What Does It Mean To Be Mobile First? And Why Should Marketers Care?

As millennials overtake Baby Boomers as the biggest demographic of consumers, marketers need to think more than ever about mobile first, explains columnist Aaron Strout.

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mobile-tablet-phone-people-2There is a fairly new catchphrase going around the marketing sphere as it relates to a brand’s customer journey. The term is “mobile first,” and it is intended to mean that as a company thinks about its website or its other digital means of communications, it should be thinking critically about the mobile experience and how customers and employees will interact with it from their many devices.

The term, similar to “big data,” is becoming so overused that it has started to lose its meaning. Some might wonder if mobile first means building a mobile app (god, I hope not), or if it means your website’s user interface (UI) should be responsive.

Or does it mean that marketers really need to sit down and completely rethink their customer experience and re-map out their customer journey, especially as it relates to its largest-growing demographic of new consumers and employees, the millennials?

If you guessed the third option, you would be right — at least in my book. Not that I can claim ownership of the definition of what “mobile first” means, but as someone who has worked for a brand and with brands to help them better understand how to engage with their customers (oh, I’ve written my fair share about mobile, too), this to me is where we need to take the definition of “mobile first” in terms of interacting with our customers.

Why Do Marketers Need To Care More Now Than Ever Before?

As I mentioned in the first section of this post, the fastest-growing demographic of consumers and employees today are millennials. Loosely defined as young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, this demographic is poised to take over Baby Boomers (adults age 51 to 69) as the largest demographic in the U.S., according to Pew Research.

Given the fact that millennials are so distinctly different from the two older generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers), marketers will need to continue to make important adjustments to accommodate these consumers who are less willing to conform than their predecessors.

The New York Times ran an article last August that highlighted key attributes of millennials based on an in-depth study Pew Research conducted titled, “Confident, Connected and Open to Change.” A few important highlights from the article about millennial attitudes include facts like:

  • A far greater number of them were raised by a single parent;
  • They are more racially diverse than ever before;
  • They were deeply impacted by recent events like 9/11 and the Great Recession;
  • In general, they are skeptical of religious and political institutions and are immune to many brands and lavish campaigns;
  • Many shop online and buy disposable clothes at places like H&M and Zara;
  • They tend to skew more empathetic;
  • And most importantly, they have all been digitally wired since childhood.

Given that 15% of these millennials either rely heavily on smartphones for all online activity — or don’t have any Internet connectivity beyond their smartphones — it is critical to understand how this new generation thinks and acts.

And remember, this younger generation is not only becoming a greater percentage of our customers, but they are also an ever-increasing portion of our work force. As a result, it is time for all marketers to rethink their customer journeys by adopting a mobile-first approach.

What Does a Mobile-First Customer Journey Look Like?

While most marketers understand what a mobile app is, and also likely have heard or gone through the exercise of creating a responsive website, far fewer have sat down to map out what a mobile-first customer journey looks like.

Of course, it has become table stakes to ensure that one’s company either has a mobile application (I don’t recommend this approach for most brands) or has updated its website to be responsive. This latter technique requires elements like simple navigation, easily clickable links — by either a finger or a mouse — optimized text readability, and images that either scale or are dynamically replaced by larger or smaller images and icons.

But more important in mapping out this journey is to take a step back and think through how, where and with what one’s customers interact with their favorite brands. This journey will differ by user, but behavior will tend to cluster around factors like:

  • cost;
  • how commoditized the product or service is;
  • whether or not it requires physical touch;
  • size;
  • whether it is durable or disposable;
  • perishability.

Most younger users will start their journey on their phone, tablet or maybe laptop, so it’s critical that it’s easy to find a company’s products via mobile search or a link from a social site like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Baiting and switching (like Amazon.com has a tendency to do) with paid search links is a bad idea.

Deep links to product pages are great but require navigational bread crumbs to re-expand search for similar items on the same site. Also, remember that millennial customers will be more likely than older generations to ask their friends and consult third-party review sites before buying, so understanding that part of the journey is more important than ever.

Assuming one’s millennial customer doesn’t purchase the item online via his or her mobile device, it is key to be able to connect the buyer’s initial foray to the experience in the physical store. Or if they come back to your site, it should be easy to resume their state of shopping and to check out or sort through the online shopping basket.

This can require account registration/login. But many customers will abandon the process if you ask for too much information up front or make the process too onerous.

Once the consumer has purchased a good or service, two of the often forgotten steps of completing the customer journey are: a) follow up to ensure the customer is satisfied with the product or service purchased and, b) enable the customer to share that product or service with his or her friends (ideally in a non-salesy manner).

Some companies like United Airlines are ensuring that this feedback loop is not only mobile-friendly, but can even be completed with one hand. The airline is so in tune with its customers that it knows they are usually pulling a bag with one hand as they are completing the survey with the other. (Note: not a client)

Mine Your Data Before Planning Your Mobile-First Strategy

As mentioned above, because each customer journey is different, it is a smart idea to mine any available information first before mapping out a mobile-first journey. This requires evaluating any and all social conversations, scouring survey results (or putting new surveys into market) and even consulting existing Web log results.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, looking at which pages rank higher with mobile users than others can give deeper insights into what to feature.

The millennial generation has arrived. They are armed with smartphones and tablets; they have grown up in a digital world and are not easily sold to. Are you adopting a mobile-first experience that caters to this new digitally savvy generation?

Thanks to friends, Paul Mabray and Chuck Hemann, for helping me think through the topic for this month’s Marketing Land post.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout is Chief Marketing Officer at integrated marketing and communications firm, W2O Group. During his tenure with the company, he has served as President of WCG and head of W2O's technology practice. Aaron has 20 plus years of social media, mobile, online marketing and advertising experience, with a strong background in integrated marketing. Prior to joining W2O, Aaron spent time as the CMO of Powered Inc. (now part of Dachis Group), VP of social media at online community provider, Mzinga, and as director of digital marketing at Fidelity Investments. Aaron is the co-author of Location Based Marketing for Dummies (Wiley) and writes a monthly mobile/location-based marketing column on MarTech.org. He also recently launched the What 2 Know podcast (iTunes) which features industry leaders talking about innovation and best practices.

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