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The Mobile First Philosophy (and How To Start Building Your Own Mobile Strategy)
19th August 2015 • Technology Translated • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:24:34

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Despite overwhelming statistics and in-your-face use cases, a lot of businesses are still slow to embrace mobile in their marketing. Those that wait are giving competitors that don t a leg up.

Aaron Strout is the President of WCG and has been working in digital for 20 years. Aaron understands the importance of mobile for his business clients and has a knack for explaining it in a way that’s easy to understand.

Dive in with Aaron and cut through the noise to find out what Mobile First really means, how to incorporate it into your marketing strategy, and why context rules the day.

In this 25-minute episode I discuss:

  • What businesses should care about mobility?
  • The use of mobile and generational change
  • Drivers behind the increase in mobile use
  • What is mobile first?
  • Key elements of a mobile strategy
  • Mobile context
  • The role of location in mobile
  • Aaron s thoughts on the future of mobility
  • Advice for businesses just starting with mobility

Listen to Technology Translated below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

The Mobile First Philosophy (and How to Start Building Your Own Mobile Strategy)

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Scott Ellis: Welcome to Technology Translated. I’m your host Scott Ellis. Today, we are joined by Aaron Strout, president of WCG, an integrated marketing and communications firm. He’s going to be talking to us about mobility, mobile first, and what does mobile first really mean.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of mobile. Aaron is going to break it down for us, make it very easy to understand why it’s important and what are the things that we need to be thinking about. He’s got over 20 years experience in digital with brands, startups, agencies. He’s a very knowledgeable, very nice guy. Let’s get into the show and see what Aaron has to tell us about mobile.

Aaron, thank you very much for joining me today on Technology Translated. I want to be at least not the first, but amongst the first to congratulate you on your recent promotion to being the President of WCG.

Aaron Strout: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Scott Ellis: I know that was a few months ago. I didn’t even realize that it happened, so I apologize.

Aaron Strout: That’s okay. You blink your eyes these days, and four months go past. I’m connected, just like you are, to a lot of different people, and it’s hard to keep tabs on every single person. No offense taken, and I appreciate the kudos.

Scott Ellis: You bet. You and I have known each other for a while, but we seem to always miss each other at different events. I know we’ve tried to connect at CES. We’ve tried to connect at South by Southwest, and we seem to keep missing each other. I don’t think I’ve actually seen you in person for several years. You’re still down the road in Austin, right?

Aaron Strout: No, actually.

Scott Ellis: Oh, see, I didn’t even know that.

Aaron Strout: This is more recent. I just moved out to the Bay area, so I came out here in the beginning of June.

Scott Ellis: Okay, I assume that went along with the promotion.

Aaron Strout: Yes. The big boss here, our CEO, said, “You can go East Coast or West Coast,” and I chose West Coast since I’ve done East Coast already.

Scott Ellis: Makes a lot of sense. I think I would have chosen that as well. All right. Well, the irony is we’ll probably have an easier time connecting with you out in San Francisco than we did when you were in Austin.

Aaron Strout: Ironically, that is probably true.

Scott Ellis: All right, so a while back, what prompted this discussion was that, a few weeks back, you published an article on Marketing Land about mobile first and what that means with the generation of Millennials that are coming along. It grabbed my attention because I thought you hit on a number of key points very, very well in that article. You’ve articulated some things about mobility and mobile first that I thought was presented better than I’ve heard it in a while.

I wanted to bring you on to Technology Translated so that we can talk a little bit about mobility, what mobile first really means, and maybe expand a little bit on some of the things that you talked about in that article. Part of the mission of this podcast is to present information to people. It’s a technical podcast, or I should say a technology podcast, for non-techies. We’re here to distill these things down. Let’s just start off by maybe talking about why businesses should even care about mobility.

Why Businesses Should Care, the Use of Mobile, and Generational Change

Aaron Strout: Sure. Rewinding a little bit, and this is something I’ve thought a lot about over the last several years. When I was at Fidelity Investments, which was ’97 to 2006, I always was a bit amused by the fact that we had a chief mobile officer. It was one of those things where, great guy, but once a year, maybe twice a year, this guy would come to us — we were part of the interactive group — and would say, “This is the year of mobile.”

