Mobile first, mobile optimized, mobile only - mobile confused?

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck May 11, 2016
Designing for mobile is now considered a non-negotiable part of the customer experience. But as Barb Mosher Zinck points out, there is more confusion than consistency. Why are brands falling short of consumers' mobile expectations? Zinck looks at the latest data and design methods in search of answers.

Mobile has become a key element of a great customer experience. But there’s no consistency in how mobile needs to be addressed. Do organizations simply need to ensure customer experiences are mobile optimized? Should experiences be designed with a mobile-first approach? Or should it be mobile only? I suspect that many organizations are simply becoming mobile confused.

Mobile optimized

When you create an element of a customer experience - an email, a website, a landing page you always need to ensure it’s mobile optimized. This means whether the consumer is on a desktop, a smartphone, a tablet or something else, the experience is optimized for that device.

For most that means the user interface is formatted properly for the device. Smartphone or tablet means smaller screen size - so organizations implement responsive design techniques to automatically resize the content to fit the screen. Images are resized appropriately; the navigation might adjust from horizontal to vertical and buttons might become larger.

Mobile optimized considers the screen size, platform, and orientation of your device and adjusts the web content to suit the specs for that device (or group of devices).

This is where many organizations fall in their mobile experience strategy. It’s like a step one that if you aren’t doing at all, then you probably aren’t doing business very well. That being said, I can think of a few brands that have been slow to get here.

Mobile first

Mobile first turns the experience design around and says “build for mobile first” then build for other channels like the desktop. It shifts the entire design process to ensuring the experience works best on mobile, then looking at other channels, such as the website, second.

This approach makes the assumption that mobile users at least start their purchase journey on a mobile device of some kind, or at least spend a significant amount of time on mobile.

But mobile first also tends to assume that, at some point, the consumer will want to make the jump to another channel, like the website. Which essentially makes mobile one channel in a multi-channel or omnichannel strategy.

This is the approach many organizations with a more advanced view of customer experience take. However, some research suggests they have a long way to go to be good at this approach.

A VansonBourne Research study (from Sitecore website) of 4500 consumers and 500 brands looked at mobile experiences and found that although brands think they are doing good, consumers don’t quite agree. Security and lack of personalization are two elements of the mobile experience that consumer say brands are not delivering on

In the study, 76% of consumers said that a good mobile experience influences loyalty. The problem is, brands are struggling. They struggle with real-time analytics needed to create consistent real-time personalized experiences. This is part of the reason consumers might start in the mobile channel, or use it for some tasks, but move to the desktop or some other channel to do other tasks.

Mobile only

Then we move on to mobile-only. Few are here. Mobile-only works on the premise that your customers only use their mobile device to engage with you. They want everything on their mobile device, from researching to purchasing to service and support, and loyalty programs. They don’t want to jump around channels.

How many customers do you think are here? Altimeter Group says a lot and that brands underestimate and underinvest in the true promise of mobile.

In a recent report, Altimeter states that most organizations treat mobile as simply a part of the customer experience and not a holistic experience in itself. This leads to low budgets for mobile and the development of unnecessary cross-channel experiences.

The report makes an interesting point - there’s a common line of thinking with organizations that customers expect a cross-channel experience. That customers purposely channel hop (move between channels to complete a task), and they expect a consistent, seamless experience when they do so. But guess what? Altimeter found that many consumers channel hop not because they want to but because the experience isn’t good enough to complete the task on their mobile device.

Are organizations spending too much time thinking about and building cross-channel and omnichannel experiences when they should be thinking about mobile as a complete experience itself? What if they focused on the mobile experience as a completely self-contained experience from beginning to end, one that Altimeter says is complementary to the digital customer journey overall?

From the report:

Mobile is not only reshaping the customer journey; it is rebooting the entire experience in the process. How and when customers transact with brands throughout the lifecycle is also moving to the small screen — from research to purchase, to service and support, through loyalty and advocacy.

It is the mobile experience the customer wants

How do you know how your customers and prospects use mobile? How do you know if you need to create mobile-first experiences or mobile only?

Altimeter offers four steps to move you in the right direction:

  1. Map the mobile customer journey. Look at the devices used the challenges and opportunities for mobile personas.
  2. Re-imagine a mobile experience. Get outside the box and think about how you could design a series of experiences at each stage of the journey, design experiences by device. Think about how you might only create this experience for the mobile channel.
  3. Measure and optimize. You need to know what outcomes and responses you expect and if they were achieved. Map them to goals and KPIs and optimize as necessary to improve the experiences.
  4. Align everything and everyone. Everyone in the organization needs to be on the same page. They need to understand how you view the mobile experience and how you are building it. Run lots of tests and retests internally and externally to be sure you know what you are doing, and regularly re-evaluate your thinking because customer preferences change constantly.

In the end, you may continue with a mobile first strategy, or you may adopt mobile only experiences. As long as you are focused on the customer and not the technology, you should be on the right path.

My take

I have a smartphone, a tablet (or two or three), a laptop and a desktop. Soon I’ll have a wearable. If I had a preference, I would do everything required to make a purchase on one channel. I would use mobile if the experience were designed appropriately.

Altimeter talked about how organizations are too focused on the user interface, the technology, and the design from that perspective. They need to shift to a customer first design approach, which is why journey mapping and personas are so important.

I’ve yet to have a mobile experience that made me only want to use mobile. Advanced brands may be there or well on their way. The rest are pushing slowing into mobile first experiences and trying to ensure the cross-channel experiences is as good as it can be. Personally, I’d be happy if they were able just to get this right. And I suspect most consumers feel the same.