Today's digital marketers must deliver content across a number of channels and devices. Doing that, while providing a consistent brand experience at a reasonable cost is critical. This is what responsive design is meant to do. But how exactly does this development strategy change the marketer's processes? This is what we asked our panel this week.
Scott Liewehr — Digital Clarity Group
Responsive Design is all the rage in digital marketing these days. We have all heard the statistics about how many folks are accessing websites from mobile or non-desktop devices, whether tablets, phones, or even refrigerator doors. Hopefully we agree on the importance of finding ways to ensure that the experiences for those users are as meaningful, consistent and fulfilling as possible. Responsive design is a (relatively) easy way to ensure that the basics of the audience's web experience are considered enough that the form factor of the device is eliminated as a potential hindrance to a positive interaction.
I view the audience's context and the notion of cross-channel experience as a cornerstone of web engagement. However, I have mixed feelings about responsive design. On the one hand, it is likely to be the best practice that finally re-mediates the many horrendous, unconsidered mobile experiences we all endure each day. Certainly, this is a good thing and one which will help many digital marketers as well as their audiences. On the other hand, it can allow marketers to think they have "dealt with" delivery to mobile devices when in fact they have not begun to truly optimize the experiences for the mobile consumer. With separate mobile websites, marketers are likely to consciously consider their audiences and the circumstances in which they visit the site, what they might be looking for, whether they are likely to make a transaction, etc. The content a marketer would elect to display on a mobile-specific site is almost assuredly different than that they would display on a full site. They are also likely to consider other important elements of the device itself, such as whether the audience is likely to navigate via touch or trackball as opposed to a mouse, either of which would change the experience considerably.
While it is likely to raise the bar from knee- to chest-height, my fear about responsive design is that it actually won't change the digital marketing business process much at all. At a time when marketing processes should actually expand to consider audience personas and interaction contexts, organizations will now be able to present satisfactory (not 'great') experiences without effort, thus missing out on opportunities to optimize cross-channel experiences. Responsive design goes a long way towards addressing a major constraint for many, yet it also has the potential to halt some device-specific innovation categorized under the notion of Progressive Enhancement that is just begging to take place.
Unfortunately, it was our very desire for aesthetic beauty on our web properties that led to unresponsive experiences in the first place (think Flash, pdf's, and fixed-width layouts). In a weird sort of way, responsive design is just un-doing the mess we started fifteen years ago, so we shouldn't think of ourselves as "innovating" just because we have found a systematic way to undo our misdeeds. Responsive design is certainly a good idea, but we cannot stop there. For some, it could prove to halt real progress just when the importance of device-specific experiences is setting in.
Matt Fiore — Siteworx
Responsive design helps businesses to deliver consistent content and user experiences regardless of the devices their customers use. That consistent experience produces a number of benefits, including higher levels of affinity and retention. But it’s not about delivering all your content to every device, it requires a well thought out content strategy that delivers both content and functions at the appropriate point in a user’s journey based on the device they are using. A new device is introduced to the market almost daily, and creating a custom design for each specific device can wind up being costly, not to mention more work.
Using a responsive approach, you can manage analytics holistically, making cross-channel marketing campaign measurement more reliable and consistent. Responsive design techniques enable marketers to prioritize and re-use content and digital assets, and with the integration of a web content management system, it’s much easier to create and approve these assets within a single workflow, in turn, creating an efficient business process.
Undertaking a responsive approach requires a comprehensive cross-channel content strategy, requiring you to put together a single, multi-disciplinary team to ensure all business and consumer goals are met upfront for all devices. This approach can unify a variety of disciplines in the process to create an extremely rich user experience. This also allows you to measure success across all your channels and devices, not individually, giving you a much better perspective of how you are doing and what you need to change.
Tony White — Ars Logica
The first important point to make about the effect of responsive design on channel management and digital marketing business processes is that — since internal “standards” for responsive design change with lightning speed at many companies — there is a lot of confusion on the whole subject. We have had consulting clients make expensive purchase decisions for one CMS/CXM product over another because of “better mobile capabilities,” when in fact they didn’t really understand their own mobile requirements, including many aspects of responsive design. On the flip side, we have seen other clients craft detailed channel management strategies incorporating very clever responsive design – such as one company initially offering more premium goods and services to iPad users based on an assumed higher level of affluence (user data quickly verifies or refutes the assumption and appropriate changes in recommendations are quickly made).
If there’s one other sticking point I’d like to mention, it’s that digital agencies will often make recommendations about strategy for responsive design based on the capabilities of the tools they know how to use. This is often not a smart way for companies to make such decisions. Your digital agency may not only be charging for their services, they may be incurring opportunity costs because their digital channel strategies don’t leverage the best-available analytics and recommendations tools. Watch out for this!
Nate Parsons — Phase2 Technology
Last year, 428 million mobile communications devices were sold before April had even rolled around. Here we are a year and a billion more devices later; you can reach out and connect with someone from almost any point on the globe. To fill up all this communications space, people are generating staggering amounts of content, often from the very devices they are consuming it with videos, pictures, mobile-apps, all churning out a giant, frothing, seething pipeline of content. Trying to dive in and swim around in this mess while distributing your own content can start out being merely frustrating. Later on, this can become terrifying when you realize you aren't servicing some of these very lucrative audiences by providing your content in ready-to-consume, or purchase, bites.