I’m only saying that because mobile has been one of those things, I think, for the last 15 years, almost 20 years, that people keep expecting it to bloom. I would say that 2007, which was the year that the iPhone came in, was the seminal year. It was the first year. Probably a little bit before that with the Treo that Palm put out, but really the first time that you were getting a small computer in your pocket that really had a nice interface to it. Treo was good. It wasn’t great. Blackberry had made some attempts before that.

Why I’m telling you all this is that, today, I would say over the last 18, maybe 24 months, mobile has started to significantly change our behavior and the way people not only digest content, but the way they’re starting to shop, the way they’re exploring, how they get from place A to place B, how they keep track of things. To the point of, I’m more inclined to leave the house without my wallet than I am without my phone.

I actually would argue that I feel more naked if I leave my house without my wallet than I do my phone, especially now with mobile payment. Everyone has started to embrace it at all ages. I think smartphone penetration in the U.S. alone this year is somewhere around 55 percent, so a lot more have them than don’t.

Just to put a fine point on it, if you think about the fact that people are starting to think mobile first, and to your point, thinking maybe before in my article I mentioned Millennials. Millennials will replace Baby Boomers this year as the largest portion of the U.S. population. I think it’s about 80 million. It’s somewhere in the middle of this year where the point will tip over.

Millennials, as we know, behave very differently. They’re digital. They think differently, have gone through different life experiences than we have as — I’m a Gen X-er — or Baby Boomers. Taking that radical different look at how we should be thinking about the sharper journey is critical.

Scott Ellis: Okay. Is there a particular point in time at which you would identify that mobile turning point actually finally did happen?

Drivers Behind the Increase in Mobile Use

Aaron Strout: It’s definitely been methodical. I have seen a couple of points where the earth has turned on its axis. I do think, and not to be too Apple-centric here, because it’s not all about Apple, but certainly Apple embracing iPay, NFC. I think you and I even talked about this maybe in our last podcast three or four years ago. The NFC chip, the Near Field Communication, was something that was this mythical beast that kept getting promised in terms of delivering on mobile commerce and never quite got there.

Apple finally made that a reality with the iPhone 6 and then enrolling some of the biggest players in the world in MasterCard, Visa, AmEx, some of the biggest global banks, and really getting people on board on this existing platform, iTunes, that already had 700 million credit cards enlisted.

It’s a combination of that and then the fact that tablets have become so pervasive in society. The third leg of the wheel here is LTE, or these really fast download speeds. You have Wi-Fi almost ubiquitous now. Then, for those of us that aren’t hooking onto terrestrial Wi-Fi, you have LTE, 4G, or 3G. Now, all of a sudden, we can watch video when we want. We can buy things when we want.

There’s location-based services, which is also not an insignificant piece. We’ll talk more about that. Companies can now know where you are and when you are so that they can customize some of your experience. All of those things have happened probably over the last 24 to 36 months with the real spike happening over the last 18 months or so, and Apple Pay playing a major role in pushing toward this mobile walling concept.

Scott Ellis: Okay, well, we’re definitely going to link out to the article that you wrote so that people can go back and review that. I am also going to throw out a link to an episode of Geek Beat I did not long ago that was on Mary Meeker’s report. I’m sure you pay close attention to that.

Aaron Strout: Yes, gospel.

Scott Ellis: It really is. It pretty well told the story as well in numbers that you’ve been describing to us about that shift to all things mobile. As that continues, and we know we’re really at the front end of that still in many respects, companies need to begin thinking about mobile first because more and more people are either only on mobile or they’re starting on mobile.

But the idea of mobile first, and this was really what grabbed my attention in your article, it’s used in different ways. It’s very muddy. Some people hear mobile first, and they just think, “Okay, I need to design my website for mobile.” True, but that alone isn’t mobile first. Maybe you can help us understand a little bit better about what mobile first really means.

What Is Mobile First?

