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Why Are Marketers So Behind on Mobile?

  |  October 24, 2012   |  Comments

Mobile is becoming the new normal - but having the technology is just the first step; developing strategies for effectively marketing and communicating in a mobile world is a much bigger step.

Sooo…how's that mobile strategy goin'?

If that question makes you want to quickly change the subject or hide your head in shame, you can at least be comforted by the fact that you're not alone. According to a new study by The CMO Council (form to download free executive summary), "only 16 percent of marketers currently have a comprehensive mobile relationship marketing strategy or plan, and when asked where and how mobile fits into the overall marketing mix, only 18 percent of marketers indicate they will be embracing a comprehensive mobile relationship marketing strategy."

Yikes!

At this point it should be pretty clear to anyone who hasn't been working from under a rock for the past few years that ignoring mobile isn't a viable option. Today, mobile broadband subscriptions outnumber fixed broadband by two to one, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Mobile web browsing now makes up an average of 10 percent of global web traffic, though that number's almost 18 percent in Asia. There are currently over 1 billion smartphone users around the world and Microsoft Tag predicts that mobile web usage will overtake desktop usage by 2014…a prediction bolstered by other analyst forecasts that tablets will outsell laptops by 2016. Nervous yet? Here are some more stats that should keep you up at night.

So why are we marketers so behind on mobile? The CMO Council found that a lack of mobile-savvy resources and talent were holding back most of the marketers who felt that they were behind the mobile marketing curve. I'd be surprised if most of you weren't in the same boat. Besides, budgets only stretch so far and adding one more channel (especially now that everyone's supposed to be doing the "social" thing) often isn't an option.

But maybe it doesn't have to be.

Ever since mobile devices capable of accessing the web hit the market back in the late '90s, maintaining a mobile presence online has been a major pain in the butt (and the budget). Anyone who wanted to have a serious mobile presence had to deal with a nearly incomprehensible array of phones, technologies, and browser types. Putting up a mobile site meant dealing with some seriously complicated technologies at best, and once you added in the difficulties with maintaining content across your "regular" site and your mobile site(s), it seemed that unless it was absolutely necessary to your business, the mobile web got shoved off your to-do list as new stuff (like social media) came along.

Up until a few years ago this wasn't an unreasonable strategy. After all, even though a large proportion of cellphone users had access to the mobile web in one form or another, it wasn't something they did all that often. Then along came the smartphone (the iPhone in particular) and things changed. Big time.

One of the big innovations of the iPhone was the inclusion of a web browser that actually worked like a regular desktop web browser. Sure, the screen was small, but even the earliest versions of iOS Safari did a pretty remarkable job of rendering web content. It would be tempting to think that as iPhone adoption grew at an incredible rate (10 times faster than AOL was adopted in the previous decade, according to Nielsen) it would have prompted more of us to focus on mobile. But it didn't. The fact that consumers could now access your website in a somewhat "normal" way in Safari (and later on their Android phones) meant that we could just keep putting off mobile a little longer.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that the mobile web and the "desktop" web aren't the same thing. At the most basic level of "usability," there's a mountain of evidence now that people use the mobile web differently than they do on their desktops. The rise of tablets has complicated the issue even more with varying screen sizes and usage scenarios. What's a marketer to do?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest a radical new strategy: think mobile first.

This might sound nuts, but if you bear with me for a few bullet points it may start to make more sense.

  1. Developments in responsive web design now make it possible for all new sites to be "mobile," at least in how they reconfigure themselves for various screen sizes and devices. If you aren't familiar with responsive design, it's a way to construct websites so that the actual layout of the pages changes (and the site behavior and navigation reconfigure themselves automatically for different devices). This means that rather than maintaining separate desktop and mobile sites (each with potentially its own CMS and maintenance staff), marketers can now construct and maintain one site that works everywhere. This isn't, of course, a panacea: fellow ClickZ writer (and IAB senior director) Joe Laszlo recently wrote a great column on the issues of responsive design that lays out many of the issues.
  2. As I pointed out earlier in this column, mobile web access is projected to surpass desktop access in a few years and tablets will soon outsell PCs. When this happens the lines between "mobile" and "desktop" will cease to matter, at least when it comes to accessing basic information and transacting over the web. However, it's important to remember that the distinctions between "anywhere/anytime" mobile access via phones and accessing the web via a PC or tablet connected via Wi-Fi will continue to matter for the foreseeable future…or at least until the mobile carriers price their data plans to compete with fixed broadband options such as cable or DSL.
  3. Finally, if done correctly, creating a site based on responsive design is less risky than going with separate desktop and mobile sites (or ignoring mobile altogether). Adobe has more or less killed Flash in favor of mobile-friendly HTML5, the new Windows 8 was designed for mobile touch screens, and Apple seems to be well on the way to erasing the distinctions between OS X and iOS. With the capabilities present in HTML5 and the two main consumer platforms moving toward a mobile-first stance, you're going to get more bang for your buck and greater longevity out of your site(s) by constructing them with the future in mind.

If you look at the trend vectors and the moves going on in the technology world, it seems pretty clear that mobile is rapidly becoming the new normal. But having the technology is just the first step; developing strategies for effectively marketing and communicating in a mobile world is a much bigger step. Tune in next column for some suggestions about developing effective strategies for mobile…and beyond.

Running Behind image on home page via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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