieve more than by using their responsive website on my iPhone. The usual features persist: checking transaction history and managing multiple accounts. Where the app allows us to go deeper is with key features such as scanning a check into your account. Every week I receive letters in the mail about switching to other banks. They promise lower rates and free toasters. But I am now so engaged with Chase, I refuse to leave them unless, at a minimum, the competing bank has an app that allows me to scan checks from my cell phone.
What to do now?
Examine your brand and identify your goals. If you want to increase your client base, then consider an intuitive responsive design. If you want to increase the engagement and conversion level of your customers, then a dedicated app will set you apart from your competition and allow you to sink your hooks into your customers. Smartphone usage is on the rise and if you’re not advertising to mobile users, you’re missing out on major opportunities. And remember, once you know what to measure, find your baseline and improve your marketing efforts to accomplish your goals.