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Why brands must shift content strategy in a mobile-first (and mobile-only) world

Rebecca Lieb
Woman using her Mobile Phone in the street, night light environm

This article was originally published in iMedia Connection on January 29, 2015.

When it comes to mobile, businesses are at a tipping point very similar to the one they found themselves in 12-13 years ago with the internet. It was here, a healthy majority of consumers used it, yet businesses found themselves challenged by any and all aspects of the digital revolution: getting online, shifting strategies and business models, designing digital experiences, and generally, with meeting the expectations of digital consumers.

It's déja vu all over again. As a new report from my colleagues at Altimeter Group, "The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience," points out, mobile is no longer delegated to second screen status by many consumers, a trend that will only accelerate. According to comScore, which uses "time spent" to gauge online consumer retail activity, 56 percent of all time spent on U.S. online retail occurs on a mobile device. Yet a mere 16 percent of companies strongly agree they are completely prepared to meet customers' mobile expectations, according to a 2014 study by the CMO Council and SAS. Additionally, some 90 percent of consumers move between devices to accomplish a goal, using an average of three different screen combinations daily.

Consumer needs and expectations have changed, and brands have no choice but to change correspondingly. No longer can they be asked to return to desktop computers to complete tasks there, in a fully functional environment. Mobile experiences must be seamless and stand-alone.

Yet overwhelmingly brands regard mobile as a separate channel, often at a far remove from the customer experience, metrics, brand, and commerce goals or requirements that apply to the rest of digital.

The report (available for download at no cost) provides recommendations for organizations working to overcome the often formidable budgetary, organizational, and most of all, strategic obstacles to becoming not just mobile-first, but eventually mobile-only businesses.

As business shifts digital strategy to mobile strategy, so too will content strategy and content marketing have to realign.

Of the three types of content marketing, utility content, or content that helps consumers achieve a task, is a mobile natural. Sure, we see it on the web (e.g., mortgage calculators, calorie counters), but mobile applications can be stunningly on-brand and creative. From Charmin's on-brand trusty Sit or Squat for finding a nearby and accessible public restroom (with user reviews) to robust real estate apps that not only deliver available inventory but also neighborhood data from pricing to schools to crime rates, mobile is useful, hyper-relevant and contextually meaningful.

The other two content marketing buckets: entertaining content and content that's educational and/or informative, also translate naturally to mobile -- but with major shifts from the desktop environment.

Mobile means providing content in form factors native to mobile devices and intuitive to users; swiping, for example, rather than keyboard inputs.

It also means reimagining brand content for mobile platforms. It's no accident that services like Instagram and Tumblr have been ascendant in the wake of mobile's rise -- they're image-based, and on small screens pictures are worth the proverbial thousand words. It's a real estate issue. Content will continue to become more visual -- and audio-visual -- as screens shrink in size.

Mobile is also a determining factor in converged media; the collapsing of paid, owned, and earned channels into just "media." With mobile real estate at a premium, mobile-first means ad, content and social teams will operate seamlessly and in lock step.

Consumers' shift to mobile necessitates a shift in business, and correspondingly in digital, strategy. Content permeates this entire system.