Mobile-only: get on board or play catch-up … again!

Publishers must create unique, mobile-only content to match consumers’ massive migration to mobile as their “first screen”
By John Wilpers / Innovation Media Consulting Senior Director

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change if magazine publishers were leaders in addressing technological and consumer behaviour change instead of being poster boys yet again for institutional inertia?

Here’s our chance: Mobile-only content.

Not responsive design.

Not digital-first. Not even mobile-first.

Those are so yesterday.  They are, arguably, totally miss the point.

All three of those strategies still view desktop content as the core, the ultimate destination for content.

Responsive design merely ensures that your website looks good on mobile, not that it’s appropriate for the mobile experience (trust me, it isn’t).

Digital first just means desktop before print, totally ignoring mobile.

And “mobile-first” really means desktop ultimately.

Mobile-first has everything to do with content timing and nothing to do with platform-appropriate content. It’s like someone on a diet sitting at the head of the family dinner table, and getting first crack at the bowl of bangers and mash. Sure, you get the sausages and potatoes before everyone else, but they’re still the same heavy fare that isn’t remotely appropriate for your diet. You get it first, but it’s irrelevant, inappropriate, and unwelcome.

The “mobile-only” approach recognises two compelling, critical realities: 1) Mobile platforms accounted for 60 per cent of total time spent on digital media in the US in 2014, according to ComScore, a trend that is growing inexorably; 2) Only mobile experiences that are totally unique and tailored to the mobile experience will succeed. Consumers are not tolerating desktop content squeezed onto a smaller screen; they want content that matches both the attributes of the platform and the unique expectations of mobile users.

Growth in Digital Media Time Spent 2015

“The mobile user expects a [company] to anticipate their needs and deliver a relevant digital experience that is personalised, lightening-fast, consistent across screens, and highly efficient,” AllRecipes VP of consumer and brand strategy Esmee Williams told “We must consider scrolling, tapping, clicking, swiping, talking, and motion in our site experience to deliver the best possible experience.” (Check out the sidebar below on “How to Create Mobile Content.)

How big is this mobile-only moment?

Before getting into how to create uniquely mobile content, let’s make sure everyone grasps the speed and size of the technological and culture change bearing down on us (some would say it’s already here and we’re already behind).

Consumer time spent with digital media on mobile has grown 90 per cent in the last two years, according to comScore. It’s not that consumers are not using their desktops — after all, many people spend eight hours a day working at a desk with a desktop computer — it’s that the desktop growth rate (16 per cent) is a fraction of the mobile growth rate.

In terms of hours spent on mobile, the numbers are even more impressive. In 2014, US adults spent nearly three hours a day on their mobile devices, up from 2 hours, 19 minutes in 2013, according to eMarketer. Desktop hours, which matched mobile hours just a year earlier, dropped to 2 hours, 12 minutes in 2014.

When it comes to mobile-only users, the trend is also clear. For the first time ever, last March the number of mobile-only adult internet users exceeded the number of desktop-only internet users, according to ComScore. As recently as last year, the number of desktop-only users (19 per cent) was almost twice that of mobile-only users(10.8 per cent). Today, the number of desktop-only users has fallen by almost half (to 10.6 per cent) while the number of mobile-only users continues to rise (11.3 per cent).


MILLENNIALS GIVING UP DESKTOPS: ComScore found that 21 per cent of Millennials have completely stopped using desktop computers to go online, relying exclusively on their mobile devices. (CC photo courtesy of


Millennials are giving up their laptops

Looking to the future, ComScore found that 21 per cent of Millennials have stopped using desktop computers to go online, relying exclusively on their mobile devices.

When it comes to the purchase process, half of US consumers consider mobile to be the most important resource in making purchase decisions, according to a Nielsen survey. More than a third of US consumers told Nielsen that they use mobile exclusively in their purchase decisions.

Heard enough?

Suffice to say the future is clear: It’s going to be a mobile world, if not today, certainly tomorrow.

So, what are we doing to get ready for it?

If a recent study is any indication, not much.

“We found that despite the necessity of creating mobile-only journeys for their connected customers, mobile is still grossly underfunded in most organisations,” wrote study co-author and former Altimeter Senior Researcher Jaimy Szymanski on DigitalEyeMedia. “This leaves companies unprepared to meet a mobile-as-first-screen reality and perpetuates mobile’s relegation to just another channel, a technology platform, or a portable version of the web. In turn, customers have no choice but to leave, in search of a better experience.”

No one has a mobile strategy

The 2015 Altimeter study, “The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience,” also found that a clear and unified mobile strategy remains largely elusive to many executives. “In order for their companies to survive and maintain relevancy, strategists and executives alike must rethink the role of mobile, particularly where and how it can become the primary channel of engagement for a connected consumer,” according to the report.


MOBILE ADVERTISING FINALLY CATCHING UP By 2019, eMarketer projects an almost complete turning of the tables: mobile ad dollars will be closing in on being three times that of desktop, with $65.87b in mobile marketing to just $25.35b in desktop. (CC photo courtesy of


The prescription for the future (as in tomorrow): Create a stand-alone, seamless, mobile experience. Go beyond mobile-optimised websites, landing pages, content for the smaller screen, or basic branded apps.

“Customer expectations have changed. They used to be more understanding if certain features weren’t part of your mobile app, but now they expect to do whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want to do it,” according to Andres Wolberg-Stok, Global Head Emerging Platforms and Services, Citi, who was quoted in the Altimeter report.

“The idea of mobile-only design is a game-changer, and we believe it is becoming the new standard,” wrote Szymanski.

