Issue: January/February 2012
If your company isn’t thinking about mobile offerings, then prepare to be passed by.
If you’ve flown lately, or attended a conference, you’ve seen the change. More mobile devices (tablets, e-book readers and smartphones) are used than bulky laptops. The number of mobile devices has also exceeded the number of PCs.
According to a Network World survey, 70 percent of companies now allow personal devices at work, and that number will certainly go up over time. This produces challenges for CIOs and administrators, but it’s a fact of life.
We are witnessing the consumerization of IT. Tech has become so ubiquitous and mainstream that individuals, voting with their dollars, are making decisions that used to be under the purview of CIOs.
Sometimes wide adoption beats technical advantage (remember VHS vs. beta?), and the masses are certainly choosing the mobile platform.
Consider what Jim DesPres, regional manager of Google Enterprise, told a crowd of NEOSA CIOs: “Our primary design environment has changed from the laptop or PC form factor to a mobile form factor.”
Google now looks to optimize the mobile user experience first and then moves to other platforms.
“If last year was the year of social media, this year is definitely the rise of mobile,” says Dave Skorepa, chief creative officer of Cleveland’s Aztek. For most businesses, that will affect your e-mail marketing, website and, possibly, apps.
If you’re brave enough, view your company Web page on your smartphone or other mobile device. Does it look good on the small screen? Did it load at a reasonable speed? Is the interface clunky for small buttons? In general, is the user experience something that will build your business?
Now think about how you use your mobile device. You probably check e-mail on your mobile, right? How does your company’s email marketing message look on the smaller device? It’s probably not as effective as it could be with some tweaking.
“Tweaking” is the key word because most traditional businesses, i.e. not primarily in the tech/Internet world, do not have to completely abandon their existing practices and resources. Budgets, deadlines and customer demand will eventually determine whether tweaking suffices or you need a redesign.
Look at your email marketing. Nielsen Co. reported in May 2011 that 38 percent of U.S. mobile phone owners use a smartphone, and you can assume most of them check email on it, usually many times throughout the day.
Any marketing plan begins with determining your target audience. If you know who your intended audience is, where and how they read their messages and other data, you can tailor a message to them. Target a slower-loading but richer in content message to desktop users, but offer a light, quick, custom message to your mobile subscribers. You don’t want to abandon desktop users or ignore mobile users.
Mobile device users scan headlines and go for the meat of a message more than desktop users because they are probably doing something else as they read. So make your message very clear to them. Short and sweet.
Realize that mobile users probably can’t print a coupon, and desktop users aren’t always in your neighborhood. Timing may also play a part. Sending a message at commute time to mobile users may generate more reads. Inviting customers to sign up while in your location to get a discount could grow your list of mobile users. It all comes down to Marketing 101: Know your target and goals.
These tactics apply to your website too. “Ease of navigation and load time are huge factors,” Skorepa says. “Readability and scaling certain types of content are close runners up.”
Here are a few suggestions:
• Adjust your mobile page for the smaller screen and keypads. Users frustrated by too much scrolling or small fonts will click somewhere else.
• Aim for a single column for your mobile web message. Both Microsoft and Apple suggest 21 or 22 pixel fonts for headlines and 16-18 for body text.
• Screen space is precious, but leave enough room for big fingers to maneuver.
• Test on as many different devices as you can.
Skorepa suggests the website of Cleveland steel service center Flack Steel (flacksteel.com) as a good example. “The page works for a traditional desktop browser but reconfigures itself for a mobile screen size,” says Skorepa.
Even if your company website isn’t a main focus of your business, you still have to be proactive regarding the mobile revolution. Even traditional companies are working toward a mobile presence. Eaton Corp., for example, is using a “pretty sophisticated” iPad app for the 100-year-old company’s distributor channel, according to Bill Blausey Jr., the company’s senior vice president and CIO. Its new iOS app gives them a "weapon" to let their distribution channel sell more.
You can use free or inexpensive app creators like AppsBar (in beta at appsbar.com), but realistically you want a pro to develop an app for your business.
You also have to consider the platform for your app. Apple’s developers are adding about 1,000 new apps a day while Android developers are uploading about 1,400 a day, according to a Gartner Group report. Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile 7 are the major players with Apple far ahead and Android catching up fast.
HTML5 is an emerging standard, but it will take some time before it makes app development independent of the operating system platform. We saw this with early PC’s as TRS-DOS, CP/M, AppleDOS, Atari, Commodore and others vied for the market share that Microsoft and MS-DOS eventually won.
Even now, an HTML5 Web app is typically faster and less expensive to develop, maintain and deploy. But it’s not 100 percent there yet.
Whether your business Web, email and apps need a complete redesign or just some tweaking to take advantage of mobile users, Skorepa offers some advice: “Just do it. Mobile is only getting bigger. You’re already behind the times without it.”
Great Lake Geek Dan Hanson is always on the move. Follow him on Twitter @greatlakesgeek and @danhanson.
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