In-App Versus Open Web: Adopting Strategies for Optimal Customer Engagement

Optimizing mobile engagement requires an understanding of what both avenues offer and how they can be used effectively for customer engagement.

mainad logoThe mobile app market is booming — expected to drive revenues of $189 billion next year — but a new crop of advertising options is set to send growth into overdrive. Google has opened up Discover inventory, Spotify sponsored playlists are now available to international brands, and Instagram is paving the way for instant purchase ads.

So, is the writing on the wall for open web advertising? Not necessarily. Aside from the fact many app opportunities are still in their fledgling stages, the power of the open web remains firm. Optimizing mobile engagement requires an understanding of what both avenues offer and how they can be used effectively. 

Apps: The Rising Mobile Star

The best-known benefit of apps is a potent hold on consumer attention. Of the three hours and 43 minutes Americans spend on their smartphones daily, apps absorb over 90% (2:57). The strong appeal of audio apps — which clock 50 minutes per day — makes Spotify’s latest venture especially attractive. Now extended beyond the US, its sponsorship initiative will allow brands across Australia, Canada, Latin America, and the UK to engage global users via its weekly customized playlist. That’s not to mention Spotify’s other forays into voice ads.

But reach isn’t the only plus point. Because users are often signed in, and providing they give their consent, app developers can collect vast stores of individual data: the ideal basis for personalized ads that align with specific locations, habits and needs. Social media networks are the leaders in this field. Major players such as Instagram provide both sizeable impact  — inspiring 72% of users to make purchases — and the opportunity to target granular audience segments. And, its new Checkout feature also raises the prospect of quick-fire conversions with users going from post to purchase in one click, once ads enter the mix. 

Open Web: An Underestimated Tool

Although mobile browsing accounts for a smaller slice of user time, it still plays a crucial role in the way consumers discover and interact with brands. Last year, 185.5 million people used their smartphone to surf the internet or research products, and mobile web drives the bulk of retail site traffic. What’s more, aside from a significant effect on audience behavior and buying decisions, the open web has many assets of its own.

For starters, there is scale. The ability to serve ads across the open web means possible campaign reach is colossal; instead of being restricted to app users. With mass exposure comes a chance to increase the depth of consumer insight: harnessing data from an extensive range of sites to improve individual understanding and targeting accuracy, particularly if data is analyzed using intelligent machine learning tools that spot and act on user trends.

Similarly, the web also offers more creative variety. Not only can browsers support multiple high-impact formats that would be disruptive within apps, such as large banners and videos, but they can also host innovative ads. See, for example, the infamous Netflix campaign promoting season four of Black Mirror, where a full-screen banner was displayed to ad-block users bearing the intriguing message “You can’t see the ad. But the ad can see you.” 

The Verdict: Which Is Better for Mobile Success?

Mobile advertising shouldn’t necessarily be a case of in-app versus open web. Alongside their unique advantages, both of these environments have specific and shared downsides. For instance, the scale of in-browser campaigns can be a disadvantage: making it difficult to engage niche audiences and putting advertisers in direct competition with high volumes of other brands. Meanwhile, limited user numbers and format capacity may give brands less choice when advertising in app. And neither the open web nor in-app ads are immune to common Digital Advertising issues, including increasing ad blocking, brand safety and user tracking challenges.

This makes it essential for brands to stop seeing browser and app-based ads as separate entities, and start using them as complimentary forces that help meet different strategic goals. For example, in-app advertising might be ideal for a campaign aimed at the final nudge; serving tailored ads to a select groups of users who are already far along the purchase funnel. Whereas a new product launch focused on fueling awareness would be better suited to the broader expanses of the open web.

Overall, what matters most is striking a balance between advertising and consumer needs. Brands must ensure they pick the environment most likely to hit their objectives and optimize delivery for maximum resonance in any mobile setting.

Read more: The European Digital Advertising Market Continues on Its Growth Trajectory