In her 1984 book, "The March of Folly", the notable historian Barbara Tuchman discusses four instances in history when leaders chose disastrous policies for their countries.
The book drove an interesting and heated discussion about the ability to learn from past mistakes and stop the march of folly.
That led me to think: can businesses avoid repeating the same mistakes they did in their digital history? Or will they make the same mistakes again before they change the way they manage their app engagement?
Let’s discuss a bit about the history of digital marketing, its roots in web marketing, and how we can learn from our past to improve our future.
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A Short History of Marketers and Websites
A long time ago, websites were shifting from being just a pretty face to something that actually brings value to businesses and their clients. Marketers weren’t managing websites back then. They were somewhat involved in the content, but their main responsibility was bringing visitors to the site.
In one word, traffic. Traffic was the holy grail because having more site visitors was living proof of a successful website. It took a while before marketers started paying more attention to the visitors’ journeys inside their sites, and as a consequence, they moved from a somewhat involved position to website leaders.
This shift didn’t happen in a day or even a year. It involved developing new marketing expertise which grew in tandem with strong marketing technologies: CMS, marketing automation systems, analytics tools, real-time personalization and more.
Today, marketers for big brands are still heavily involved in driving traffic to their sites, but they are no less involved in driving conversion and retention, using their robust toolset of banners, forms, and landing pages, as well as dynamic content and real-time personalization.
Marketers and Mobile Apps – Moving Back in Time
Apps are different from websites. First of all, unlike websites, most apps didn’t start as a mere showcase and later evolve into a more functional entity. Secondly, big brands that aren’t mobile-first companies perceive their apps as an essential step in their digital transformation. They want to offer services via apps and make sure they’re not behind in their digitization.
You would think that this digital transformation would mean that businesses and marketing teams would realize the enormous potential for getting personal and developing a long-term relationship with customers through their apps. Some of them have realized this, but Adobe’s recent study shows that 80 percent of marketers are still struggling to figure out their mobile strategy.
An entire external ecosystem, consisting of user acquisition, attribution, and monetization, has evolved around apps. Partially as a result of this ecosystem, and also because apps are being perceived as a digital service channel for banks, retailers, pharma and other industries, marketers have been sent back in time to the days when their main focus was on one thing, acquisition. And that is typically where the marketer’s job ends. But this is also where the opportunity for extending the in-app marketing experience exists.
For many marketers, personalizing the user experience from inside the app and developing a long-term relationship with users is not the main focus. Even if you are using push notifications, it occurs outside the app with the goal of nudging users into the app. Why not manage the user journey inside your app? Be contextual and personal. Put to practice everything you learned in other channels.
Marketers Should Own the In-App Journey
Although some apps are doing a good job with loyalty programs, that is a very specific type of in-app communication. Businesses are still missing out on many opportunities to drive strong user loyalty that translates into higher revenue. The truth is that, by their nature, apps aren’t marketing-friendly. The combination of rigid structure, long development cycles, the requirement to run every change through app store approval process, and the need to wait for users to actually see it on their devices is not appealing.
The good news is that this technology gap is getting smaller and smaller, and it’s only a matter of time until marketers start running in-app campaigns independently, without waiting for developers and app store approvals. To manage their in-app campaigns, marketers need not only to create the content of their campaigns but also to control where the content will be placed in the app to maximize its relevancy.
They should also be able to segment their app audiences and display different messages to each segment, which will be triggered at precise contextual mobile moments. Once marketers can do all this without any help from developers, then they will be able to control their success and work at a speed that allows in-app campaigns, iterations and constant optimization.
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The original question still remains. Will history repeat itself? How soon will businesses realize that they should split resources between user acquisition and user retention? When will they figure out that the only way to meet their end-users’ expectations is by letting their digital marketers lead the in-app customer journey, as they do in all other channels? Only time will tell.