Mobile first, second and third!
This week, I wanted to kick off a short series talking through some of the “big things that matter”, or “mega-trends”, that I am convinced will shape the next few years:
- Mobile technologies
- Globalisation and the world of fintech
- And, of course, crypto.
In this article, I am going to tackle mobile.
Most of us understand that mobile is the primary digital point for most human beings on this planet. For most of us, the mobile phone has become such an intrinsic part of our daily lives.
There is even a word for “no mobile phone” phobia – nomophobia. According to Adam Alter, the psychologist and author, “kids would rather break a bone than suffer nomophobia”.
Most companies talk about the importance of mobile technology, and some even talk about being “mobile-first”. But I am not convinced there is a proper understanding of its importance and how it needs to be approached as part of a digital strategy.
I was lucky enough to go to Shenzhen last year – I was a few weeks ahead of the virus!
I observed how mobile technology was so integral to people’s lives that removing the phone from the equation would have resulted in not only nomophobia (OMG, I can’t see TikTok anymore), but almost total exclusion from the Chinese financial system. If you don’t have a phone, you are rubber ducked (cockney rhyming slang).
Phones are the way that payments happen. Cash has all but disappeared, and the use of cards has diminished to almost nothing. China has managed to transform as a country digitally. It has done this by pivoting around mobile technology. And considering it has managed to do that for 1.7 billion customers in a decade, it is pretty good going.
Mobile technology has been understood and central to the transformation; how people use mobiles, what they want from them, and their potential as a channel.
The big fintech giants of China were born out of chat applications on mobile devices, into which finance was embedded. These fintechs are truly mobile-first!
As a slight aside, some of the social platforms of the West started life on a desktop. That legacy has impacted their ability to pivot and embrace mobile.
I sold my start-up to WPP. WPP has strong relationships with these platforms, which meant I got to meet them. I can remember being in a meeting with Facebook and asking what the Facebook mobile strategy was. The reply was that it wasn’t a priority. Can you even imagine a time when Facebook did not take mobile seriously?
Many other countries without fixed telephone networks are following China’s lead.
Returning closer to home, when companies talk about the importance of mobile or having a mobile-first strategy, my overriding feeling is that they are still talking about taking a desktop view of the world and making it smaller. What is not being thought through entirely is how mobile-first thinking should drive the agenda!
Let me give you an example. I was lucky enough to interview the brilliant Peter Deming of Warburg Pincus in a podcast interview (Tom, it is okay, you were equally brilliant!). Peter talked about the acquisitions Warburg has made and the approach some of these are taking to mobile. In particular, he spoke of customer acquisition and onboarding strategies.
“The traditional model (based on branch-based legacy) is to build a user’s profile and then give them an account. But businesses must understand that for mobile, the vital thing is to give a user an account as fast as possible and then build out their profile from that starting point.”
Peter is right. His insight is founded on observation from the Warburg stable, but we know ourselves it is true. If our mobiles are littered with icons of services, we just would not be bothered to complete registration.
This one example is an excellent test of whether a company is genuinely thinking mobile-first or not.
How many businesses in the West are still applying the old model? I would argue most still are. How many have re-engineered and adapted their operations to adapt to this new model? Almost none.
This is one example of the impact of thinking mobile-first. There are many others.
The challenge is to think very differently about what mobile offers and build out from that. It is imperative to understand user behaviour around devices and align services to those behaviours. It is critical to think about what the devices offer functionally and incorporate that. Agile development is non-negotiable.
Taking old models and thinking is a zero-sum game. I know that I am in danger of preaching to the choir, but think about Peter’s example and use it to appraise your approach.
About the author
He is a passionate customer advocate and champion and a successful entrepreneur.