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It’s impossible to ignore the impact mobile has has had to enterprises online. The question is no longer whether or not to join the digitally mobile pack but how to do it in a way that meets both the needs of the customer and the business.

In 2008, when the first of the smartphones splashed down into the web, the adoption rate of Mobile (with a capital ‘M’) blew even the most optimistic estimates out of the water. Many were taken by surprise but retail and technological innovators like Amazon, Google, and Apple quickly adapted and blazed a trail that many have failed to follow. Customers behaviors and expectations changed just as quickly and those who were unable to deliver hemorrhaged market share. It’s been five years since the mobile revolution put customers firmly in the driving seat and, if anything, there’s the potential for there to be even more blood in the water, as one leading financial technologist, Bradley Leimer claims, saying “as we move further into digital experience, the next decade will be even more incredibly disruptive”. Although Leimer’s comments are directed at the financial services industry, the case he makes can be applied to any consumer-driven industry struggling for mindshare in a competitive, digitally driven market.

Knowing where to start, especially if you don’t have the digital marketing budget of say, Pepsi, can be hard. There are two commonly adopted approaches for those looking to start engaging effectively with their customers online but there’s also a third, which we think combines the best of both worlds and delivers more for less. First, let’s take a look at the first and most basic option: Responsive Design.

Responsive design is a software design practice that ensures your website will scale to fit the screen of whatever device it is being viewed on. The reason why responsive design has become popular is because it’s a great way to ensure your customers get to experience a version of your site optimized to their phone, and with so many different phones, tablets, and screen sizes out there it’s impossible to create a separate mobile site for each one.

Boston Globe
The Boston Globe was one of the first, and largest successful examples of responsive design in 2011. They capitalized on their innovation with a comprehensive campaign that showed customers they were ready to deliver the news on the device of their readers’ choice.

This approach is clearly a step in the right direction. It solves many of the issues of maintaining superior usability across multiple devices but it doesn’t allow you to differentiate your brand further or deepen engagement with your customers. The only way for enterprises and brands that want to build on brand loyalty and establish real relationships in the mobile world is to create an app. It sounds so easy ‘just build an app’. But therein lies the rub; you won’t be building just one app. It’s almost exactly the same issue as with trying to build one mobile website without responsive design; just as mobile screens aren’t the same size, neither do their operating systems run on the same technologies. This means that for every app you want to build you have to multiply production costs by the number of devices you want it to run on. Each device comes with its own Software Developer Kit (SDK) and it must be built according to those specifications, which usually require costly specialist engineer skills. The production cycle is often lengthy, as is the delivery and deployment cycle for any updates or changes. All of which rely heavily on IT teams to actualize and make it difficult for marketing and business teams to react quickly to market fluctuations or actual events that can directly affect operations. However, with 85% of consumers now preferring apps over mobile optimized sites, you can’t afford not to one… even if you can’t afford to have one.

Happily, there’s a third solution that combines the best of both worlds; the beauty and simplicity of responsive design, plus what are known as ‘hybrid’ apps that don’t require huge amounts of IT resource and outspend. It’s possible to create a website, and a secure portal that is populated by widgets, which can be combined to create hybrid apps. The beauty of widgets is that they are like lego blocks; they seem insignificant on their own but together they can become a force to reckon with. Widgets are small, autonomous apps that are created with web-based technologies like HTML and Javascript, which every developer is familiar with. The developer just has to ‘nest’ widgets with the relevant functionality together to create a hybrid app that to the end-customer looks and feels exactly like a native app. This means there’s no need for costly engineers and no lengthy production cycles. Even better, web languages are agnostic, they can run on OS, so once your widget-app is built, all you need to do is wrap it in a delivery container (readily available pieces of code) specific to each app store and distribute them, ready to be downloaded.

Your site and ‘home-made’ hybrid apps can be easily managed from a single point; your customer experience platform. In this way you can manage all digital points of contact, deepen your relationship with your customers through the personalizable apps you have created, and ensure a smooth customer journey across any device, any place, any time.

[Title image from: http://www.escapepod.ca/2012/08/02/living-responsively/]