Mobile website or mobile app? It's not only a common question from marketers — it’s also the wrong question to ask. So let’s get this out of the way first, interactive marketers: You need a mobile-optimized or mobile-specific website. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check your organic web traffic. Odds are, you’ll see anywhere from 10%-25% of your web traffic coming from mobile devices, whether you’re intending to capture that mobile traffic or not. That percentage has been growing steadily and will continue to, so yes, you need to have a mobile web home. I’m glad that’s settled.

Whether or not you need a mobile app for marketing is a little less clear-cut. To decide, once and for all, if you should really build that mobile app, ask yourself these three most important questions:

1.       Is my audience using apps?

Yes, about half of US adults have a smartphone, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re using it in sophisticated ways. You can likely find users of all ages among those who have apps, but demographics affect the size of your app audience. For example, about one-third of smartphone app users are Gen Y (ages 23-31), and another third are Gen X (ages 32-45). Make sure you understand the app habits of your own audience before you decide what to build.

2.       Am I ready to build and manage an app?

It’s not a given that an app will help you achieve your marketing goals. Apps tend to work best when they’re focused on customers who are already aware of and have affinity for your brand. So if your objectives are to enhance the brand experience or build loyalty, you’re in good shape. If you want to use an app to raise brand awareness, you’re not necessarily out of luck, but you’ll need to make sure you raise awareness of the app itself too.

And don’t forget: an app is a commitment. This is a long-term strategy, not a campaign-based one. You have to make sure you’re prepared to support, manage, and iterate on this asset over time. You might be thinking your app will have a three-month flight time, but once that app is on a user’s device, it’s usually there for good. Do you really want to serve your customers out-of-date content and services indefinitely?

3.       How do I avoid failure?

There’ve been more than 40 billion cumulative apps downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. The question isn’t whether people are using apps; it’s whether they’re using yours: a branded app. To avoid failure and risk losing your mobile marketing budget, you have to take two key steps:

First, set expectations. Remember what I said before — the fact that someone owns a smartphone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using it in sophisticated ways. There’s certainly an audience there, but it’s not yet in the same league as the number of adults who regularly check their email or use Google on any device. Set your download and usage goals responsibly.

Second, plan to buy media. Most users find apps within the app store, but findability of any one app in the vast recesses of the app stores isn’t something you can count on. Just for kicks try this: Go to your app store of choice and try browsing the recommended apps and top apps in various categories. Note how many of them are apps from brands. Now you know why you shouldn’t launch an app without a paid media budget to promote it.

Even if you’ve worked through all of these recommendations, one more gotcha exists: the highly contentious issue of who should “own” the app strategy. An argument can be made for a ton of players in your company, from marketing to IT, from eCommerce to customer service. My No. 1 piece of advice to you is this: Drop the territorialism. Join forces with these stakeholders and work together to align your strategies, address inefficiencies, and avoid bickering. This may be the hardest step of all, but it will do the most to make your apps successful and your customers satisfied.

For a lot more detail and data, Forrester clients can read the full report here.