Mobile marketing trends in 2016
The figures are in – mobile has overtaken desktop. People are looking at websites on devices of all different shapes and sizes, but the difference now is that people aren’t searching in the same way. No longer are they opening their web browsers first, but instead turning towards apps to consume content and interact with digital services. It’s simple – if users have an affinity with the brand, they’ve got the app on their phone.
And this transition to apps is changing how transactions are carried out. Take banking, car parking, events, hotel booking – browsing on a mobile device is a far clunkier experience, even with responsive design. If brands care about the customers they serve and if their services have any kind of transactional focus, it’s now a necessity for them to look at how their browser-based services can make the move to mobile app.
Evolution from desktop to mobile
But let’s remember that an app is for life, not just for Christmas. Brands can’t release a glossy, functional, beautiful app and then just forget about what comes after. Technology moves on, users move on, cyber crime moves on, and so should the app too in response to all these factors and more. They need to constantly update and evolve – more so than a website.
When we talk about apps, smartphone apps spring to mind first – but this 40-year evolution began on the desktop. Although it’s probably fair to see its move from browser to mobile as simply driven by what’s in vogue, usability has always been right at the heart of its progression. We can’t forget the context – that people have their lives on their phones.
Structured data is key to app success
Take trains, for instance. Living in the capital and always travelling for work and leisure, the railways are an integral part of my schedule. Working on a pre-defined schedule of numbers and times, data about train arrivals and departures is a great example of how structured, interrelated information is so well-suited towards the app format.
Similarly, in the housing market, Rightmove has taken handfuls of disconnected individual data sets – ranging from everything across Land Registry historical house prices to Ofsted school ratings – and condensed them into a beautiful mobile application that just works. It works not just because it constrains your attention or because we’re trained to love swiping through pictures, but first and foremost because its UX is specifically built for the information it handles.
But apps don’t work so well for unstructured information. News isn’t formulaic, it’s not predictable and it’s ever-changing. In short, it’s about as far from structured data as it gets. It’s only natural that the user experience will feel uncomfortable when news content references text, images and video outside of the app it’s contained in. Web browsers are quite simply a more natural fit for this kind of content – and that’s fine.
Relationship between web and app
The web isn’t going to go away. We’re always going to have the responsive web, but if agencies really care about the brands they serve, they need to consider moving some of that structured data and transactional services into apps.
People search app stores for brands, and once their app’s on their phone – as long as it’s usable, well-designed and a better alternative to the browser equivalent – they’ll use it over and over again. Agencies, marketers and brands would do well to remember that simply having a web-based service doesn’t mean that people on phones will use it.
We’re seeing more than ever mobile apps being used for functions that people can’t do on their desktop. What would be great is if we see these apps treated as a ‘bonus extra’ on the web equivalent. It’s a great way to strengthen user relationships with brands.
Keeping it real
Though the technology packed inside the smartphones of 2015 has reached new limits – from the curved screens of the Samsung Galaxy to the payment wallet capabilities of the iPhone 6 – we’ve got to remember that not everyone has the latest phone. 3G coverage across the UK sits only at 88%, with 4G access almost half that figure.
Marketers are already looking towards 5G mobile data as the groundwork for new visual campaigns. With powerful new apps and processing capabilities giving them the power to innovate, they’ll have the capability to get more video down the line at higher definition – but only for those who’ve got a compatible device to access these superfast speeds.
You can achieve a lot more on a new phone now than you could three years ago, but it’s still dependent on the user’s own technology. It takes time to roll new tech out, and until we’ve ironed out data lag and costs and caching on the handset, we need to be more realistic with our mobile marketing.
While more than half of the UK public are set to own a smartphone by the end of the year, just one in ten (12%) of their online purchases are made on mobile devices. So with mobile users investing 89% of the time spent on their phone on apps, compared to just 11% on mobile web, the argument for well optimised applications is clear.
There’s no point pushing mobile apps just for the sake of it. Whether it’s in vogue or not, users will only carry on using applications if it’s the easiest option for them. By developing a well designed, regularly updated and data-light application grounded in structured data, brands will be tapping into a quickly growing market.