Forget mobile strategies, it’s time for portable strategies

Does your organization have a mobile strategy? What does it include?

And, more importantly, what does it exclude?

Are you including podcasts, ebooks and SMS, or are those older, publish-only technologies not part of a new, cutting-edge, interactive strategy?

To put it another way, by using the word “mobile” are we focusing too much on smartphones at the expense of other devices?

“Mobile” = phones… and just phones

Smartphones are a growing market. (Yes, I just heard your collective “Well, duh.”) Responding to what will soon be the new normal, we’re crafting mobile strategies—apps for mobile devices and sites optimized for mobile screens. But in a trick of semantics, we’ve come to think of “mobile” as just smartphones when plenty of other devices are mobile. (See the note below.) Do you include an ebook reader in “mobile”? How about an iPod or plain-old MP3 player? Likely not, but you should. The risk is we’re focusing too much on a device, not the concept.

Photo of MP3 player taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mini82/1361492037/ and username Venom32 on Flickr

Is this a part of your mobile strategy?

And the concept is that our audience is accessing electronic information on small, portable hand-held devices that might not have WiFi or cell network access.

The case for “portable” strategy

That’s why I propose the word “portable.” A portable strategy is broader than a mobile strategy. Getting away from a word that’s too tied to smartphones, the word “portable” includes the following elements:

What a portable strategy covers

  • Apps—Programs that run on smartphones and tablets that don’t always require an internet connection
  • Mobile optimized sites—Sites designed to run on smaller screens
  • Podcasts and vodcasts—Downloadable content one can watch or listen to when they choose, regardless of an internet connection
  • eBooks—Not just the new epub and mobi formats, but also the good old PDF, which can read by most ebook readers and is more easily understand by most users
  • SMS—Don’t ignore the power of texting, especially that tantalizing beep when a new one arrives that makes people whip out their cell phone
  • QR Codes—Jumping from the offline to the online world

Understand why people consume portable information

Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripu/2642877539/

Passing the time? Trying to get help?

People using their portable devices are likely (1) killing time or (2) solving an immediate problem. Most typing and long-term browsing will be done on larger screens (and keyboards). True, there is location-based taggings and check-ins, but those are so tightly tied to portable devices the thinking is self-evident. And ebook readers are also an exception, but like the physical book one might use it in 10-minute bursts on the bus or for several hours on the couch. So:

  • Provide bite-sized chunks of information—30 minute (maximum) podcasts, brief videos, short ebooks (like articles). Give users something they can use to fill their time with in the moment or saved for later. In the past, people killed time with a paperback book or the radio when riding the bus, driving to work, jogging or sitting in a waiting room. A one-hour video or graphically-intense PDF won’t replace that.
  • Provide lengthy, detailed information where warranted. People tend to listen, watch or read in short bursts, but not always. For that long car ride or flight, a 90-minute video or book-length ebook is worthwhile. But these will  be times when someone might not have an Internet connection, so make sure it is downloadable. And make the size and length obvious to someone before they download it.
  • Not everyone gets the latest gadget. Plenty of people are loyal to their old Samsung MP3 player or Sony eBook Reader. While the latest gadgets make one-click access easy, many people still need to download and transfer files to a device. Make this process as easy as possible and provide explanations of how to do it.
  • Social media apps make it easy to check Twitter or Facebook when waiting in line or for the bus. These actions are perfect way to fill a spare few minutes. So what quick, light-weight interactions can you offer via a small screen?
  • Look at your web metrics to see which pages are the most popular with mobile browsers/operating systems and figure out what you can do to make them easier to use with a portable device. While using CSS to optimize an entire site is ideal, it might not be possible after 15 years of designing for larger screens.
  • Understand a mobile-optimized web application might be better than a downloaded app. While the Web app requires an internet connection, but also keeps a user on your site and can be updated easily without having to push an updated mobile app to the user. As well, you only need to make one Web app versus supporting several mobile platforms.

Don’t go overboard

Those who created mobile/portable strategies are likely innovators & early adopters. We connect our Kobos to WiFi, listens to MP3s on ours smartphone and browser the app store. Not everyone does. We still live in a world where desktop computers, Windows and Internet Explorer are king. So start small. Recognize things are moving toward portable devices, but not at the expense of taking resources away from tried-and-true channels where the majority of your communication still happens.

Data-driven decisions

Use Web analytics when making decisions. Virtually everything is trackable, so use data to decide where to focus efforts, see if you are succeeding, and adjust as necessary. While wanting to do something cool and innovative can fuel a project, it must have a solid business rationale, too. Remember: most apps never get downloaded, most videos are never seen, most ebooks never sell. Don’t spend valuable time and effort on something you might abandon in three months.

What is ideal for a portable device?

QR codes let you move someone from the real world to the online world. While very cool, give careful thought to this process. What situation would someone be in where online content would be needed? Up-to-date information like the weather or travel delays, like in an airport? But make sure:

  • You have a call to action so one knows what will happen when they scan the code because while those of us in online communications know what they are, most people don’t
  • There is WiFi where you are posting these codes; don’t count on a cell network
  • If the QR code points to a webpage, make sure it is optimized for mobile
  • Have an offline way to access this information; don’t exclude those without smartphones

And use UTM or some other mechanism to track who often QR codes are used to measure success.

The main take-away

Portable devices are growing, but are far from dominant. And it will be quite some time before a portable device like tablets completely replace the laptop or desktop as the main computer in a household. For now, understand how and why people use portable devices—all portable devices.

And don’t just focus on the those on the cutting edge. An MP3 player might seem passé, but a 50-something mom who got one for Christmas three years ago is probably still using it. Don’t exclude the late majority because you see them as luddites when developing a mobile portable strategy. They probably make up an untapped, under-served market.


NB: Google searches for “mobile phones” and “cell (or cellular) phones” shows more than 4 times the number of hits for “mobile” versus “cell” phones. Google Insights show searches for “mobile” are far greater than for “cellular”. (And even though searches for “mobile” are in a slight decline, it is due to the increase in searches for “smartphone”s.)

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