Mobile is a rapidly growing, dynamic and exciting communications channel, but remains immature, imperfect and inconsistent. This is a very short introduction to the strategic and practical challenges facing anyone planning mobile marketing activity.  

You might think this is a surprising stance for a mobile consultant to take, but it is only through being aware of mobile’s faults that I believe clients can seize its current potential. The mobile challenge is complex, but derives from some key characteristics.

Device and Usage Fragmentation

Mobile usage is socially and geographically fragmented, and different audiences will own and use technology in divergent ways. This means that product design and development needs to often start with an understanding of what your target audience is prepared and able to do on mobile, rather than what you’d like the product to be. E.g. There is no point in developing just an iPhone app for a teenage audience right now, as the device is still too expensive for most of them.

The mobile platform is technologically fragmented. You just need to look around a meeting room or pub table to see the range of handsets owned by people, even if they are theoretically from the same demographic. These differences are not cosmetic, but fundamental differences in the technical features of even the most common handsets. The causes of fragmentation are many, but perhaps the most challenging are all the different Operating Systems.

In addition to the presence of a wide and constantly evolving device profile, the usage patterns for the device types also vary according to the user profile – i.e. while most new Nokia devices can access the Nokia App store, some users do not want to take advantage or are unaware of this feature. This particularly applies to apps and mobile internet access. Research via the BBC shows us that many people who can ‘technically’ access the mobile internet are not aware of this feature on their phones. The explosion of Android handsets has not seen a similar explosion in Android device traffic to websites, probably because these increasingly cheap devices are being sold as and used as phones, unlike iPhones which are marketed and used as connected devices. This has implications for anyone planning a mobile strategy, and means that both device capability and feature usage patterns must be considered in tandem.

Fragmentation is here to stay for the short-term, however there may be light on the horizon. With the gradual spread of increasingly sophisticated Mobile Web technologies, we can foresee a more unified, interactive mobile browsing experience that will pave the way for more ‘one size fits all’ implementations. That is, however, still some way off.

Mobile and Cross Channel Fragmentation

We are living in a world of multi-channel fragmentation, on many varied platforms, accessed via a multitude of devices. As social creatures, we are now presented with not only the opportunity to view whatever we want, when we want, we have also now been given a voice and an avenue to share our thoughts with our friends, peers, even the whole world if we choose.

With so many modes of communication it is apparent that consumers simply do not care about technology. All they care about is accessing what they want, when they want, regardless of device, and this is why organisations with a mandate to communicate to a wider audience need to have their presence rendered for delivery to as many channels and devices as possible. Budget normally dictates that any approach to channel fragmentation needs to be rationalised through a value for money filter.

As a communicator with broad channel experience, I always try and situate the mobile channel within a wider channel approach, which often includes cross channel integration. I also recognise that the mobile channel itself is highly fragmented, with the device encompassing a wide and disparate range of mechanics and technologies – from voice to augmented reality, with lots in between. Having such a varied toolkit is both an advantage and a burden. Again, proper planning is essential to navigate through these choices.

The content and context challenge

Mobile is not just about transitory snacking any more. Usage and device sophistication (rise of the Smartphone and wifi) means increased consumption of interactive and rich content over longer periods of time. Mobile is now often used with other media, often used to access internet, even when a PC is close at hand. In fact, mobile content and functions could be used anywhere and for a wide variety of reasons. Understanding where, why and how people might want to access your content or enter into a mobile dialogue with or via your organisation is how you will decide what content and dialogues are relevant and how they should be presented via the channel. There is often a temptation to try and squeeze the PC web and social network experience onto a mobile phone, to assume that all PC web and social content is relevant or desirable and to also forget that some content and functions (for example, location relevant content and integration with voice services) can actually work better on mobile.

The Technical Challenge

There are a wide range of mobile mechanics and technologies each differing in complexity. These range from simple messaging such as SMS and MMS, Mobile Internet sites to integrating user content generated on mobile to web platforms. This means that mobile specialists need to have awareness and knowledge of all the individual mobile channel elements as well as a broad understanding of how to stitch multiple technologies together.

The User Experience and Design Challenge

Finally, anyone planning mobile products and services needs to adopt a distinct approach to User Experience and design. Mobile users are unforgiving and a full understanding of device input and display features combined with a solid experience of Information Architecture and Interaction design is required to make mobile sites usable.