Aaron Strout: Yeah. I would be remiss if I didn’t pat on the back my friend and now client, Chuck Heeman, who works at Intel, who helped me think through what my topic was going to be that month. Very often, I want to make sure that what I’m writing about is resonating with the right people in the world. He said to me, “We hear mobile first a lot. It seems sort of like a throwaway term,” and that was a bit of the premise of my post. What does mobile first mean? It’s hard for me to come up with a right definition. I’m not God when it comes to this, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about it. I work with a lot of different clients that think about it.

The thing that I kept coming back to was this concept of having a responsive site, mobile app, or whatever it is certainly is helpful, but the 101 of marketing — and this is me having grown up in the digital space — is really thinking about what is it that the buyer needs. How are they thinking? What does that look like? What is the path that they take?

To your point where, especially outside of the U.S., mobile is truly a primary device. In any developing country and even a lot of places where Wi-Fi hasn’t been adopted until recently, people were more reliant on their phones than they were a desktop or laptop.

The idea behind the article was, one, this is just good basic marketing and customer service 101, which is, what does the journey look like? Two, due to the influx of Millennials both in the, not only marketplace, but maybe more importantly, the workplace. You have all of these people that have grown up with connectivity always being there, always having some sort of a device whether it started off as the computer, so they have different demands.

Instead of just saying, “How do I create a great mobile experience?,” saying, “How can I create a great experience where mobile plays a primary role given how important mobile is and given the way Millennials” which, by the way, are getting mirrored by a lot of the other generations — “are starting to think?”

Scott Ellis: I do like that approach. In many respects, it’s the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? It’s still good, fundamental marketing that drives those decisions in that direction.

Now, there are going to be people and businesses that are going to hear this, and they’re probably already thinking about mobile. Now, they’re certainly convinced this is something I need to go take the next step on. I need to be thinking about mobile with respect to my customers’ journey. Beyond that journey, what would be some of the other key things in a mobile strategy that I would want to start at least planning for or thinking about as I am building that strategy out?

Key Elements of a Mobile Strategy

Aaron Strout: Well, one of the things that I touched on in the article is thinking about what is it that you’re selling. That’s going to drive what the journey looks like. I mentioned, a few of the bullets, how commoditized is the product or service? Is it really unique, so people don’t know that much about it? Is it something that’s fairly well-known? Does it require physical touch before you buy it? Just like Best Buy, who also happens to be a client, has experienced, a lot of people have used their stores as a showcase and then go and buy things online. I think they’re okay with that now as long as Best Buy is where they go to buy it, right?

Thinking about what role does that play. How big is it? Shipping can be a factor. Doesn’t mean you can’t buy gigantic things, including cars, but you do have to take that into account. Is it durable or disposable? Am I going to buy candy bars via my mobile app? Probably not, especially if it’s something that I want immediately and then the perishability, which goes hand in hand with that. Something like wine or chocolate or whatever, it gets shipped. It’s going to melt, or it could change the chemicalization. That’s one of them.

Then, the other is taking a step back and saying, “Who is my target audience?” This is where I’ll reverse myself a little bit. I won’t say that someone who’s over 65 doesn’t use mobile. I’ll give my parents as an example. I won’t say exactly how old they are, but let’s just say they’re somewhere north of 60. They will use their mobile devices regularly, but they might use them differently than let’s say me, who’s digitally re-born, or even my kids, who are Gen Y.

Mobile Context

Aaron Strout: It’s thinking about who is your audience – is it B2C or B2B? By the way, just because it’s B2B doesn’t mean that’s not a good use case as well, but thinking about where are they doing it, how are they doing it, what role will mobile play? Don’t forget that tablets, like iPads or Samsung, those are mobile as well, and that may be the mobile that they use. That actually gets used differently and at different times than a phone might in terms of how you digest content, how you make purchases, readability.

Just really getting inside of them. Who is my customer? What is their behavior? Then, also, to the contrary, not taking for granted that, if it is someone that’s older or younger, just because they’re 13, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy it on mobile. Just because they are 67 doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t going to buy it or use mobile as part of their process. The more you can think about all the different factors, back to the basics as you said Scott, the better off we can be in terms of how we redesign this experience to best fit them.

Scott Ellis: Yeah, it sounds like — and correct me if I’m mis-phrasing this — that mobile really becomes another context in which we look at all of the same types of...