10 common mistakes companies make with mobile

Are you doing mobile the right way? Columnist Aaron Strout outlines the top errors companies make with their mobile experiences and explains how you can avoid them.

As we continue to become a mobile-first world, the importance of companies getting their digital experience right with their key stakeholders becomes increasingly important. Unfortunately, while many senior marketers understand the need to have a mobile experience, many are still getting it wrong.

Here are a few stats to reinforce the criticality of creating a great mobile (or even better, omnichannel) experience for customers:

  • Statistics portal Statista predicts that there will be nearly 223 million smartphone users in the US in 2017, with over 2 billion users worldwide.
  • Breaking down the smartphone owners, 92 percent of people in the US ages 18 to 29 own one, according to Pew Research Center. That number drops slightly to 88 percent for those 30 to 49, 74 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds, and not surprisingly, only 42 percent of those 65+. That first group — also known as “millennials” — is the fastest-growing demographic right now and is taking over the workforce and “the customer” for more and more businesses.
  • Flurry Analytics recently released data citing that US consumers spend more than five hours per day on average on their mobile device. For most people, that is a third of their time awake.

Having grown up in digital, I have seen a tremendous evolution in the mobile space. What worked 10 years ago doesn’t necessarily work today. And with increased data speeds, faster processing power, greater screen resolutions and increased availability of great content, the bar for what works for mobile continues to be set higher and higher. With that said, there are some basic tenets of mobile that marketers should follow.

Many of the 10 mistakes below have been covered to some degree in past Marketing Land articles. But to keep myself honest, I asked my Facebook friends for their input. The outcome is a list of top mistakes many companies continue to make with their mobile experiences:

1. Assuming your company needs a mobile app

Josh Bernoff, author, former SVP of Idea Development at Forrester Research and current Chief Troublemaker at WOBS, commented on my Facebook post that “believing anyone cares enough about your brand to install an app” is one of the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to mobile. I made this same argument back in 2014 when I pleaded with marketers to think long and hard about whether they really needed to invest in an app versus a great mobile web presence.

To reinforce this point, SurveyMonkey’s list of the most downloaded apps in 2016 includes only two companies — Uber and Amazon — that aren’t games, a social/communications platform or a content distribution vehicle (and as we know, Amazon does actually distribute content). So unless you have an active niche audience, require deeper functionality or want your customers to be able to use you in the absence of connectivity (like Spotify), don’t fall into this trap.

2. Creating mobile and desktop experiences in silos

According to eMarketer, 75 percent of US internet users will access the web via both their mobile phones and their desktops. As I discussed in an article I wrote last May, people use mobile and desktop differently. This means that marketers need to view the customer journey as a continuum and ensure that their brand’s mobile and desktop experiences are complementary.

Most people don’t carry their laptop into a store to help with research, just as many consumers don’t want to perform tasks that can benefit from larger screens or a tactile keyboard on their phones.

3. Lacking a data collection/aggregation plan

Mitch Schneider, sales director at Snowflake Computing, acknowledges that companies “lacking or not having a plan to properly harvest mobile data [is a mistake]. Things [companies should] consider: what are the data sets, data formats, where are [they] storing this data, what are [they] doing with it, how will mobile data insights help and guide the overall business, etc.”

While this is not an easy task, forgoing it can create deeper pain down the road when the CFO or CEO comes knocking, wondering about the return on investment of mobile.

4. Treating mobile as a bolt onto the web experience

Brian Solis, author and principal analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet company, asserts that “thinking about mobile as a bolt onto the web experience and not designing for micro-moments and mobile-only journeys” is another mistake marketers make. This issue is related to, but not the same as, mistake number two.

Because most companies have invested in a website over the last 20 years, some have taken the easy way out when creating a mobile presence. This means either bolting on a smaller version of their site or creating a responsive experience that relies on basic templates versus expert strategy to make decisions on how content, design and navigation get treated on smaller mobile displays. This can result in clunky, disjointed experiences for mobile users.

5. Assuming mobile advertising is like digital display advertising, but smaller

While mobile advertising is still in its infancy, it is quickly becoming big business. In fact, last year it was anticipated that over $100 billion was spent on mobile advertising. There are effective formats like paid social and in-app ads, among others (I went into depth on this topic last October), but display advertising on smartphones and tablets still leaves a lot to be desired.

For one thing, mobile advertising does not have the advantage that desktop display does due to the lack of cookies. In addition, the small formats often lead to mistaken clicks or aggravating customer journeys. Not to pick on them, but radio station WEEI in Boston has cleverly (from a marketer’s perspective) but frustratingly (from a user’s experience) put their display banners just below the “play” button. As you can imagine, at least 25 percent of the time, I’ve found myself clicking on the ad versus the “play” button.

6. Viewing responsive design as the only solution

Responsive design is a good workaround for companies that can’t afford to build two or three different versions of their websites. But just because you can use a responsive design doesn’t mean you should.

My colleague, Andrew Korf, who specializes in mobile user experience (UX), suggests that “brands that can afford it need to deliver different content and experiences to desktop, tablet and mobile that is contextual to the device, the user, their state and their needs.” Again, this is not easy for all-sized companies, but the larger ones — particularly those who engage millions of consumers — should consider a custom approach.

7. Including non-mobile-friendly content like PDFs and infographics in the experience

Not much needs to be said about this topic except the fact that marketers should not include non-mobile-friendly content types in their mobile experience. Document types like PDFs that were built for the desktop aren’t particularly user-friendly on a three-inch screen.

And as Luke Kintigh, global content marketing strategist at Intel, said, “Infographics don’t really ever work on mobile no matter the design. We’ve found converting each element to a slideshow or items in a progressive scroll is much better.” If you feel you must include these, give users the option to email themselves a link to download on their desktop/laptop.

8. Forgetting that mobile means smartphones AND tablets

One of the things I am constantly amazed by is the fact that researchers, analysts and journalists all bundle smartphones and tablets into the same buckets when they talk about “mobile.” And while some do break out behavior on the two different form factors, the environments, types of tasks and expectations for the two types of mobile devices are almost as dissimilar as a tablet and a desktop.

What you can do as a marketer is start by looking at your web analytics to see which devices customers are using to access your site. And then as you think about your responsive experience, customize the journey accordingly.

9. Mistaking ‘mobile-first’ for ‘mobile at all costs’

While more often than not, starting with mobile is a good solution, it isn’t always the right solution. In fact, depending on the audience, the task at hand and where you expect customers to interact with your company, mobile may still play a role, but it might not be the lead role.

This is why it’s important to take a “customer-first” approach over mobile first. As cited in the above statistics, customer bases that are 65+ don’t all have smartphones (58 percent don’t, in fact), and those who do may not be comfortable using their phones for certain tasks.

10. Forgetting to localize mobile content, design and experiences

Communication pro Jeremy Pepper suggests that “ignoring locality, meaning what works in Asia or Europe doesn’t work in the US and vice versa,” is a common mistake. This is one of those things that is more about process and content creation versus design (although a country-by-country user experience is important) so thinking through global support upfront is an important step.

Clearly, there are many other mistakes marketers make when it comes to creating and designing mobile experiences. But 10 is a nice round number, and these common failings listed above are a good place to start when evaluating one’s mobile strategy.

But remember, as our workforces and customers continue to skew younger, the way they digest content and interact with a brand is heavily influenced by mobile. Maybe it’s time to talk to your agency about whether or not you have the right mobile strategy.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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