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Is it Time to Retire the Buzzword ‘Mobile First’ Marketing?

by Mediacurrent Team
January 19, 2017

In part one of Buzzword Bingo series, we broke down a big idea: digital transformation. In today’s installation, we’re putting “mobile first” on the board.

For at least five years running, marketing authorities have been quick to declare that the new year will be the year of mobile marketing. As we glance at our smartphone screens an average of 47 times per day, one thing is for sure: we’re living in a world gone mobile.

The ubiquitous influence of smartphones has given rise to the popular digital strategy term mobile first.

What does mobile first really mean?

To start, let’s take a look at the widely accepted definition of this concept. In terms of web design:

Mobile first is a trend in website development where designing a website for mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, PDAs) takes priority over desktop web design.

In terms of marketing:

As mobile devices have become the most popular device for browsing the web, mobile first marketing makes use of the features of modern mobile technology. Again, mobile devices take precedence over desktop.

Has mobile first hit a tipping point? I think so. With updates like Mobilegeddon, it’s old news that Google gives SEO preference to mobile-friendly sites. We have accepted that mobile optimization is critical to achieve a high converting digital presence.

Mobile first is still important from a design perspective. But for marketers, this buzzword is losing its fizz.

Mobile is Just One Piece of the Puzzle

Thinking about the term “mobile-first” calls to mind an excellent session I attended at last year’s Mozcon conference. In her presentation How to Rewrite the CRO Playbook with Mobile Optimization Talia Wolf made some excellent points about the position of mobile in the overall digital marketing landscape. (Click here to find her session abstract and view the slide deck.)

Beyond simply prioritizing one device before another (as “mobile-first” suggests), mobile devices should be seen as a stepping stone in an increasingly interconnected customer journey. As marketers, the question we should really be asking ourselves is, “How can we fit mobile into our marketing plan to accommodate customers’ multi-screen behaviors?”

Mobile First Still Applies to Design

It is interesting to note that in the mobile optimization session previously mentioned, this term was noticeably absent. Wolf stressed that mobile is not a replacement for desktop; they are two distinct channels. You’re nodding in agreement (I hope!). It all sounds so simple in theory. Yet, so many major brands are failing to put this idea into practice by treating mobile visitors as mini desktop visitors.

What happens when we try to condense all of the elements of a designed-for-desktop site onto a mobile screen? Visually, it’s overwhelming. Emotionally, it creates a seriously stressful user experience. A neuroscience study published in the Ericsson Mobility Report [PDF] found that the level of stress caused by using our phone on the mobile web is equivalent to watching a horror movie. Not exactly the emotional response we’d hope to elicit from our customers! Plus, a poor mobile experience damages brand image. For these reasons, mobile first still holds its weight as a relevant and necessary design consideration.  

The Mobile Mindset is Different

The mobile mindset is different and it can’t be ignored. To reach our customers, we, as marketers, are challenged to understand the mobile mindset.

Here are few things about mobile visitors that we too often forget:

They think differently - The mobile mindset is unique as we’re so often multitasking and on the go. Even in the moments where our mobile phones command our full attention, we’re much more likely to be on a mobile app than browsing the mobile web. And, we veer toward fun and entertainment -  think social media, messaging, and games.   

They behave differently - The mobile state of mind influences a variety of behaviors. The calls-to-action that work for desktop may not translate so easily. Even on sites flooded by mobile traffic, visitors are still shy to convert.  A 270% gap stands between mobile web conversion and desktop conversion rates. With e-commerce, mobile visitors are less likely to trigger a purchase; only 16% of shopping carts turn into orders on a mobile device.

They have a need for speed  -  Mobile visitors expect sites to be lightning quick, loading in less than 3 seconds. This is especially important in the early information stage of the buyer’s journey. Penalties against pageviews, customer satisfaction, and conversions stack up with every second of wait time.

They suffer from information overload and crave personalization - In our hyperconnected world, information overload is a reality of everyday life. But what happens when we’re hit with more information than our minds can process? Economist Herbert A. Simon sums it up best: A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.  We are for a personalized experience, that, as consumers, we are willing to pay more for it. In fact, survey results [pdf] from Infosys show most consumers are willing to pay 25% more for better personalization.

At Mediacurrent, we’ve seen firsthand how an adaptable Content Management System is key to fueling mobile experiences that meet customer demand. In our work, Drupal serves as the backbone of the progressive content strategy roadmaps we build for our clients. Drupal has the flexibility to deliver content across all digital touchpoints — from mobile to IoT devices and beyond. (To learn more, our Business Benefits of Drupal 8 webinar is a great overview of Drupal through a marketing lens.)  

Has mobile-first hit buzzword status in your industry? Should we retire the term or has it held onto its meaning? I’d love to hear what you think.

Additional Resources
4 Benefits of Decoupled Architecture for Digital Marketers | Blog
Amp’lify your Website: Google AMP 101 | Blog
Good Form: 5 Tips for a Smooth Sign-up Process | Blog


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