What Does It Mean to be Mobile First?

Everyone agrees they need to be mobile first. But most brands still struggle with what that means. Here’s how to think about it.

I recently took the plunge and upgraded my shoddy home-internet service to Verizon FiOS. Just one week after cancelling my contract with the old company I had a flyer in my mailbox asking me to sign up. Not to reconsider and rejoin. Not to learn about exciting upgrades to their network performance since I left (which I might have been willing to hear out). The advertisement was completely generic and lacked any basic understanding of me: the fact that I was a previous customer and that I unsubscribed because I wasn’t happy. This is what I would call “lazy advertising.” As a result, their message fell on deaf ears and the mailer went straight to the recycling bin.

Look, I’m certainly not surprised the telco giant’s direct response strategy was far from perfect, but what did surprise me was the frustration I felt. How could something so unintelligent make it’s way into my mailbox, a space that I consider personal? It’s where I get handwritten birthday cards from my mom every year; where holiday greetings make my apartment feel like a home; and where newborns are welcomed into the world on beautiful DIY postcards. Evidently, it’s also the place where big brands continue to deliver generic, unpersonalized messages en masse. I think I speak for all of us when I say the “one size fits all” approach feels like an intrusion. A violation of our personal space. Sadly, this is often the norm in marketing today and nowhere is it felt more than in mobile marketing.

Think about it: unlike any other channel in history, mobile phones are extensions of our physical selves. They fit into our palm and our pocket and they greet us when we turn them on. They learn (and remember) our interests, preferences, locations and habits. They are constant collectors and providers of personal and aggregate data, and whether we know it (or like it) or not, they are constantly updating the world – from advertisers to friends – about us. And they’re usually not more than a few feet away, day or night.

Our utter reliance on our phones is undeniable. According to Apple, iPhone users unlock their device an incredible 80 times each day. And last year Business Insider reported that we touch our phone a whopping 2,617 times every day. This dependency, and consequently, the emotional attachment we have with our phones, has created a new kind of relationship between the consumer and the marketing-vehicle itself. As a result, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in what it means to be “personal” and “contextual” in digital media, particularly mobile.

So, what does this mean for brands?

Based on the nascency and lack of sophistication of most mobile-marketing approaches, the implications aren’t as straightforward as the behavior might appear.

Make no mistake, getting onto that personal, user-directed and exceptionally useful tool in your consumers’ hands is an enormously valuable and important proposition to the survival of brands, especially as commerce moves rapidly to digital, on-demand platforms like Amazon Prime and Instacart.

But this challenge is daunting. Attention on a phone is divided between utilities, tasks, alerts, gifs, text messages, YouTube videos, Spotify streams and Snap stories, not to mention email and calendars. Meanwhile, the adtech and publishing industries have provided a dearth of advertising options that actually work. From obnoxious pop-overs to miniature banner ads, a deluge of low quality impressions dominate the strategies available to a marketer in exploiting mobile behavior.

There is hope. There are many turnkey strategies that work on mobile phones, and exploiting them can be straightforward. As you consider them, keep in mind these three essentials.

1. Interruptive advertising does not work in mobile.

Because of the intimate nature of the mobile environment, brands that force their way onto the consumer’s screen (through antiquated technology/units, mediocre targeting or generic messaging) will begin to find themselves blocked, hidden, or sent straight to the spam folder. Instead, we should be thinking about mobile strategy through the lens of classical “permission marketing.” The only difference is consent from the consumer now comes in the form of not opting out.

2. The best way in is through native content.

The most efficient way to ensure your brand gets into the hands of consumers is through native content on the platforms that were designed for the phone. These can be “mobile-first” platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as well as “mobile-only” platforms such as Snapchat, Uber, and Waze. Content that is made for these platforms, with well targeted media and tailored messaging, is the best way to create an effective mobile strategy.

3. Because of limited mobile real estate, format matters more than ever.

Bad ads are always annoying, but when we accidentally click on one and lose our spot, our well of patience quickly dries up. This is what I call “fat finger” syndrome and it’s unique to advertising on smartphones. This means branded messages need to be legible, and they should be big enough so that clicks happen by intent, not by mishap. It also means brands must pay attention to the varying design specs across devices, platforms, and operating systems to ensure viewability and proper display formatting.

Strategy In Action

Here are two great examples of these principals in action.

TRESemmé NYFW Get The Look

This was TRESemmé’s strategy for New York Fashion Week. Rather than running ads around (and disrupting) coverage people wanted, TRESemmé worked with us to create a series of useful and inspiring “Get the Look” how-tos so people could get the trending hairstyles they were seeing on the runway.

TRESemmé NYFW Get The Look

This was TRESemmé’s strategy for New York Fashion Week. Rather than running ads around (and disrupting) coverage people wanted, TRESemmé worked with us to create a series of useful and inspiring “Get the Look” how-tos so people could get the trending hairstyles they were seeing on the runway.


Misha Nonoo Live Lookbook

Fashion designer Misha Nonoo wanted to get her name into the conversation of fashion influencers and fashion followers alike. So in a first-ever for the fashion category, Moment Studio brought her look book to life not on the NYFW runway, but LIVE via Snapchat. Working with Misha’s team, we innovated the runway experience and built upon native Snapchat platform functionality to deliver a fresh fashion story.

With the right content and media strategies, brands can find great success adding value to these mobile personal ecosystems through their marketing. But it requires the right approach to content creation and distribution, using mobile platforms and consumption patterns native to mobile environments.

Glenn Landauer is Head of Client Strategy at Moment Studio. His team leads clients through content and channel strategy to drive impact cross platform.