The Mobile Conundrum
Our solution hadn't been commissioned with mobile as the starting point. Our starting point had been the desktop browser experience - the finer points of visual dynamism in that context were being explored when the whispered question was asked.
This anecdote is typical of the current dilemma faced by both clients and agencies with regard to the mobile experience. On the one hand, we're seeing growing consciousness amongst clients of the need to develop with the mobile experience in mind. On the other, we struggle with the fact that such concerns are often largely unfocused and uncertain in nature. The agency, many would argue, bears the burden of responsibility for resolving this mobile development paradox. We're the experts.
For most client organisations, the coherent mobile presence is still firmly on the 'To Do' list. Most cannot fully develop their general awareness that a mobile audience is increasingly vital to a coherent set of business requirements. Instead, agencies are usually faced with afterthought stipulations such as: "and it must work on mobile.”
The job of the agency then, is to translate such desires into a workable implementation roadmap that does not detract from the substance of the actual brief. Or, yes, to challenge the brief and ensure the mobile imperative is properly reflected if we believe that to be important.
How do we most effectively approach this? When a brief - and the underlying business case and funding - has made no concrete provision for such an imperative, it's certainly a conundrum. Our (developing) experience of this challenge is to propose a series of common-sense measures in which to ground the matter.
First, agency and client must take the time to return to the business-critical functions of the digital presence in question. What are we trying to achieve via the digital channel in the broadest sense? What are the central objectives we seek to fulfil via digital means?
From that baseline, we are then in a position to assess what aspects of the interaction between business and customer most naturally lend themselves to a mobile dimension.
For example, an eCommerce business will benefit from extending its transactional presence into the mobile domain because it can then accompany the consumer into the real-world retail environment. Similarly, a brand campaign can extend its traction with consumers from above-the-line and desktop website communications by hooking into mobile social apps, or by creating bespoke campaign apps or mobile content assets.
We identify ways in which the digital presence can be augmented with a mobile solution to become more pervasive and gain a presence in a wider array of the target audience's daily activities.
We can then turn to the practicalities: the cost relative to audience reach; the benefits of serving content or functionality that is designed for mobile devices; the technical challenges of developing appropriate delivery mechanisms; and the additional resourcing required to source, produce and maintain assets and content.
A good agency is a firm advocate of only undertaking such steps armed with sound audience insight. Even the leading mCommerce and mBrand operators will fall foul of that one, as anyone watching the routinely bewildering mixture of inspired and insane mobile efforts coming out of Portland, Oregon will know.
Few serious agencies now act without a remit to gather audience and wider consumer knowledge on behalf of their clients - in the still slightly "Wild West" landscape of mobile development, this is an extremely significant imperative.
Armed with all of the above - the clear business objective, the sober sense of which business functions readily map against the mobile channel, clear audience insights - it is then possible to talk about the design approach. The client in my anecdote has a bespoke iPhone and Android app with which to support their main (transactional) business goal. The desktop site's conformity to a mobile browsing experience was therefore primarily a matter of presence.
The agency design team must guide its clients through the menu of options: apps, bespoke mobile interfaces, a single responsive interface design, simple rendering conformity etc. Our normal starting point is to suggest that a subset of the existing presence be transposed into a mobile solution, using whatever approach is the path of least resistance for that client's circumstances. Combined with basic housekeeping of the wider presence for the main mobile browsers, these first moves generate the feedback that gives the toe-dipper mobile presence context.
The agency and client team should aim to launch and learn. The data generated by this initial presence can be used to inform further innovation. From there, the organisation can set roadmaps for growth in the mobile domain that ensure the exercise is useful, profitable, supports the user and the brand, and shapes the mobile future of the client organisation. Then it'll look great on an iPhone.
Matt Clark is principal consultant at Amaze