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ESPN: A Mobile Example to Emulate

  |  December 2, 2011   |  Comments

ESPN.com projects its commitment to quality across mobile sites, apps, and notifications.

When both my young niece and my not-so-young husband enthusiastically praised ESPN's push notifications in the same week, I took notice. These are regular people, a teacher and an architect, not marketers or techies. I already knew from my son, a super fan, that of the myriad sports publishers, ESPN is the alpha and omega. So I was delighted to learn that ESPN would be presenting at the Mobile Marketing Association Forum in LA.

The more I learned about ESPN's approach to mobile, the more I felt it really got it right.

ESPN's commitment to providing a superior user experience reminds me of one of the great successes of email marketing: DailyCandy. Serving a vastly different audience than ESPN, DailyCandy built a million-subscriber list and a multi-million dollar program with a laser focus on quality content, writing, and graphics.

ESPN projects its commitment to quality across mobile sites, apps, and notifications.

If you compare ESPN.com on a tablet and smartphone, you'll see an excellent example of responsive design, created in HTML5. As Ethan Marcotte explains in this great article, "Fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries are the three technical ingredients for responsive web design, but it also requires a different way of thinking. Rather than quarantining our content into disparate, device-specific experiences, we can use media queries to progressively enhance our work within different viewing contexts." ESPN representatives echoed this concept, stating that they "follow the content, not the device."

As Jakob Nielsen advises, both the mobile and tablet sites have a link to the full site, serving users seeking deeper content that didn't make the cut for the mobile version.

I was impressed that registration was optional and simple, and that when I went to the full site, it recognized, in real time, that I was a mobile registrant. "Welcome! You originally created your account on a mobile device. We'd like to know a bit more about you." A few basic questions plus an email opt-in followed. This is a great way to connect the dots between site visitors (mobile and full) and email subscribers, while building the email list and collecting useful demographic information for advertisers.

Speaking of advertisers, those people who pay for all this great content, ESPN seeks to help them make their ads "as great and cool as our content and respectful of the user experience." A commitment to the user experience is apparent in everything the company does. ESPN advises that you consider what you want your products to be known for and see whether that's consistent with user feedback. The company even monitors incoming emails for comments about mobile products (and gets almost 50 per day!).

The ESPN app strategy is to "super serve our super fans" with content that supplements the mobile sites. While there are several apps available, ESPN seeks to stop its proliferation and "do fewer apps better."

The most popular app is ScoreCenter, the source of the push notifications that earned high praise from my family members. They like the granularity of the options - you can select the team and types of notifications you want to receive, adhering to what I call the mobile mantra: I want what I want when I want it. It's amusing to hear the push notifications sound around the room after each touchdown and field goal. You may not hear it as often as I do, being a Packers fan, but you'll find it's a beautiful thing; the sound of a superior mobile strategy in action.

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Melinda Krueger

Melinda Krueger is a senior marketing consultant with ExactTarget and a digital marketing veteran – starting with direct, moving to interactive, specializing in e-mail, and now charting a course for mobile marketing. Working with the best agencies in the business, she has helped Harley-Davidson, Miller Brewing, Sears/Kmart, CDW, and many others build their interactive marketing programs. Melinda holds an MBA from Marquette University and is a highly-rated speaker for professional organizations and business schools. As the Email Diva, Melinda answered questions on all aspects of the practice. Your questions about mobile are welcome!

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