The Mobile Paradox

by Rick Curtis, Chief Strategy Officer,

Only a third of FTSE 100 companies have a mobile optimised site. Rick Curtis, Chief Strategy Officer at Amaze, asks why there’s been such a slow march to mobile and explains how to ensure you have an effective plan in place.

The global explosion in mobile web access, be it via mobile phone or tablet, shows no signs of abating, with access levels predicted to overtake the PC some time in the near future.

There were more than one billion smartphones in consumers’ pockets at the beginning of 2013 according to Forrester, and there have been approximately seven times more app downloads than there are people on the planet (circa 50 billion).

Pick any year between 2008 and 2013 and you can be sure that marketing experts touted it as the ‘year of mobile’. We are bombarded with articles and ‘thought pieces’ waxing lyrical about the mobile wallet, geo-fencing, location based advertising and rich media mobile content.

And yet only a third of FTSE 100 companies have a mobile optimised site and only 16 per cent of marketers have a formalised mobile strategy (CMO Council 2013). This is despite the fact that 57 per cent of consumers will not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site and 40 per cent of consumers will go to a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience (Compuware 2012).

At the same time, mobile advertising accounts for about one per cent of marketing spend, even though we are increasingly using our mobiles across the purchasing process, from finding new products and comparing prices in-store right through to purchase. It’s incredible. But marketers aren’t stupid. Why the slow march towards mobile rather than the stampede one might expect?

Land Of Confusion

Forrester’s ‘State of Retailing Online 2012: Investments in Mobile and Tablet Commerce’ (Sept 2012) offers some clues. Firstly, retailers find that business objectives for mobile are unclear – the lack of revenue from mobile channels make it hard to build a compelling business case and ROI model, whilst there is confusion as to whether to focus on supporting stores or driving direct sales.

Secondly, Forrester states that retailers are wary of a “rapidly evolving mobile landscape that is challenging in terms of knowing which platforms and mobile offerings to invest in”. So in short, it seems that retailers, who one might expect to be at the vanguard of mobile strategy and deployment, are still asking some fundamental questions: what are we doing mobile for? Will it deliver an acceptable return? And with a new technology coming along every week, which horse do we back, and what if we get it wrong? So, how to avoid the confusion and make sure your organisation gets mobile right?

A Strategic Approach To Mobile

Mobile’s growing importance necessitates a measured, strategic approach – a series of tactical implementations undertaken in the absence of an overriding strategic framework is the surest way to fail in the long-term. So, what do you need to do? First, get ‘C’-level sponsorship. That ensures a voice at the top table, maximises budget opportunities and makes cross-disciplinary working possible.

Secondly, establish a cross departmental working group. Mobile is not just for the digital team or the broader marketing team – it touches every part of the business and each should be represented if mobile initiatives are to gain company wide support.

Thirdly, do your research. Research represents the ‘hard yards’ of any strategic process, which is why many organisations don’t do it or do it in a piecemeal manner. For me, the most important stage in the process of developing any strategy is to do your research – and in the fast moving mobile world it is a guaranteed fail if you decide you’ll be just fine without it!

The Audience

It still amazes me how many mobile initiatives are based upon an assumption which feeds into the delivery of mobile website and app functionality that is fundamentally misaligned to the audience’s behaviours and expectations. Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to ensure you understand your mobile audience’s mindset. Ethnography has a key role to play here – get out and observe your customer as they go about their daily business.

The Competition

It is also critical to understand the competitive and inter-industry context – what represents best practice? Where are there competitive blind spots you can focus on to gain an advantage?

The Tech

Understand the technology which is around now and will be coming in over the next three to five years. Know the difference between native apps, hybrid apps and web apps, understand how browser-based augmented reality solutions differ from AR applications.

Most importantly, look inside the organisation – how might mobile data (particularly contextual data) impact upon your business intelligence strategy and, if applicable, your vision to leverage ‘big data’? (Every marketing article has to mention big data at least once at the moment. It’s mandatory!)

Establish mobile objectives and a measurement framework. Don’t fudge the setting of objectives for mobile – know exactly what you want to achieve (beyond visits or app downloads). These should be tied into your overarching business goals and set within the context of your audience research. Establish a mobile roadmap. The key here is to be both bold and realistic – we overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in three.

But first things first: get the foundations right. If you don’t have a mobile site to be proud of you should start with a re-development ASAP – this will give you a destination around which your complementary marketing communications (virtual or in-store) can revolve. There are exceptions to the ‘mobile site first’ rule, but they are few and far between.

Responsive Design Or Mobile Specific?

The question I am asked more than any other when it comes to mobile is whether it is best to develop a site using responsive design or to build a mobile specific site.

The answer to this question depends very much on the type of site you are deploying – for content-heavy websites (such as news sites or corporate sites) responsive design makes a lot of sense, but for sites that are transactional or have very specific mobile usage patterns, a mobile-specific site is probably your best bet. But every case is different – and this goes back to understanding your audience and the context within which your mobile site is going to be used.

Develop Your Mobile Ecosystem

When you have a mobile optimised site, you can begin to look at more advanced mobile initiatives – apps, mobile transactions, augmented reality, geo-fencing and all the other sexy stuff you read about in marketing magazines.

And one last thing: measure and optimise continuously. Be agile. No area of marketing is changing as fast as mobile and we will see this pace of change only accelerate. Have a plan, yes – but be ready to adapt. And fast. Good luck!