Marketing professionals continue to tease out the benefits of the mobile device as a marketing channel but the picture is getting clearer.
Mobile devices present a special context within which to connect with customers. Where a person is at this moment in time lends itself to impulse buys. Being constantly connected -- no longer tethered to a stationary computer or store -- provides opportunities for continuous customer engagement.
In the rush to capitalize on this new channel, it is easy to forget some of the key challenges that need to be addressed. Ignoring these challenges will result in a negative customer experience and ineffectual engagement.
Challenges in Mobile Delivery
The sheer number of device operating systems is one the biggest impediments to designing an exemplary marketing experience. There are at least four major mobile operating systems (if you include Blackberry) and a number of newer ones on the horizon. These include two new potentially major mobile OS’s, Firefox OS and Tizen. Each OS has a number of revisions and variations with many variants tied to specific platforms. Include the feature phone operating systems and you have a rather messy operating environment for mobile applications.
Then there are the form factors. Tablets, smartphones, features phones and phablets each have different capabilities and screen sizes. Overall, the device landscape is enormous, creating a challenge for the marketing professional trying to deliver high quality content or user experience to an audience on the move.
Given the difficulties in designing mobile applications for so many platforms, delivery via a mobile web browser would seem to be a great option. In the past it was possible to create one browser-based experience for everyone. Why not do the same for mobile devices? To begin with, there are differences in the capabilities of mobile browsers and the platform features they can expose. In this respect mobile browsers are no different than their desktop cousins.
Mobile browsers tend to be more limited than their desktop and laptop ones. Many won’t execute embedded Flash, Shockwave or Java applications. This makes a rich experience somewhat of a difficulty for websites built around these technologies. It may be necessary to develop dozens of variations of a website in order to provide as good an experience as possible on as many mobile browsers as possible.
The ability to run code that delivers a rich experience is only one of the development challenges. Differences in screen size and platform capabilities also hamper the ability to engage with customers through a mobile browser. Customer experience is not simply a matter of being able to deliver rich media to a browser. It has to operate within the context of the device and the moment. Incorporating location and features such as a device’s camera into the web application, which was hardly ever necessary for a desktop application, adds directly to the user experience.
You Have Options
There are solutions to these problems that don’t end with “and then design 50 variations of your web content.” First, embrace HTML5. HTML5 has the ability to create rich user experiences without plugins. It can also access important information such as locations and pictures from a camera that standard HTML is not designed for. With HTML5, a rich experience that leverages the unique features of mobile platforms can be created without resorting to writing native applications or plugins.
Second, learn about responsive design. Responsive design emphasizes crafting different page designs for different types of devices. As more web frameworks include responsive design capabilities, developing a site based on this approach will become easier. With responsive design in browser applications, you still have to develop a different user experience for different classes of platforms -- tablet, smartphones and desktop browsers -- but not for every variation possible.
Do the benefits outweigh these challenges? Certainly. Anytime a customer can be engaged on their own terms you build a stronger bond with them. That bond will result in sustained loyalty. The bigger challenge is in keeping customers engaged where and when they wish and within the right context. That is the insurmountable challenge.
Title image courtesy of Coprid (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read some of Tom's thoughts on mobile's effects on the social enterprise in The Impact of Social, Mobile and Cloud