Should you have a mobile-first digital experience strategy? It’s the question many marketers think about as mobile device usage continues to increase across the world, and Google continues to emphasize with its latest search algorithms. Yes, the mobile experience is critical, whether you are serving B2C or B2B markets, but it’s not necessarily the first experience you need to create. The answer to where and how you implement a mobile experience lies in the customer journey, and that is where you need to start.
Mobile Continues to Rise in Usage
We are surrounded by statistics that tell us that mobile usage is growing. comScore’s Mobile’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that mobile is the primary tool for the digital omnivore with over 60% of time spent on digital using a mobile device. Key industries where a mobile-first experience is taking the lead include health, career, and retail. Mobile is also getting big in the financial industry with 50% of consumers using mobile banking.
There are other areas where you can see mobile taking a bigger piece of the digital experience. Consider higher education and prospective students researching schools. Millennials live on their mobile devices, so it makes sense that education-focused websites would deliver a rich experience that works well on mobile.
What a Mobile-First Design Strategy Looks Like
A mobile-first design strategy does not assume you only design the experience for mobile. It assumes that mobile is the primary device used by your target audience. If mobile is the primary device, then your user experience must first be designed for mobile, with desktop a secondary delivery option.
A mobile-first design is sometimes called “progressive enhancement” where you design for the least technology capable platform in mind, focusing on bare necessities and the essential features to win the audience. As the technology becomes more capable – like a desktop - you add content and features to build on the experience.
Progressive enhancement is not exactly the mobile-first approach you should take today if you use the exact definition above. Mobile devices are much more capable than they were when progressive enhancement was first defined. Some devices are compatible or better than desktops, so you can’t think “least capable” or “bare necessities.”
What you need to think about is how your audience uses their mobile device and focus the design on the key features and functionality. In most cases, you are defining a responsive design-based experience, so the same features and capabilities are also on the larger screens (like tablets and desktops), but you can also put more features in navigation or sidebar widgets that display more prominently on the larger screens.
If your target audience is primarily using mobile devices, then this type of mobile-first design is critical. But the reality is most people use multiple devices even in the context of a single task or journey. And that’s why you should focus your user experience design on the journey, not the device.
Focus on the Journey, Not the Device
In marketing, we talk a lot about multichannel – providing a customer experience for every channel or device where we know our audience interacts with our brand. We also talk about omnichannel – the ability to serve a customer across all channels for a single journey or experience. That’s how we should be thinking about the mobile experience, as part of an omnichannel experience.
I recently read a piece in Smashing Magazine that explained the idea of journey-driven design well. This approach applies to designing content and the visual experience, and it looks at the how a person interacts with the brand across channels from start to finish to complete their task or objective. That flow may look one way to one audience and another way for another audience.
For example, a prospective student may start looking at schools from their mobile device, but switch over to a table or laptop later when they are discussing options with their parents. A parent, however, may start with the desktop and later may use a tablet or a smartphone when in transit and thinking about the decision. Each audience may look at different content during their visits and need different functionality.
You can’t assume that a journey always starts on a particular channel or device for everyone, but you can look at segments (audiences) and define the journey for that audience, including what device or channel they typically use at each key interaction point.
Journey-driven design forces you to look at the process holistically, while also considering the needs of the audience at any point in the journey. It enables you to create a consistent experience, focusing on the content and capabilities needed at each interaction point, while also accounting for the visual frame (mobile, tablet, desktop). It requires the content strategist and the designers to work together to identify the goals of each interaction point. Once they understand the goal(s), then they can figure out the content required, and the design needed.
Mobile is Important, But Not Always First
The mobile experience is important to consider when you are designing digital experiences, but it isn’t always the first experience you design. You do have to ensure your website is mobile friendly – Google pretty much demands it, but your target audiences don’t always interact on mobile devices.
Focus on the journey itself, identifying key interaction points. At each interaction point, what device is typically used for a select audience, what content are they looking for and what functionality is required. The device, content, and functionality may differ by audience. Focus your designs on your most important audience first, then go back and adjust for the other audiences.
Mobile will undoubtedly play a role, sometimes a “first” role, other times a secondary role. As long as you focus on the needs of the user at that specific time and understand their context, you will create the right user experience.
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