And if the mass migration of consumers to mobile wasn’t enough of an incentive to develop a mobile-only strategy, then the belated but now rapid reaction of advertisers to mobile growth should get your attention.

Finally, mobile advertising is starting to follow eyeballs

While desktop revenue will still represent the lion’s share of income for a while, the growth is in mobile advertising. In 2013, $32.44 billion was spent on desktop advertising, more than triple the $10.67 billion spent on mobile advertising, according to a recent eMarketer survey. Just two years later in 2015, those figures are almost equal: $29.89 billion on desktop and $28.72 billion on mobile advertising. By 2019, eMarketer projects an almost complete turning of the tables: mobile ad dollars will be closing in on being three times that of desktop, with $65.87b in mobile marketing to just $25.35b in desktop.

So how do you begin creating mobile-only content?

In these days of big data, media strategy no longer need be guesswork backed up by gut feelings.

Customer data will tell you why your readers come to your site, what they are looking for, what they do with your content, how much they read, if they find it compelling enough to share, and so on.

Publishers and editors should not design a mobile strategy based on what they THINK readers want, but on what readers are actually looking for based on their online behaviour.

Examine reader behaviour to guide mobile strategy

“Begin by examining the existing customer journey,” wrote Szymanski. “From there, move on to architecting the desired mobile experience, continually measuring and optimising it for success along the way. Finally, internal alignment is achieved once strategists have validated their mobile-first strategies by proving results.”

As intuitive as this sounds in the 21st century, the study authors found collecting and studying the data is not the norm: “Many organisations skip this critical first step to understand mobile customers’ motivations, engagement patterns, and expectations: A mere 25 per cent of companies have completely mapped the customer journey to better understand under-performing digital touch points.

“Empathising with customers by understanding the role mobile plays at the core of their lives, in the context of each moment and state of mind, sparks innovation, not iteration,” the report concluded.


MOBILE-ONLY NEEDS A CHAMPION: Without a champion mobile-only strategies will be piecemeal and uncoordinated.. (CC photo courtesy of


Appoint and empower a mobile-only champion

Once you make a commitment to create mobile-only content, protect that commitment from slippage by appointing a mobile-only champion whose sole reason for existence will be to make sure your mobile presence delivers the experience mobile readers are looking to have.

The report found very few champions. “Right now, mobile tends to exist without an owner to take accountability in the customer experience. As a result, mobile strategies for the most part are focused on an isolated aspect of customer engagement, whether it’s marketing, commerce, loyalty, etc., and very specific instances within each. This is because all of these solitary programs are owned by different stakeholder groups that are strewn across the organisation and not necessarily in tune or in alignment with one another. It’s not uncommon for these departments to not collaborate with one another, and thus, the mobile experience is discombobulated by design and impossible to deliver an integrated customer journey.”

How Facebook took mobile revenue from zero to 76% in two years

In 2012, Facebook, for example, had a self-admitted miserable mobile experience (watch this 2013 video). Three years later, mobile represents 76 per cent of Facebook’s revenue. What happened?

Facebook didn’t just make its website mobile-friendly. Facebook created completely unique mobile experiences geared to what they discovered were the most popular user need cases. And then they built a unique mobile advertising platform to mimic the way their content took advantage of mobile’s unique properties.

Facebook continues to experiment with decoupling the desktop and mobile experiences, creating new Facebook features as apps to improve the mobile customer experience, largely independent of the Facebook desktop experience.

A word of caution: The Altimeter study found that strategists often equate “mobile” with “smartphone”, developing a one-size-fits-all solution that ignores the radical differences in device capabilities and user expectations of tablets and wearables.


LOW-ENERGY SIGNALS ARE THE NEXT MOBILE THING: new low-energy signals, such as Apple’s iBeacon and Samsung’s Proximity, can deliver in-store mobile connections that could radically change the consumer shopping experience.. (CC photo courtesy of


Don’t look now, but low-energy signals are next

And if you’re worried about being behind today, don’t look now but new low-energy signals, such as Apple’s iBeacon and Samsung’s Proximity, can deliver in-store mobile connections that could radically change the consumer shopping experience (and your role in making that experience better than ever).

Your own advertisers may already be ahead of you. According to the Altimeter study, more than half of the top 100 US retailers are already strategising around in-store beacons to improve the shopping experience.

So, you have a choice. Sit back and see where this whole mobile thing goes, leaving the experimenting to others (many of whom will be your competitors). Or anoint your most mobile-savvy staffer as the champion of a mobile-only strategy and cut him or her loose to experiment and measure and analyse and pivot and start the process all over again.

If you create a mobile experience that meets and exceeds your readers’ mobile needs and expectations, you will also have positive impact your bottom line.

And you will beat your competitors to the punch. For a change.



In an interview with, AllRecipes VP of consumer and brand strategy Esmee Williams offered the following advice for creating mobile-only content:

• Make mobile content more “snackable” — quick reads“.

• Mobile devices often use 3G or 4G networks with variable speeds so media assets need to be smaller

• Optimise content for mobile search

• Create as many visual cues as possible to help readers quickly determine the relevance of the content.

• Typing is a pain point for mobile users, so evolve your site experience to include engagement that can occur through touch, motion and, voice. Creating, saving, and sharing experiences through earned media should all be touch- and voice-based. The mobile customer doesn’t click; they swipe and pinch and zoom and tap.”

• Mobile videos should be kept short — three to five minutes — because they load faster, get to the point, and can be consumed in the many “in between” moments of our day.

• Duplicating content on multiple screens fails to take into account that someone might’ve seen your message earlier and is now turned off by the redundancy.