By adaptive - November 10th, 2015

Challenges and Opportunities in the Move to Mobile-First

Susan Kuchinskas reports on the insights from the first day of Open Mobile Summit San Francisco.

In a world where mobile consumers' mobile usage continues to grow across all sectors, should every company become mobile-first? And what does that mean? Those were major questions examined on the first day of the Open Mobile Summit San Francisco, held on November 9 and 10, 2015. The conference brought 500 executives from every part of the mobile ecosystem together to share ideas and information.

Brands in all sectors are finding better customer satisfaction with an omnichannel approach, according to a morning panel of executives from Wells Fargo, American Express, American Eagle Outfitters, CA Technologies and Twilio.

While consistent access to services across all channels has become a consumer expectation, there are still times when customers want to speak to a live person. Said Elisa Bellagamba, head of product marketing at Twilio, "As more and more customer interactions are self-service, the ones that are not have enormous value." A good customer-service experience can increase loyalty, while a bad one can result in a lost customer.

Adam Marchick, CEO of Kahuna, a provider of mobile marketing automation software, was one of many who emphasized a true omnichannel approach to marketing and customer service. He said, "Apps are a catalyst to a larger omnichannel opportunity. You have to meet the customer wherever they are, and your customer is everywhere."

The key to making the most of digital channels, according to Joe Megibow, former chief digital officer of American Eagle Outfitters, is to identify the places where customers have needs or pain points and then find a way to serve those needs.

What does it mean to be mobile first?

As would be expected at a mobile business conference, the imperative of companies being mobile-first was generally accepted. However, older, established companies have a harder time of it. Adam Medros, senior vice president of global product at TripAdvisor, outlined his company's mobile evolution from mobile website to app. At first, TripAdvisor's mobile experience was a cluttered version of its website.

Next, it wrapped a mobile website inside a native app wrapper. This allowed it to quickly experiment and change the content and services, using its core competence as a web publisher. Finally, it created a true mobile app to take advantage of native features such as location. TripAdvisor has continued to iterate, test and evolve its app.

Similarly, John Vars, chief product officer of TaskRabbit, admitted that he still is working on making mobile a "first-class citizen" at the company, founded as an online service. When he arrived at the company late last year, it had two mobile web experiences, one for taskers and one for their clients. Slight improvements to the client app resulted in an increase in mobile traffic to 30 percent of the total.

But mobile development cycles are different; it's more difficult to design for the small screen; and native mobile tools are not as mature as those for web development, so the company has to rely more on partners and vendors. He advised web companies that want to become mobile-first to invest in a team experienced in mobile. "While you can take high performers and move them into mobile, it does take a while for them to learn the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the mobile environment," he said.

On the other hand, HotelTonight was created specifically to be a mobile competitor to compete with major travel companies that had apps that were not user-friendly, according to CEO Sam Shank. In designing the last-minute app, his team focused on mobile-specific use cases. He believed he could unlock a new source of demand while solving a problem for hotels.

Being mobile-first is a good way to test a new service. Brad Griffith, CEO of Gametime, said, "We decided to be really good in one dimension." That meant a start as an iOS-only app focused on the San Francisco Giants. As usage grew, it added cities and teams and, eventually an Android version.

These questions are important, said Nick Strada, group creative director of digital advertising agency AKQA, especially for traditional brands whose goods or services are being disrupted, including auto companies and credit card providers. What's consistent, he said, is, "Something will come out of left field." He believes that, because no one can predict the future, the best companies can do is "be uniquely derivative of your influences."

He advised conference attendees that want to be mobile-first to hire "full-stack creatives" who are flexible and used to working collaboratively. Instead of using the traditional agency creative team of copywriter and art director, he said, "Break your org and allow your talent to determine what the creative process is."

Company culture is a potential barrier or igniter of mobile, according to Sophie-Charlotte Moatti, founder of consultancy Products That Count. "Changing the culture is really what it means to become mobile-first," she said.

Why should your company become mobile-first if it's not already? Melody Adhami, president and COO of Plastic Mobile, noted that the new generation of mobile natives, born in 2009 or later, already is using smartphones. A full 97 percent of babies under one year old have used a smartphone, she said. By age four, more than 35 percent use a smartphone for an hour a day. "The agency world is constantly talking about millennials," she said. "But we're missing a different group that may be the future."

Actionable data

The advantage of mobile is that everything can be measured. But insights are another story. "Everyone has some data. They don't have context or depth to that data," said Tim Trefren, cofounder of Mixpanel, a provider of mobile analytics. In one of many discussions focusing on mobile analytics, Trefren said that the games industry has been the most advanced in making use of data about app usage for customer retention and personalization. In one example, Jelly Button Games, maker of Pirate King, segments users according to whether they typically buy inexpensive or high-priced items from the in-game store. Those who shop on the low end receive offers for more such, while the big spenders are offered more expensive products.

Trefren said that it's important to test the right cadence for efforts to retain or re-engage app users. This was echoed by many other speakers.

Spenser Skates, CEO of mobile analytics provider Amplitude, explained that there are three levels of analytics:
• Level 1: counters such as daily average usage or monthly average users
• Level 2: what are the problems you want to solve?
• Level 3: what drives growth?

He emphasized testing different hypotheses against each other to determine which changes will produce the outcomes you want.

Still, while data can tell you a lot, there's still the need for the human mind. That was the consensus of a publisher panel. LinkedIn, the New York Times and the Washington Post use data to understand things like the right time to send news updates and which stories are likely to be of interest to which users. Nevertheless, as Julie Beizer, director of mobile for the Washington Post, said, "We're using aggregated behavior to define segments of the audience. And we then use editorial judgment to determine what we will push."

Advertising advantage

Djamel Agaoua, senior vice president of worldwide sales for Cheetah Mobile, a global native advertising platforms and app developer, offered his take on best practices for mobile advertising:
• Ads should be appropriate to the app content or activity
• Ad should show up at the right time during app usage
• Offers should be sent at the right time based on user behavior
• The ad format should fit in with the app structure

Agaoua said these strategies gave eight to ten times the clickthrough rate, resulting in two to three times higher lifetime value of a customer.

MoEngage, a mobile user engagement platform company, announced Personalized Smart Triggers, a way for app developers to identify potential user actions, such as adding an item to a shopping cart, and then deliver personalized interactions aimed at converting or boosting engagement.

In his fireside chat that kicked off the conference, Rich Miner, general partner in Google Ventures, offered advice for entrepreneurs looking for the next mobile opportunity. He noted that software as a service and mobile apps have freed us from our desks, but they have not substantially changed the way we work. He'd like to see developers innovating on the capabilities of mobile devices to change workflows. He said, "I'm looking forward to writing some checks for that."


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