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Mobile: Getting Started Guide


When it comes to communication channels...

The PC is a bit like George Clooney — been around a long time, tried and true, and still very relevant.

But mobile is a bit more like Ryan Gosling. There were some early fans/adopters, but everyone is just starting to take him seriously. He will be around for awhile, and will continue to gain prominence.

So why should you care? Well, I am a big fan of Ryan Gosling (shameless shoutout – maybe he'll notice?), but I also think it is critical to appreciate the increasing importance of mobile as a communication and marketing channel.

Some organizations already have, but others are lagging behind.

Understanding the Importance:

As I mentioned in my previous post, Why Mobile Matters: Swaying the Skeptics, statistics show that mobile users are quickly becoming the largest user base on the web. Already, mobile sales have outpaced PC sales. According to Cisco, there are 48 million people in the world who have mobile phones even though they do not have electricity at home. This means mobile is reaching nontraditional populations that were traditionally hard to target because of the digital divide. Even the average American spends 2.7 hours per day socializing on his/her mobile device.

These figures have compelled many marketing and communication professionals to take note, and compelled a number of organizations to begin experimenting with mobile. This is both exciting and troubling. Mobile solutions have long suffered from a sheer lack of usability. Although the issue is dissipating, it is important that organizations new to mobile understand the language and device considerations before diving in.

To help you get started, I’ve crafted the guide below. This guide is not meant to help you plan your mobile strategy (I’ll get to that in subsequent posts!). Instead, this is the required reading that comes BEFORE you even think about your plan. It provides an overview of the mobile landscape, the differences between mobile devices and PCs, the characteristics of mobile users, and the implications of such factors on design and development.

Facts About the Mobile Landscape:

  • The market is extremely fragmented.
  • It is characterized by rapid change and innovation.
  • Android and Apple iOS are not yet the dominate devices, but they are growing at the fastest rate (in terms of market hold).
  • In general, device popularity differs by country, income level, and education. You must conduct audience research to determine what your users are using now and what they will be using in the future.

Differences Between PCs and Mobile Devices:

  • Browsers. Mobile browsers are not the same as desktop browsers. They have different behaviors, capabilities, and limitations.
  • Screen Size. Whereas websites are optimized for 1024 x 768, the most popular mobile screen resolution is 320x480.
  • Variety. There are a prolific number of devices in the market, each with its own unique characteristics. Web developers typically groan over having to support IE6. On the other hand, mobile developers complain about the need to test their solutions on 4 to 5 different devices and support anywhere between 8 to 15 (depending on who you ask) different mobile configuration combinations. In general, each device will have its own input mechanisms (e.g., some have a full keyboard while others have a touch screen), behaviors (even the popular devices differ in how they interpret style sheets), support for various technologies (e.g., Flash or media queries), native/default browsers (Safari for iPhone vs. IE Mobile), feature sets, operating systems (iOS vs. Android vs. Palm OS vs. Mobile Linux), and screen size.
  • User Needs. Mobile users differ from PC users in their behaviors, preferences, and context of use.

Characteristics of Mobile Users:


1. Mobile requires strict prioritization in your goals, content, and calls to action.

Given the endless distractions implied by the mobile context of use, mobile solutions must be easy to use and "designed for distractions." Don't rely on your users to complete difficult, time-intensive tasks such as typing paragraphs of information or filling out a long form.

Also, remember to focus your solution on a single goal. Users will not have the time or attention to focus on multiple competiting priorities/tasks. Remember to prioritize and focus on one (or at the most three) activities per visit.

2. User research is critical to success.

There are a prolific number of mobile devices on the market. Devices often vary in their capabilities, design (e.g., screen size), default browser, etc. You must do the leg work to find out which tools your target audiences are currently using and where they will be headed in the future.

You must also determine what types of activities they complete on their mobile devices (are they social or task/action-oriented?), as well as their needs, preferences, and motivations.

The findings of your research will help you with the aforementioned prioritization activities, and will also help to ensure that you are investing in the right features and technology.

3. Be deliberate in your decisions. 

Since each mobile device differs, it is important to determine which devices you plan to support and to ensure you have a long-term funding strategy in place to do so.

It is also important to be deliberate in your decision making. Define the types of mobile solutions you are going to offer (and have a good reason!). Don’t just build an iPhone app because everyone else is. Maybe a mobile website is more aligned with your goals and target audiences? Or perhaps an SMS-driven campaign is the best use of your mobile investment? Regardless, it is important to determine your strategy up front and stick to it as you progress.

4. Embrace experimentation and flexibility.

Given that the mobile landscape is constantly evolving, it will be impossible to build a one-time solution that will be relevant and functional forever. Accept this truth, and set up a flexible framework that allows for change. Have a formal plan in place to define how you will handle ongoing enhancements, updates, maintenance, change requests, and scalability to various devices or versions.

Also, utilize an agile approach when building solutions, one that relies on ongoing experimentation and accepts failure. This will help ensure your solution is responsive to new trends and lessons learned.

5. Keep an ear to the ground.

As mobile continues to evolve, be sure to pay attention to new trends, capabilities, tools, and best practices.

Also look to other organizations for examples to model. There is no shame in learning from others (even your competitors!). It pays to be attentive and aware. Replicating existing successes can help you save time and money while increasing the effectiveness of your own activities.

Start now and invest in mobile capacity building, research, and strategy. Partner with others to learn. Look for proponents within your organization to serve as early adopters. Proceed with confidence!

Looking to understand the mobile landscape before crafting your organization's strategy? Here is a list of must-reads (all helped inform the take-aways shared in this post) to get you started:

You can also email us to learn more about our mobile services. Stay tuned for more posts in this series!