29 October 2014

If your brand is your business; your business is now your mobile brand

If the purpose of branding is to win and sustain relationships between businesses and customers, then mobile is the latest arena where hearts and minds can be won, or lost.

Brand owners across all market sectors need to consider the implications of the Mobile era, and how their brands will need to adapt.

Mobile advertising is already the fastest growth sector in marketing, where programmatic buying is disrupting the agency media model and the Math Men are challenging the Mad Men. But what happens when a user links from the easy-to-produce mobile ad to the not-so-easy-to-re-invent brand website? More often than not, you leave the Mobile era and regress to the PC-world of Web 2.0. This is not the brand experience customers expect, or value.

Now consider some of the brands that analysts and investors think have business models tuned for the future: Apple, Google, Alibaba, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb to name but a few. All are now ‘mobile natives’, even though some did not start out that way.

At Nucleus, we’ve been intrigued by mobile - especially the Mobile Web - since pre-iPad days and have scrutinised its growth with our own six-monthly surveys (all of which are available to download). We consciously focussed on the Mobile Web rather than apps, because we think this is where most mobile users are initially won or lost - the first brand touchpoint, directly connected to the world of social media: someone on Twitter says George Clooney is getting married in Venice; amanresorts.com spikes with hundreds of thousands of new browsers, most of them mobile. 

Mobile devices now drive the majority of website traffic for a growing number of brands, with the luxury sector, in particular, showing very high smartphone use.  Mobile data is also growing exponentially as more and more smartphones are used to view video; a trend that is bound to continue as bandwidth increases and the cost of connectivity drops. Consumers like browsing their favourite brands impulsively, when it suits them: while out and about, commuting or watching a tv show. This change in user behaviour will inevitably drive new models of brand engagement.

Mobile commerce is growing, too; 47% year-on-year to 11% of all ecommerce, according to Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trends Survey. Our own research findings suggests m-commerce growing 198% with a mobile share of e-commerce already close to 20%  - but only for brands that have optimised their websites, booking engines and shopping carts for smartphones. Those that haven’t are already losing out.

And this isn’t just a US and European phenomenon. In China, more people are accessing the web through mobile than PC and in Africa smartphones are forecast to leap-frog PCs. What’s common to all these new online communities is that they will only engage with mobile-friendly brands.

So what about apps? Apps still account for 68% of all mobile monitisation according to Meeker, but the balance is again changing fast. Apps currently offer superior functionality, but in most cases are not customer acquisition tools in the same way websites are; they are better at sustaining brand engagement.

So how does a brand re-imagine itself as a mobile native?

First base is to transform your digital presence and put smartphone users at the centre of your marketing world, recognising the growing power of mobile search. Responsive Web Design (RWD) is the key, enabling a single website design, CMS and SEO for all your audiences, or the same individuals using multiple devices. Adaptive Web Design (AWD) achieves the same ends but is specific to different devices and less flexible in a world of ever-changing screen sizes.

It’s easy to spot a responsive design, even if you are using a laptop. Grab the bottom corner of your browser and shrink it diagonally. If the design reformats and reflows into a single column, it’s responsive. If the content remains static and becomes illegible, it’s not.

Google encourages responsive design as it sees the future as mobile. It already penalises sites that don’t deliver a good mobile experience. That, in itself, is a good enough criterion for investment.

Because instant messaging, texts and image sharing are predominantly mobile, social media is also inextricably linked to smartphones. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, What’s App, Tencent and Snapchat account for billions of user hours a day. If brands want to seamless integrate to these channels, mobile is the key.

The brands at the forefront of defining the Mobile era are reinventing services and disrupting business models. They also have a different aesthetic to Web 2.0 or offline brands. ‘Appy’ iconography ensures that they can be recognised instantly in the confined real estate of a smartphone screen, while old world brands find it more of a challenge to adapt to this confined environment. Their brand identities were designed for a different age, when print media, signage and packaging ruled the day. So, when planning a mobile or omni-channel strategy it is not just the website that needs to be re-thought; sometimes the whole brand system needs attention. Brands with long or unwieldy names need to consider abbreviations, distinctive symbols, or even new names.

When developing new brand names, consideration must be paid not only to trade marks and domain names, but also to snappy social media handles.

Your or your competitor’s brand in the customer’s hand?

To some, mobile feels like a dark star exerting its expanding energy field around marketing, creating new billion dollar enterprises from the ether and threatening the very existence of others. So why have so many brands ignored this opportunity until it has become a threat?  Take travel as an example; according to IAB 32% of UK travel companies have no mobile presence whatsoever, and only 2 of the top 50 UK travel companies have a responsive transactional website. Contrast this with the largely US-based online tour operators and metasearch websites, where all the major players have already made the transition. Guess who is growing market share fastest?

If the goal of marketing is to get closer to customers than your competitors, mobile provides today’s biggest brand opportunity – and if it’s not your brand in their hands, it’ll be your fiercest competitor’s.

Mobile is more than just another channel in an omni-channel strategy. If your brand really is your business; your business needs to be a mobile brand.


Peter Matthews

Nucleus Founder & CEO
October 2014

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