Mobile apps are generating big buzz among businesses these days. Some companies believe that in order to be competitive in the mobile marketplace, you need to have an app available for your customers. Like so many trends in social media, however, it’s not necessarily the best course for all brands.

That’s not to say mobile isn’t worth your investment; quite the contrary. In fact, an industry study found that daily time spent in mobile apps increased 35 percent in the past year. Plus, mobile devices are a growing source of traffic for Facebook Pages, and there are lots of good reasons for casual users to use those devices for Twitter. So mobile is definitely an important place to be, but building a custom app is not your only option.

In fact, for many businesses, a better solution for mobile presence is to have strong social media profiles and a striking website featuring responsive design. Here’s why this can be an equally powerful approach to mobile, and what you’ll need to consider before jumping on the bandwagon.

Added Value

It’s tempting for brand managers to think that creating an app will immediately boost their mobile performance. Like any trend, however, it’s best to consider your strategy before signing on. What would an app accomplish for your company or client? If most of the goals you have for an app — such as fostering customer engagement, offering deals, or improving brand recognition — align with your social media goals, you probably don’t need it. It won’t be worth the time for your brand to create and launch the program if you are already getting those particular needs met by a social media network.

Besides, if you want to go the app route, the program needs to offer more than what’s available on your combined website and social profiles. Think about what a potential customer would need to know about your brand while out and about. The basics of your address and contact information should already be up on your website and your social media presences. Would they want to know about the day’s special’s? That’s easily shared on Twitter. Is there a special discount code they’ll need? Share it with your Facebook followers. A successful app needs to have more than basic information for your customers to bother downloading it.

Crowded Market

Competition for apps is fierce. Getting your app into the marketplace, which can be time-consuming if you want to be approved for Apple’s App Store, doesn’t mean that you’ll be guaranteed success. You’d need to spend extra time and resources getting the word out about your app, probably on your social pages and your website.

Besides, an app may add further complication to your customers’ attempts to pinpoint information. If your details are spread out across a website, social media, and an app, your fans will need to know which is the best place to find information in a particular situation. The more specialized each of those sources is, the more complicated it will be for your customers to use them. Unless you’re certain that your desired demographic will respond better to an app than to your website, it could be risky to spread your brand too thin across mobile outlets.

Platform Flexibility

There are also a number of technical considerations to building a mobile app. Not only do you need to invest in the developer and coder expertise to create the software in the first place, but you also have to choose which mobile platform you want to affiliate with first. Do you need to take the extra time and money to create versions of your app for both Android and Apple smartphones? And what about tablets? If your smartphone app doesn’t scale well, you may need a third version for the iPad, and more for its rivals.

Websites and social media networks are neutral places where you don’t need to make the choice to favor one operating system over another. As long as you have a responsive design to make your site scale comfortably on any device, sticking with a strong website probably means less need to hire expensive specialists.

Choose Your Path

In order to both stand out and to be worth your customers’ time, a brand’s mobile app needs to be creative and fun. Entertaining games or complementary programs that make a smart match for your brand and merchandise are good examples. Whether you decide to launch a mobile app or not, you should continue to brainstorm improvements to your mobile presence. Make sure your team is encouraged to be creative, because with an ever-changing mobile marketplace, a great new idea can generate quick success.

How does your brand cover mobile strategy? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: Timothy Krause, Steven Depolo, Fiona Bradley, LAI Ryanne, Smabs Sputzer]