"There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth." -Francis Underwood
In 2010, Morgan Stanley Research extended their financial necks and predicted that the "mobile internet would overtake the desktop PC by 2014." I talked about the importance of that research the first time I spoke at the PRSA International conference about mobile in 2011. So, how accurate were they (and [arguably] even more importantly, how foolish might I look this year, if they were wrong)?
In January 2014, according to data from comScore, cited by research firm, Enders Analysis, mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage in the United States. Traffic from PC's clocked in at 45%. A mobile strategy is no longer a "nice to have" luxury - it's the present and future of communications with regard to B2C and B2B communications. Companies and corporations that have yet to allocate resources for a mobile strategy, or have taken shortcuts with their mobile approach are building a house of cards – and it's about to take a tumble. Mobile has won.
The dictionary defines a "House of Cards" as a flimsy structure, arrangement, or situation that is in danger of collapsing or failing.
Your first consideration for expanding or enhancing any brand within the digital space begins with how the information will be received on a mobile device. While the near future will likely include universally acceptable, massive flatscreen entertainment portals with easy-to-use internet access, for the moment we’re talking about the now instead of the future now – while planning both responsively and reactively for the eventual.
There are three high-level questions to ask when building a strategy to avoid a house of cards. While these bullets may appear simple, the details are important. Building upon a structure of understanding carefully will elevate further insights and ultimately determine how well received your digital experience will be on all devices.
- Who is the audience?
- What do they want?
- Where are they accessing content?
"After all, we are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal." -Francis Underwood
Who is the audience?
Speak openly and honestly with your client about their audience. Conduct interviews with key stakeholders. Learn about your clients competitors and review the digital experiences they are likely to visit in tandem with your clients brand. Build exhaustive and clear user case studies to better understand gender, age and other criteria, to consider who will be accessing brand from a digital perspective. If the client has been online for some time, request access to a potentially vast treasure trove of information available from Google analytics to expose further details about the audience: specific times they are most likely accessing the site; what devices they are using. All of this information will allow you to prepare surmountable goals and clear the path for the measurable and appropriate design/UI decisions you will soon be making.
What do they want?
From a mile up, the client or a copywriting research team should be able to articulate what content best suits the audience. Aside from the standard questions that will help design a high-level content inventory plan, the importance of how vastly different mobile content is from the desktop is crucial and must be articulated to the client. To start with the obvious, the real estate you have to work with is different. Consider quantity and the breadth of content you should show to someone on a mobile device vs. a larger tablet or desktop device. Keep in mind, mobile users are on the go, and have a shortened attention span. Content should should always be readable, usable and most importantly – appropriate for the device.
To take a page from Apple’s iOS guidelines, "Text is legible, icons are precise and lucid, adornments are subtle and appropriate and a sharpened focus on functionality should motivate the design." For smartphones in particular, a single column layout is the easiest to absorb for mobile, and calls to action should should be represented by areas no smaller than 44px x 44px (here's a case where a "rule of thumb" is about your actual thumbs). Place important content above the "fold", or immediately viewable area on mobile – like contact info and important calls to action.
Where are they accessing content?
Business Intelligence gained through data collection is imperative. According to IBM, Five petabytes of data are generated every day by mobile phone subscribers. This is roughly the equivalent of 100 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with paper. The means the data you need to best serve mobile content to your audience is out there. A majority of the data is consumed by high-end, complex system softwares, for the uninterrupted functioning of certain business tech. If you were to carry out a comparison of Tableau and Power BI, you'd know that without devouring humongous amounts of data, these softwares are virtually useless.
Google Analytics (GA) data will help, as will statistical data, reports about your client's industry and the general mobile landscape, and interviews with key stakeholders and investors. Google Analytics reports will aid in understanding the devices and mobile operating systems currently accessing a digital experience, as well as the location that they are accessing the experience from. If your client is international, pay close attention to their specific carriers and regions. This is also important if your client is predominantly reaching a North America or United States-only market as well. There are still areas in this hyper-connected country where connectivity is spotty or slower than you might expect.
Your plan should be to create the fastest loading experience for your mobile audience as possible, regardless of the device. This can be accomplished in several ways, one of which is limiting or eliminating images that are unnecessary for the overall user experience. When using icons as calls to action, utilize a single image (usually referred to in the HTML development world as a "sprite") for multiple icons to create a single call to the server, cutting down on latency issues that slow down user experience. 60% of visitors on a mobile device wait 3 seconds or less for your page to load on mobile.
We no longer access the majority of our internet content from the desktop. According to a survey run by Google/Nielsen in Q4 of 2012, 77% of mobile searches were from a location (work or home) likely to have a desktop PC available. Stationary, plugged-in devices are not suitable for today's attention deficit disorder audience. We're easily distracted multi-taskers – always on the move – and as such – we want our content to join us on our journey. We desire access to data at our beck and call. Always consider how to deliver content to smartphones, phablets, tablets, wearables, and even ultra books - all devices that are in the mobile ecosystem and the inevitable future of the post desktop landscape.
"There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong and useless pain, the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things." -Francis Underwood
Building a mobile strategy isn't easy. Mobile involves many moving parts, working with right digital partners, and the willingness to take risks based on the inevitable future. 40% of mobile users turn to a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience, and this number is growing. It's especially difficult for large corporations to jump in full throttle – but they must. If not, they will likely perish under the waves of progress and watch helplessly as the mobile house of cards inevitably collapses around their valuable brand.