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.
What's a website living in the long tail world supposed to do? We're all on a budget, trying to maximize the returns on our investments. Originally, this led to fragmentation within channel delivery models and digital marketing strategies. Companies focused on having a "tablet" strategy, an "iPhone" strategy and a "mobile marketing strategy," in essence trying to follow the old Madison Avenue model of print, radio and television. This had predictably poor results, as the web mediums share far more synergy than those old world mediums do.
Responsive design has helped create a new model, a consolidated content strategy model, where the same content is manipulated and massaged for delivery to multiple mediums. This strategy is far more cost effective and allows for much more natural usage of existing investments in CMS technology and business process. It has a few drawbacks, as sailing near the edge of the known world always does, most particularly the fact that online advertising systems still feel archaic and slow to embrace this cutting-edge technique.
At Phase2, we've spent the last year learning how to successfully combine complex enterprise content assembly and strategy logic; aggregate and consolidate data into the Drupal CMS; allow the CMS to be used as a design hub for the layout and enhancement of source content; as well as distribute it to multiple channel form factors via a responsive design. We work with some of the largest and most complex publishing companies on the planet. In essence, we're helping those companies consolidate and gain massive market efficiencies from their distributed internal content creation network with minimum invasiveness into their existing systems. This is helping them survive incredible market pressures within the publishing world. We are helping companies develop more complex channel management strategies as well, where delivery can be based on upstream tagging or leveraging the CMS to provide both raw and curated content to highly designed mobile platforms, such as photography driven iPad apps.
Gabe Sumner -- Telerik
Responsive Design will dispel a mindset that has needed to disappear for a very long time. This mindset views webpages in the same way offline pages are viewed: as static objects, where each viewer receives the same experience. In reality, this has NEVER been true. We’ve always had different browsers and different devices. Although through numerous tricks we’ve managed to sustain the illusion that webpages are static.
The proliferation of new Internet devices shatters this illusion; there are too many devices to support reliably through tricks. Strategies such as ‘forking’ (creating dedicated content for specific devices) simply do not scale. This will force teams to confront what has always been true. How does a webpage look? It depends. Responsive Design embraces this reality and our tools and process must do the same.
Dan Keldsen -- Information Architected Inc.
The challenge of responsive design is that unfortunately, both technically-focused personnel and marketers, are often fractured into specialties that make Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase: "The medium is the message," into a self-fulfilling prophesy that explodes content into an unholy, expensive mess.
That way lies madness, where a single marketing message is exploded and replicated (not in a positive "viral" way) into many different copies and sets of code to show completely overhauled versions of the message to different devices.
The alternative is a lightweight, responsive design that does just enough manipulation of the display to delight the viewer, while preventing ridiculous technical/platform investments in your back-end systems, and/or intense manual work and re-formatting to create many varieties of the message to suit.
The trick of course is to maintain both the effectiveness of that message in each medium, while delighting the customer at the readability, usability (given "swiping" and other mobile behaviors for example) and overall experience on the device/viewer they happen to be using at the moment. It should NOT be to simply strip-down the design so it "works" on many different devices, but rather to optimize to a sub-set of the devices that both you (your company) and your customers (and prospects) care about.
It comes down to behavior and effectiveness. For smartphone users in particular, if they feel insulted because the experience of your web site/app clearly doesn't care that they're visiting via a mobile device and they have to pinch and scroll and pray that "fat fingering" doesn't ruin their day well, who can blame them? It's not THAT hard and it doesn't have to be expensive either, but it does take planning to do it well.
From a marketing and design standpoint, there is still too much of a focus on "pixel-perfect" designs even roughly 20 years into the revolution of the web, which was built to free information of any kind (marketing materials included) from the container or layout it may have been originally designed for.
The underlying changes to the business processes behind channel management and digital marketing as a whole, is either that the individuals roles within marketing need to be enhanced to become more cross-disciplinary (and cross-medium savvy) or the functional equivalents of enterprise architects and information architects (let's call them marketing architects for now) need to provide the overall vision/framework to tie the disparate pieces together into a functioning, modern system that makes enabling responsive design the default, rather than an afterthought.
It's about marketing design flow, the process of creating and publishing marketing materials, and the customer experience flow, in what customers see, on whatever device they happen to be using. Great flow is designed and refined, not just bought and implemented. It's time to get to work.
While I'm not normally a fan of "blow it up" style business process redesign, in this case it may be smarter to reset and start over, for those companies who have been accumulating people and systems to support digital marketing, but haven't had a particularly "integrative" and flexible approach to doing so.
If 2008 was the economic reset, perhaps 2012 is time for design reset. This has been coming for a long time folks (stretching over 20 years back to SGML).
When is it the right time to make this a priority, for you and your customers?
Peter Marsh -- Atex
Responsive design is a silver bullet to produce great looking, high quality content on more and more devices, or is it? Responsive design allows designers and editors to create content once and publish it to any digital channel. From a marketer’s perspective, responsive design enables greater SEO (search engine optimization). There is no need to build separate desktop, tablet and mobile sites with backlinks and redirects for mobile users. As a result, link popularity can be maintained in the single responsive site, which helps drive organic search traffic, audience engagement and sales.
By itself, responsive design does not automatically deliver contextually relevant information. Users need different information in different channels and this is where multi-channel publishing comes into play. Channel context highlights the need for a web content management system that can leverage responsive design coupled with the ability to deliver the same or different content to different channels depending on the context of the user. This concept can be extended further to the advertising that is displayed for a user based upon his or her device and context. Best practices are still emerging for ad management within responsive design, and ad networks are beginning to adapt to this concept. As this area evolves, publishers will be able to target audiences with a continual blend of relevant content and contextual advertising for any web, mobile or tablet device. This capability will help turn the responsive design silver bullet into pure gold.