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Forget Mobile First: It’s Bigger Than That

By: Chris Horton


We marketers love buzzwords and phrases. Much like a cowboy’s trusty six-shooter, terms like “savvy consumer,” “smart marketing,” and “increase ROI” can nearly always be found somewhere in a marketer’s content arsenal. The latest marketing buzz-phrase du jour is “mobile first.” As businesses and marketers scramble to come to terms with the rapid pace of mobile adoption (another buzz phrase), everyone is running around like mad declaring the existential necessity of having a mobile first strategy, whatever that means.

In a recent post, eMarketer interviewed Johnna Marcus, Director of Mobile and Digital Store Marketing at Sephora. When they asked her how she defined a mobile-only customer, Marcus had this to say,
It’s really helpful to think of this more as the person who uses mobile as her primary internet device, and when you think about it that way, her phone is with her 24/7, and it’s fundamentally a multitasking device. She goes seamlessly from a work email to plans with friends to putting something on Facebook—that jump between work, social, productivity and utility is all bound up in her phone, so it serves all those purposes…
At two separate points later on in the interview, Marcus reiterated this idea of the seamless nature of mobile:
The big thing is that it’s omnichannel, and mobile is this kind of seamless glue because for most of us it’s not more than a couple inches away from you at any point…
For Sephora, mobile is part of our strategy. Retailers are going to have to come to the conclusion that mobile is just an integral part of the touch points with the customer…
The Integral Nature of Mobile
I’m really glad Johnna Marcus used the word “integral” in this sense, as I think it really captures the profound influence of mobile devices on business specifically and modern living in general.
Here’s how the dictionary defines the word:
INTEGRAL: “necessary to make a whole complete; essential or fundamental.”
Here are some synonyms for integral: essential, fundamental, basic, intrinsic, inherent, constitutive, innate, structural.
I especially like the terms essential, intrinsic, innate, and structural. These words imply that there is something organic and seamless about the relationships we have with our mobile devices. You can bet that this will only grow apace as the Internet of Things (IOT) ushers in a myriad of smart devices that will be interwoven in the fabric of appliances we use, the clothes we wear, and eventually into our very bodies themselves.
Youth Gone Mobile
If you dare to think this is a novelty, that mobile is a mere passing trend, think again. According to a recent report by Common Sense Media, 75% of American children under the age of eight have access to a smartphone or tablet. As an article published by Marketing Profs points out, access to tablets in particular has spiked, with a fivefold increase in ownership of devices such as iPads in the past two years among families with young children: from 8% in 2011 to 40% in 2013.
I see this playing out with my own children, aged four and seven. My seven-year-old is really into the online game Candy Crush Saga. We own a Kindle Fire tablet, and when my wife and I recently upgraded our old HTC smartphones, we gave them to our boys to play with. The other day, I watched my seven year old switch from the HTC to the Kindle tablet in a matter of seconds. When I asked him why he did so, he distractedly mentioned that the battery on his HTC was dying, so he had to quickly switch to the Kindle so he wouldn’t lose his place in the game. Because these apps are cloud-based, he can do this seamlessly.
Believe it or not, my four year old is really into chess. That is not to say he is a budding tactical genius the likes of Bobby Fisher. His interest in chess has been almost purely driven by digital: one day when he and I were playing around on my new phone, I downloaded a free chess game and taught him to play. At home with the bright display and digital functionality, he picked it up right away.
I thought the transition to a real chess board would reveal that he never really understood the game, that the digital interface was somehow helping make the chess experience easier for him. True, it was helping—helping him learn how to play chess. In fact, his transition to a “real” chess board was easier than I bargained for. It only took him a few moves to adjust to the traditional, three dimensional, offline environment, so much so that the little monster gave me a run for my money.
If my kids had their way, they would bring their hand-me-down smartphones everywhere. We finally had to set some boundaries when we found our youngest happily tapping away while on the john. I must admit I had difficulty keeping a straight face as I tried to explain to a four-year-old that it was inappropriate to bring his mobile device EVERYWHERE. He looked at me as if I was crazy; I might as well have been speaking Greek.
Take Sephora’s Advice on Mobile
Econsultancy ended their interview with Marcus by asking her about best practices for marketers that want to take more of a mobile-first approach. Here’s what she had to say:
Sometimes we get hung up on mobile-first as meaning we have to do something for mobile before we do it anywhere else, and that’s important, but it’s more about making mobile very strong and comprehensive. So it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to market first with mobile, but that the customer should be able to come and go from whichever touchpoint she wants and get the information or get the experience.
Here’s my read: Marcus is gently nudging us to try and conceive of mobile as a more three-dimensional, seamless phenomenon. Smartphones, tablets and soon wearable devices are all enabling technologies that, for good or for ill, are playing an increasingly organic and intrinsic role in our daily lives.
As such, instead of taking a mobile first approach, companies need to focus on providing  24/7 user experiences that address and resolve the wants and needs of their target audience but still reflect the goals and values of their organization. By employing the latest digital tactics and tools like responsive web design, interactive, multi-media content marketing, and real-time social media engagement, brands can at least come close to providing the anywhere, anytime, fully-integrated user experiences that today’s mobile consumers are expecting to find as part of their intrinsic new reality.
Just don’t try to reach my son in the john; there are some limits to mobile integration.
This article was originally published by SyneCore
Published: November 13, 2013

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Chris Horton

Chris Horton is a Content Creator and Digital Strategist for Minneapolis-based Integrated Digital Marketing Agency SyneCore Tech. An avid tech enthusiast, Chris has written extensively on a number of topics relevant to the growing Marketing Technology industry, including SEO/targeted discovery, inbound, content, social, mobile, apps, online branding/PR, and Internet trends. Chris' marketing tips can be found on SyneCore's Marketing Technology for Growth blog. You can connect with Chris on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google Plus, or eMail him at chris@synecoretech.com.

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