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February 13, 2013 8:06 PM

The Mobile-Only Strategy Imperative

How long will the personal computer - as we have known it to date-  be relevant?

If you look at any data points surrounding mobile (and putting it in context on a global level), it seems like nobody is using a computer anymore, doesn't it? How often do you find yourself in need of a computer (be it a desktop or laptop)? When it comes to my work, I can't imagine a day and age when I would not require something that looks like my MacBook Air. Whether it is for writing or creating presentations, smartphones and tablets are just not up to snuff... at this point. And that's the rub, isn't it? "At this point." As the exponential growth of business and technology continues to intertwine, it seems obvious that gesture control and the simplicity/human touch and feel of tablets and smartphones will make the experience of writing and creating presentations that much easier. So, while we're not quit there yet in terms of content creation, writing and more, there is a vast majority of the population that is making the transition away from the PC as seamless as physical landlines to mobile phones was... only this shift is happening faster and faster.

Just how fast are we moving away from the personal computer?

Three news items captured my attention this week (all of them via Marketing Charts). They were titled:

  1. PC Users Increasingly Turning To Smart Devices For Web Browsing, Facebook Access.
  2. In Q4, 1 in 5 E-Commerce Site Visits Came From A Smartphone Or Tablet.
  3. Twitter Says Its Mobile Users Are More Active, Engaged With Brands.

Kind of staggering, isn't it?

Exponential growth (in particular, when it comes to users and their usage of technology) can be challenging for businesses to see, understand and embrace. We tend to cling to what we think we see (often acting as A Market of One) or we see things in a linear capacity. Linear capacity is looking at the incremental growth of smartphone usage in your geographical region year over year, but failing to understand that the iPad is only three years old or that the iPhone 5 clocked over two million pre-orders in its first twenty-four hours of being on sale (what happened? Was everyone's mobile contract up for renewal at the same time?).

We are woefully unprepared.

It's sad to see how many brands are clinging on to the dogma of what they thought the Internet was all about. Take a look at Silicon Valley (which, by my estimates, is a fairly strong indicator as to where this is all heading). If you look at the new line of darlings (it can be anything from Uber, Snapchat, Instagram, Path, Highlight, Square, whatever), what you see is a mobile-first strategy. Arguably, a mobile-only strategy. Their respective websites are predominantly a one-page splash that drives you to grab the app or experience the company on your smartphone. Not a lot of venture capital is being pumped into anything Web-browser (or PC) based at this moment in time. So, why are so many brands not more bullish on mobile?

It's the experience, stupid.

Mobile is expensive (in terms of development, production, ideation, etc...), but it also gets more expensive when we have to kill our darlings along with it (traditional websites and other platforms that were built for people who were sitting down at a computer, etc...). When I review the landscape of brands and what they're doing on mobile, it gives off a certain Groundhog's Day hue. Marketing departments had to fight for control over the corporate website and e-commerce sites (some are still struggling to control it, as we speak) from the IT department. Now, here we sit, in 2013 and IT departments are the gatekeepers of mobile, apps, smartphones, tablets and more. It's too complex, too tech-heavy to give up that power to the marketing department, they'll tell us. So, what do we have? Ultimately, we're left with some fairly inferior brand experiences on mobile and, instead of looking at ourselves in the mirror, we're blaming things like a lack of interest from the consumer or not enough strong usage data to make the business case for apps (or whatever). For shame. Make no mistake about it, once again the consumers are ahead of the brands on this one (as they were with social media). The average consumer is getting by just fine with a tablet and/or a smartphone in terms of their day-to-day lives (browsing, engaging in social media, sending the odd email, etc...). Odds are that they would do even more if brands had the courage to give them the experience and utility that they rightfully deserve.

It's on us.

The event horizon for the PC - as we have known it to date - is not far off. Just look at what Facebook did to switch their browser-based online social network over to a mobile-first strategy. Whether it was forced by consumer demand, Wall Street or their own pro-active realization is irrelevant. Facebook responded. Facebook responded well. Just look at the past six months. They have made massive strides in shedding their PC-based legacy for this brave new world, where we're all connected, sharing and more in the palms of our hands. That experience is fundamentally differently from the PC and Web browser-based experience. It's something that brands are going to have to double-down on now. As bullish as I was on the Internet, e-commerce and social media in their nascent stages, I am an unabashed die-hard evangelist for the post PC and post Web browser world. The only difference is that others could have been a fad. This is a reality.

I wonder how many brands have the kind of courage to realize and act on this?

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