In 1995, I got my first job in web. At the time, few people outside of college campuses had heard of it. It would take four or five years for web to really explode into mainstream and be adopted by the enterprise. In 1999 I was hired as a webmaster for EDS (now HP). Web was still a new technology and nobody was really sure where it belonged or what to do with it. The prevailing mentality was, “everyone has a website, so we need one too,” but nobody was really sure why. For that reason, web was seen as a side project. Budget and responsibility were typically allocated to IT. And sadly, web projects often withered on the vine.
Seems like old habits die hard. Now that I work in mobile, I’ve been observing an identical progression. As the enterprise struggles with when to adopt, how much to invest and whether this mobile thing is a fad, budgets and responsibilities seem to lie all over the org chart.
Let’s look at how enterprises have approached mobile marketing the same as they did with web, and what lessons must be learned for mobile to be successful in your organization.

Lesson 1: Failure to Recognize Mobile As a Unique Medium

When the web came out, marketers weren’t sure how to approach this new thing, so the reaction was to treat it like what they already knew. For web, that was print. It took a while before we stopped trying to build websites like they were back-lit print ads. While one of the strengths of web is to be extensible and accessible to a variety of display types, but for nearly two decades, we web developers fought against designers who pushed pixel-perfect layouts that looked like paper brochures not websites.
Now that web is status quo and mobile is the new kid on the block, too many companies approach mobile like it’s just web for a smaller screen. Indeed, the fight between responsive web design and native apps is still raging. While responsive web design makes sense for browsing the web on a phone, there are functions which apps can perform that can’t (and shouldn’t) be done with a website. Organizations that embrace the differences and treat them differently will see better engagement (and ROI) on both.

Lesson 2: Failure to Invest Appropriately

In 1999-2001 enterprises had more or less accepted that they had to have a website; however, the importance or purpose of their web presence had yet to be fully groked. The tendency was to throw up a site and put as little effort as possible into it. Many companies and even marketers considered the web to be a distraction rather than a primary channel for awareness, demand gen and revenue. By not setting clear business goals for their websites, the promise of low ROI became self-fulfilling.
Mobile seems to be following a similar course. Companies understand they need a mobile app but with no stated purpose for what it should do, they throw something together as a side project, and when there’s predictably little success, they withdraw investment. In fact, reports that up to 25% of apps in the App Store are “dead”. For your app to be successful, you must be clear about what you hope it will accomplish, what value you provide to your users, and how success will be measured. Building an app for the sake of building an app is a path to failure.

Lesson 3: Failure to Put Responsibility In The Right Department

In the late 90s, the web was new technology. For that reason, websites belonged to IT. Given the need for server-side hand coding, there was logic behind that choice. But the success of an IT department is measured on cost savings for overhead, speed to closing trouble tickets, and efficiency of a network. None of those KPIs map to the business goals of a website.
Now, it’s almost universally accepted that the owner of the corporate website should be Marketing. That evolved over time as we began to understand the impact and goals of our web efforts. It also required that tools be developed to allow marketers to manage their web presence. Only masochistic web developers still code in a UNIX terminal, but that was standard in the 90s. The evolution of the CMS, web management consoles and Marketing Automation has put web management in the hands of marketers.
Yet here we are again, with another new technology whose goals and KPIs lie in Marketing, but whose ownership too frequently still lies in IT. Lack of appropriate tools and understanding of value have put it there by necessity. Yet if we expect adoption and engagement from our mobile apps, they need to be owned by Marketing.

Learning from the Past

Winston Churchill said, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The upshot here is that organizations who do apply learning from the evolution of the web to their mobile app strategies have a clear leg up on competitors who may spend the next fifteen years reliving history.
Paradoxically, while I am telling you to learn from the web, it is imperative that you do not treat your mobile app as an extension of your web strategy. To be successful, you must give your app a clear purpose and invest appropriately. Marketing must be responsible for your app’s adoption and engagement – and your marketing team must have tools to make that a reality. (And fortunately solutions like FollowAnalytics are finally available.) Organizations who start there have the potential to kill it in the mobile arena.