The rapidly growing consumer preference for connecting to the Internet with mobile, rather than fixed devices is well-recognized among digital marketers and designers. However, what is less well-recognized among digital content professionals is that ubiquitous access to computing, rather than the mobile form factor, is the real impact the “mobile shift” is creating.

The Mobile Shift – The Basics

As explained in a research paper written by Tim Walters, Ph.D. of Digital Clarity Group -- “Understanding the ‘Mobile Shift’: Obsession with the Mobile Channel Obscures the Shift to Ubiquitous Computing”(pdf) – consumer appetite for mobile devices has exploded since the introduction of the first true “smartphone” -- Apple’s iPhone -- in mid-2007, and the total number of smart consumer/employee mobile devices is expected to reach more than 2 billion by 2016 (driven by 500 million tablets).

The research cites statistics from Tata Consulting (TCS) that show 22% of North American customer interactions occur in the mobile channel, and 48% of customer interactions are conducted via mobile device in the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, many experts are advising developers and marketers of new consumer-focused sites and content to adopt a “mobile-first” development strategy.

However, the fixation on mobile devices, rather than the computing access they provide, distracts digital marketers from the most important aspects of the mobile shift. In addition, the paper warns digital marketers that “reports of the death of the fixed Web and the PC are greatly exaggerated” and that slowing mobile growth rates mean traditional Web access will not disappear anytime soon, but the advent and implications of ubiquitous computing are where digital marketers responding to the mobile shift should be paying the most attention. 

The Mobile Shift – The True Meaning

“The introduction of mobile into the established PC and web world is not simply the addition of yet another channel option that must compete for limited attention,” states the paper. Instead, mobile devices expand the opportunity for consumers to engage with brands online. “Ubiquitous access,” as initiated by mobility, means consumers have constant, immediate capability to engage in computing with no delay.

Even more significantly, ubiquitous access allows consumers to engage in “multi-screening,” or using several devices simultaneously, rather than simply moving seamlessly between them in sequential use. This releases the “inherent value” of the Internet protocol -- “not just networked machines but fully networked, plugged-in humans and societies.” 

The Mobile Shift – ‘De-channeling’ and How to Respond

Ultimately, the mobile shift and resulting ubiquitous computing access create a “de-channeling” of the online consumer experience. Consumers will not recognize any distinction among different channels of Internet access, but instead view the Internet as one continuing, uninterrupted experience that is simultaneously engaged through multiple access points. Digital Strategy Group recommends digital marketing take the following steps to stay competitive in this new environment:

  • Ramp up mobile skills without losing sight of multi-device reality -- Marketers must develop proficiency at delivering a mobile user experience without creating a mobile silo. Customers must be engaged simultaneously across any and all devices, with each experience both optimized and also consistent.
  • Invest in high-value relationships and transactions -- Marketing investments should be based on task orientation and relative value to consumer, rather than channel.
  • Create a solid but flexible content foundation -- Organizations need to build solid and scalable content platforms that can still react to quick changes in engagement strategies, device requirements and market opportunities.