WAP or App? Planning mobile strategy

While there’s no doubt that hordes of consumers are now reachable by their cell phones and smart phones, many businesses are still in a quandary as to what mobile strategy they should pursue.

Once they have decided to develop a mobile presence one of the critical questions businesses face is whether to go “WAP or app,” according to Chuck Martin, director of research for MediaPost CEO and adjunct professor in marketing research at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. Martin spoke about marketing in the mobile world on Tuesday to customers and partners of Transcontinental Interactive in Toronto.

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The term WAP, or wireless application protocol, essentially applies to Web sites designed to function on a mobile phone. Apps or mobile applications are software tools typically downloaded to a mobile phone from an app store such as the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World or Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace.

Martin is the author of the book The Third Screen: Marketing to your customers in a world gone Mobile, which examines how mobile devices have transformed consumer behaviour. The first screen was the TV screen, the second is the computer screen, and the third is the screen of various mobile devices people now use, said Martin.

At the moment, both WAP and apps offer marketing and business opportunities for mobile-ready companies, according to Martin. However, he said many business owners hardly have a clue on what developing a mobile strategy for operating a business or marketing a brand entails.

“All their employees are using smartphones, your customers are on cell phones and smartphones and yet they allocate only one-fifth of their budget to mobile technology and mobile marketing,” Martin said referring to businesses that are dragging their feet on deploying a mobile strategy.

On the flipside, he said, are companies that are so eager to jump on the bandwagon that they pour money into developing a mobile ad or application without even identifying its specific target or how it plays into the company’s overall strategy. “The app you develop might be great but an app is not a mobile strategy, it’s just a tool.”

Difference between WAP and app

For many larger brands, developing a mobile application on multiple mobile operating systems such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, or BlackBerry OS as well as a WAP site might be the ideal choice. But other businesses might have to choose between a WAP an app due to budget constraints.

Getting your brand out to the largest possible pairs of eyeballs makes WAP an ideal choice, because it can reach the most number of device platforms, said Martin. “Mobile sites can be viewed through either most advanced smartphones or low capability cell phones.”

WAP pages, however, are limited in terms of content due to the memory and screen size of mobile devices. Integrating complex feature-rich application is limited in a mobile browser. In many instances, navigation experience can be slow and pages tend to be simpler and rely on text rather than graphics.

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One alternative is to segment mobile presence by using native applications, said Martin. The media rich features of mobile applications provide an improved user interface ideal for more user engagement centered activities such as games, social networking and location-based marketing and functionality.

Some key difference between WAP and app are:


  • Cheaper and faster to develop
  • Can be use across more devices
  • User needs Wi-Fi or 3G connection to access sites
  • Uses short message services (SMS) or texting. On some networks texting is limited to 160 characters


  • Offers “stickier” interfaces, higher engagement and repeat use
  • Some features can be accessed even when not connected to WiFi or 3G
  • Connects smartphones to advanced features such as GPS and linked contact lists
  • Uses multimedia messaging services. MMS has a receiver opening rate of 15 to 25 per cent and has no 160 character limit

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Focusing your mobile strategy

“Mobile sites and applications can be the bridge between the online world and a bricks and mortar store,” said to Brady Murphy, vice-president of mobile for Transcontinental Interactive.

More and more consumers, he said, are checking out businesses and products on their phones before they purchase a product through their mobile device or go directly to the store.

For instance, a mobile site was pivotal in helping Weston Bakeries promote its Gouda multi-grain products in Quebec. “We used a small amount of the advertising budget to create a standalone mobile Web site for the brand rather than a shrunken version of online site,” said Phil Barrett, vice-president of digital and mobile marketing firm B-Street Communications.

Although only 10 per cent of the budget was used on the mobile site there were five times more consumers accessing the mobile Web sites than the primary online site and the Facebook site, said Barrett.

Murphy believes businesses shouldn’t rush to the mobile space. He recounted how a number of big companies rushed to create sites and create advertising to be viewed on the iPad “even before they ever saw the actual device.”

Many of these companies did not see the number of viewers they were hoping to get when the iPad launched.

In developing a mobile strategy, whether for deployment of a WAP site, or app or both, Martin advices that businesses consider the following:

  • Will the target users be people looking for “time savers” – products that help them work faster, or better?
  • Will the target users be people looking for “time wasters” – products that help people while away time while they are waiting or doing nothing?
  • Offer something that is informative (weather applications), rewarding (coupons, bargains, status), entertaining (games like Angry Birds)

Just because you build a site or app doesn’t mean clients will view it, said Murphy.

“Remember TimmyMe, I like Tim Hortons and the app was great. But seriously Canada is the last place you’d need an app to tell you where a Tim Horton’s is,” said Murphy.

Nestor is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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