Mobile Marketing: Native App or Responsive Website? Which one's right?

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Marketers today usually have to choose between developing a native app or a responsive website for their mobile marketing strategy. Here are the pros and cons of both to help you choose one, or go for both, depending on your strategic goals.

You don't need to rush and build a mobile app just because every one seems to be doing it. In most cases a mobile-ready site ("responsive" is ideal) will meet most requirements. Mobile apps in general, allow for more creativity, and better interaction with your target audience. Once you know, how your target audience or your customers use mobile to interact with your brand or any brand, you can decide whether you need a mobile-ready website, an app, or both. So start with point one: Insight.
In any form of digital marketing, consumer or customer insight is your first and most important step.

Mobile marketing basic: Native App or Responsive Website?

It's a basic decision: are you going to make your website or web presence 'mobile friendly' or 'mobile ready' or will you invest in developing a native mobile application? For 'mobile friendly' web content, you may choose a responsive website or a web app. For a native app, you'll need to develop a platform specific app (or apps across multiple platforms) that your audience will have to download from the app store.

Before you start, you need to make sure your mobile marketing fundamentals are done right. Here are 5 Simple Ways to get your Mobile Marketing Done Right.

Responsive and Adaptive websites

There are two types of mobile friendly websites: Responsive and Adaptive, and the Responsive option by far is the clear leader when it comes to which option most brands go for. A responsive website self-adapts or automatically adapts itself to the device it is being viewed on – from your web-tv at home to your smartphone. An adaptive website has pre-set sizes in which it is displayed. This gets complicated : if you plan to develop via adaptive web, you will have to develop for every screen size out there.

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Responsive Website: The Pros and Cons

The first real advantages of developing a responsive website are both time and money. Compared to a native app, a responsive website involves a lot less effort and time, and naturally, costs a lot less.

The reason developing a responsive website requires less time and money is that just one development initiative allows your website to be viewed on most modern mobile browsers. Responsive web developers don’t need to adhere to any OS guidelines or permissions, as they are developing a website that isn’t distributed through the app stores.

Keep in mind however, that a responsive website has some limitations...

• An Internet Connection is a must for the responsive website to work. It pulls information directly from the browser, which means that your site won’t be available anytime, anywhere. This might disappoint your users and won’t be helpful for your business if your goal is to be found and be available in any context.

Intent is the new black in digital marketing. In-the-moment marketing is what's hot. This is absolutely critical to keep in mind, when you are developing a strategy. Will your decision between app vs responsive web answer to this important factor? An app may be better as an option here.

• Responsive doesn't always feel native or natural. The look and feel of the website is different because UI and UX conventions for iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and other operating systems are different. User expectations and navigation habits are different as well. Building a presence that is going to be the same for each OS and the web, often does not feel natural and native to users on individual OS platforms.

• Performance issues often arise with a common responsive site that works across desktops and mobiles. Depending on how the site is designed and developed, some aspects like larger images, animation, long form content, specially videos etc behave differently across desktop and mobile. Heavy content also causes a lot of data consumption, and slower downloads on mobile.

• Notifications and functionality are also problems with responsive. Push notifications are a immediately visible and extremely effective way to attract the user’s attention. They can only be used in mobile apps and will not work via responsive web. Functionality wise, your responsive website can’t access phone functions outside of the browser like the camera or calendar or say, a contact list. These limit both performance and creativity in the design of its functions. Technologies like QR codes, voice recognition, and augmented reality can’t be used with responsive web on mobile devices.  These need a native app to work.

Native Apps : Pros and Cons

Right off the bat, from an audience experience point of view, native apps are better off. Native apps are usually more expensive because developers create a unique design and code for each OS – iOS, Android etc. There are different approval processes that each OS requires, which often takes a lot of time. But, generally, when it comes to quality, speed, and ways of utilising capabilities of the smartphone – the native app comes out stronger.

• Internet connection is not always needed. Native app users don't always need an internet connection. After the app is downloaded, it is stored on their device, which means they can access it on the go, anytime, anywhere. That's the best part about mobile. And native apps deliver here.

• Performance and Functionality is better on a native app. Elements in a native app are designed specifically for mobile – so issues like load time, large file downloads, huge images etc are no issues because apps load faster and provide a better in-depth experience.

An app has access to all of the mobile device’s functions because the app is installed on it and works in tandem with other native tools on the device. A native app is also more secure. When users connect with your brand on a native app, they are't exposed to all the security issues and trackers on the web.

• Your brand is right there – and access is easy. Your brand, product or service will always be there with an app on your user's device. A responsive website is a 'pull' action – one has to go and find it, and access it via a browser. Once your app is downloaded, your presence will be on their screens and if you got your app strategy right, on top of mind – every time they use their smartphone.

Yes, native app development cost more time and money that a one-off responsive website, but there are many advantages to the app option as highlighted above.

Understand Mobile and App Marketing Strategy Essentials first before you jump into a decision between native app or responsive web.

I've been in several client meetings where I am asked which one's right. There is no short, quick, easy answer. Often brands do both, and sure, if you've got the time, the effort and the money, that's the best way to go. Do both. That's the basics of mobile. That's the fundamentals of digital marketing strategies 101.

If I missed something, please add in your comments. And please do share this information by using the social buttons below. Thanks.


Very useful article. Most of us in marketing today are confused about which way to go, and the safe bet is to go with with both native app and responsive website. But if a marketing decision is based on time and money, as mentioned, a responsive website is often enough to do the job. While the points mentioned in favour of the mobile app, they are not always crucially important, and the responsive web is good enough.

Worthwhile mentioning here is the slow disappearance of the mobile specific website like the m. sites. Today, these have become less visible and correctly so.


Great article. But still confused. Did not define the way to go?


Good clear points on both sides of the Responsive web vs App debate. Most brands will do both, but I guess it depends on a budget,


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Great post! I have written a similar article! If you don't mind, could I add some your info into my article. with a link to you?


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