4 Steps for Building a Mobile-First Culture

As smartphones have grown in popularity over the years, companies have been told to start paying attention to the shift in consumer behavior and adjust their strategies accordingly. Yet, the mobile experience has often been a secondary priority, only thoughtfully considered after creating a traditional online presence.

Perhaps marketers have been doubtful of the impending transition, but we have officially crossed the threshold. Mobile searches have now overtaken desktop searches, 50 percent of e-commerce website traffic comes through a mobile device, and 60 percent of global mobile users use their mobile device as their primary or exclusive Internet source.

Want more statistics? In the past year, 57 percent of smartphone owners have used their phone to do online banking, 62 percent have used their phone to look up information about a health condition, and 44 percent have used their phone to look up real estate listings. And this is just the average user. With young adults – 85 percent of whom are smartphone owners – these percentages only increase. Consumers are using (and borderline obsessed with) their mobile devices like never before.

In April, Google officially announced the “mobilegeddon” algorithm update, clearly showing its commitment to the mobile user experience, as well as the value of the mobile search audience. By adding “mobile friendliness” to the many factors it uses to list websites on its search engine, Google is penalizing companies for failing to adapt. It’s hard to deny it now: if you want to stay in the game, mobile optimization is vital.

This is the part where I will stress one of my favorite buzz-phrases: “mobile-first.” However, it’s one thing to say you’ve shifted into a mobile-first mindset and quite another to successfully make that shift. Below are a few steps to take when building a mobile-first culture at your organization:

1. Re-Engineer Your Technology

Just two years ago, mobile was only 30 percent of traffic for The New York Times. In 2014, it reached 50 percent for the first time and now, the publication is predicting to see mobile as the dominant platform with as much as 75 percent of its audience. What does this mean? It means that The New York Times is now determined to focus more technology resources on mobile development and rethink how its newsroom operates in order to truly become a mobile-first company.

“The first step was to make our content production as platform-agnostic as possible,” says Marc Frons, senior vice president and chief information officer of The New York Times. “We’ve engineered the technology so that the articles and the videos and the photographs we produce, and the interactive tools we create, work fairly seamlessly on all devices.”

The second step was to create content, tools, and advertising specifically for mobile, as the publication looks at the platform as having unique rules for product development, technology, and marketing. The New York Times is also considering how important notifications are for driving traffic and encouraging loyalty, as well as assessing the right storytelling tools to use.

Remember that people are reading and interacting with your website and content differently on mobile than they are on desktop. You need to be rethinking technology to determine the best way to deliver a great consumer experience. This may definitely require reallocating resources. At least 50 percent should be devoted to mobile, according to Frons.

2. Make Mobile Top-of-Mind for Employees

Last month, The New York Times made a bold move. Assistant Masthead Editor Clifford Levy tweeted that the paper was going mobile-first at its headquarters. In this experiment, all employees were blocked from accessing the desktop homepage of The New York Times for an entire week. “There’s a disconnect between the creation of our journalism and the consumption of it,” Levy explains, adding that a series of articles looked different on mobile and desktop screens.

USA Today conducted a similar experiment in the past with its sports section, For the Win, offering content producers previews of their work both before and after publishing. As a result, employees received a better idea of what their content would look like on mobile.

Take a page from the papers and force employees to look at your content the way your audience is viewing it. Maybe the tactic is to block desktop access, but maybe you take a less drastic (and more sustainable) route and hold daily mobile-specific meetings. CNN has done something similar with regular 8 a.m. mobile news meetings to push the editorial staff to think about how stories spread across social networks on mobile devices. Give employees a kick in the behind to release their grip on traditional web experiences.

3. Visualize Your Mobile Audience

According to the Quartz style guide, stories are written “to be sucked off the screen of a smartphone in a swaying subway train.” Well, that’s one way to demonstrate mobile-first thinking. Similarly, you need to fully incorporate mobile into your content strategy by thinking about the mobile audience from the very start. Picture your audience on their phones rather than in front of the desktop you may be using to create that content. This small step of visualization can transform your process and help you avoid major repercussions. By failing to cater to your mobile audience, you will alienate at least half of consumers right at the start.

4. Continue to Test and Learn

In order to keep up in an ever-changing landscape, you need to establish solid foundations, innovate on what works, and invest in new ideas. For example, Coca-Cola has a 70/20/10 rule for marketing investment, investing 70 percent of the budget into efforts that have already proven successful, 20 percent in emerging trends, and 10 percent in previously-untested ideas.

Create a roadmap that allows for testing and making educated guesses based on consumer insights. Companies will struggle to stay relevant in the context of emerging tech and evolving consumer behavior if they don’t commit to experimenting, learning, and adapting.

The future of mobile is still unclear. We’re confident that mobile searches will continue to grow in popularity and as a new generation of wearable devices emerges as another medium, further evolution will have to be considered. Users may start to expect even more from their mobile experience. It really is impossible to say what’s coming next, but one thing’s for certain: the companies that anticipate trends and adapt early will be the winners. You need to put your mobile audience first.

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