You’ve undoubtedly heard and read the phrase "mobile-first mindset" countless times in recent years. Clearly, today’s always-on, always-connected customers have profoundly changed the marketing landscape, and every brand must leverage smartphones and tablets to better serve customers.

But what does having a mobile-first mindset really mean? And more importantly, what are some tactical ways marketers can go beyond the requisites of mobile-optimized websites and mobile apps to deliver even more meaningful customer experiences?

Reconsider How You Define Mobile

As a first step, I suggest it’s time to stop thinking of mobile as a channel. Rather, it is a medium through which we can leverage channels like SMS/MMS, group messaging, email, digital ads and social to engage customers.

Unlike just about any other medium, mobile is bidirectional and increasingly omnipresent. Mobile interactions drive a constant flow of data and analytics, which in turn equip marketers to deliver content with previously unimaginable accuracy. Personalization, relevancy and timeliness — the same factors consumers repeatedly list as "loyalty earners" and marketers list as "top objectives" — can be realized with the right mobile strategy.

Mobile Success Starts with Email

Email is the ultimate opt-in channel. It provides the highest ROI, regardless of whether messages are viewed on a device or desktop. Consider that 44 percent of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email.

Today, 66 percent of all email is opened on smartphones (50 percent) or tablets (16 percent). Clearly, emails must be built on mobile optimized templates that render correctly for any device the recipient happens to be holding when they are received.

Mobile email delivers unparalleled insights into consumer behavior and message efficacy. Metrics like opens, clicks, time and location drive 1-to-1 personalization and contextual messages at scale. This data adds to the complete customer view every marketer yearns to achieve, and provides the fuel to tailor the rest of the mobile journey.

Mobile email can also serve as the driver to the next level of engagement. For example, when opened on a mobile device, the shortest path to conversion might be a direct link to a mobile app. And once installed, an entirely new channel of communication — push notifications — can be established.

Engage in the Moment

Nearly three quarters of smartphone and tablet users opt-in to receive mobile messages from brands, and about half of them will make a purchase based on messages they receive. But promotional offers are just one of many reasons consumers subscribe. 

Whether it’s to receive mobile tickets to a concert, upgrade their seats as they approach the airport, or view video instructions for assembling a product the instant it’s delivered, customers embrace receiving messages in the moment.

For companies like Starbucks, mobile messaging also solves the problem of capturing attention in cluttered app stores.

Starbucks allows you to text in a keyword that prompts an app download. It’s a simple strategy that pays big results. Twenty percent of Starbucks’ US commerce is generated via mobile transactions — and the company’s app-driven loyalty program accounts for 30 percent of business in North America.

For even broader reach, marketers are rapidly adopting group messaging apps like LINE, WhatsApp and Snapchat. Savvy brands can now drive engagement with millions of subscribers using targeted, optimized messages like special offers or behind-the-scenes images or videos.

Expand Mobile Reach with Social

Nearly three quarters of the US population is active users of social networks. While access to social via desktop still slightly outpaces mobile, the gap is rapidly narrowing.

With data gathered through other channels, marketers can target mobile prospects and customers — as well as lookalikes — on networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Perhaps a customer clicks through an email offer, adds an item to her cart, but fails to complete the transaction. A well-timed social offer viewed on mobile can drive re-engagement while the desire is still fresh.

To further hone your message, monitor what people are saying about your brand and competitors. Social listening provides the insights to join the conversation on your owned social channels and across the social web, and then amplify content with digital ads.

Mobile Digital Advertising Comes of Age

Apps are an obvious channel for marketers. Over 90 percent of time spent on mobile involves an app — and in the US and UK, 80 percent of that is concentrated on just five apps. As every marketer knows, this attentive audience can be reached with digital advertising within the most popular applications like Facebook and Instagram, as well as third-party apps via the Facebook Audience Network.

Though these ads can be incredibly effective, the results can be significantly amplified by pairing them with other channels. To measure the lift, Salesforce tested (pdf) the efficacy of pairing digital ads with email using an online retailer’s list of 925,000 email subscribers.

We were able to match 61 percent of the audience with Facebook Custom Audiences. This group then received a series of emails and ads over the course of a two-week period — meanwhile, the remainder of the list was targeted with just emails. Not only did the Facebook ads extend the email reach by 77 percent, the email recipients were 8 percent more likely to click on the email and 22 percent more likely to purchase.

The Mobile Journey is the Journey

Mobile can longer be considered a step in the customer journey. As smartphone and tablets use continues to increase, so will the expectation of seamless experiences across every channel. 

Today and in the future, the most successful brands will be those that embrace mobile as conduit to personalization, relevancy and timeliness.