American Marketer


Does mobile-first leave the customer behind?

December 9, 2014

Russ Somers is vice president of marketing at Invodo Russ Somers is vice president of marketing at Invodo


By Russ Somers

“Design for mobile first” has been a mantra for developers and designers over the past couple of years. It makes sense: solve your display problems on the small smartphone screen first, ensure that it scales up nicely to fit tablets, and then adjust it to fit desktop and laptop users. That way you ensure that your responsive design really works well on phones.

And it is especially important for media such as video, as visuals come to dominate commerce. As MarketingLand recently reported, consumers now consume more media on mobile than on PCs, and that is reflected in the data in our own recent benchmarks report.

So “mobile first” seems like common sense for retailers and brands who want to ensure that the visual elements on their Web sites can drive commerce.

But, as common sense as it may seem, mobile first is the wrong approach to take when designing for visual commerce elements such as video and spin photography.

Placing a form factor, even a popular one, at the center of your design philosophy amounts to false idolatry.

At a time when visually-driven Web experiences will dominate, only one thing belongs at the center of your design: the customer.

Form factors change, but mobile first does not
When people say mobile first, they really mean “smartphone first.” Wearables are already changing the game.

Analysts have reduced Apple’s projected iWatch shipments for 2014 to 3 million, but that is driven by supply challenges – not by lack of demand.

Wearables are expected to be a $19 billion market by 2018, and many of those devices – from smartwatches to Google Glass-like wearables – will display video and other media.

Checking a mobile-first box with responsive design aimed at smartphones means that, whatever the next trend is, you will be struggling to catch up to it.

But by designing around the customer – considering their information needs and desire for rich, visual media at all touch points – you can stay ahead.

One customer, many screens
Today’s customer gathers information from multiple screens and devices, sometimes all at once.

As I write this, my children are on the couch in front of a connected television, phones in hand, gaming on an iPad at the same time. It is not just kids. An increasing number of adults use multiple screens at the same time.

If your visual media is based around the idea of “right media, right screen,” you will be delivering mixed messages. The video on the laptop may have interactive hotspots while the phone and the tablet deliver altogether different experiences.

Although HTML5 has reduced the PC/mobile divide, not all platforms permit the same level of interactivity. Anyone who has designed for iOS knows that much.

Still, in planning your design and visual commerce strategy, you can deliver a much more cohesive experience if you are planning content and design around a single customer who may happen to use various screens.

Consumers are visual – and interactive - across all screens
Humans are hard-wired to receive information visually and to respond to interaction.

As Hewlett-Packard recently reported, people remember only 10 percent of what they read, but 80 percent of what they see and do.

A mobile-first approach to visual media ignores insights such as this, though. Instead, it focuses first on the different capabilities of the various screens.

Capabilities matter, but if the objective is communication, this is not the right approach.

Instead of starting with the capabilities of various devices, begin with the customer – what is their information need?

Move from there on to the content – what type of visual content will help meet that need most effectively? Is it video, spin photography, interactive elements, or guided walk-throughs to demonstrate a phone or electronic device?

Regardless of the screen, visual content is engaging and persuasive and can drive commerce.

IN ONLY A few short years we have seen smartphones and tablets become important drivers of commerce, in large part because they are so effective at delivering video and visual media.

What is next? It is hard to say. Maybe smartwatches, maybe augmented reality, maybe holograms, probably something we have not even imagined yet.

If you focus on the form factors, you will almost certainly be late to the next big trend.

But if you remain focused on your customer’s information needs, and the visual commerce elements that help them buy, you will be well prepared for whatever comes next.

Russ Somers is vice president of marketing at Invodo, an Austin, TX-based visual commerce specialist. Reach him at