Monday, February 8, 2010

From iMedia: Why top brands struggle with mobile

January 28, 2010


  • Even when a mobile page is available, the user is often presented with the traditional version
  • Simplify mobile payment systems so they provide choice and consistency
  • Established metrics systems typically use unreliable factors, such as JavaScript

With a rapidly increasing number of people accessing the internet from their mobile phones, the world's leading brands and developers are committing serious resources to engaging with their customers via the mobile channel.

However, even with considerable amounts of time, effort, and budget committed to building mobile solutions, many of these companies are still making simple mistakes that are preventing them from delivering a good mobile experience.

So, why are big industry players that are successful on the web still struggling to understand mobile? The answer is simple: Mobile is often assumed to be a smaller version of the desktop web. Companies fail to realize it is actually a much more complex platform where the usual online rules typically don't apply.

If you look at the mobile market as a whole, you can see that, with nearly 4 billion mobile phones, its size and reach are vastly bigger and more diverse than the desktop internet. New and more sophisticated handsets are launched into the market almost daily, each with very different capabilities, browsers, and settings. With such complexity, solutions that work on the desktop internet often do not translate easily onto the mobile internet.

Here are three key areas and typical scenarios where some of the big players are failing on mobile:

1. Mobile search
The division between desktop and mobile web pages often remains unclear, and leading search engines still regularly index and return desktop results on mobile. Even when a mobile page is available, the user is often presented with the traditional version, which doesn't render properly on the phone.

With companies like Google putting a lot of effort into building mobile applications, like Google Maps, it is not surprising to see core businesses like search fail to deliver acceptable results for mobile consumers. In contrast, Yahoo now focuses on a web strategy, and the quality of its search results has improved as a result.

As an example, I recently searched for British Airways using Google on a Nokia feature phone. But rather than being presented with the British Airways mobile site, which is a great and well-designed site, I was sent to the PC version instead. The page had a landscape layout, which did not render well on my phone, and it took a lot of scrolling to find what I was looking for.

But it is not just the search engines that are to blame. Many brands are still failing to offer a mobile optimized version of their sites. In fact, in a recent study by Bango that surveyed online brands, many admitted they do not even know how much mobile-originated traffic is hitting their desktop website.

Although most phones have very capable web browsers and can display full websites, companies should not rely on this. There is still no substitute for a properly designed mobile site. Today's made-for-mobile websites present relevant content in a way that is easy for a mobile user to read and navigate. Sites can even be made to look like applications.

2. Mobile payment
Mobile comes with a powerful operator billing solution built in. Consumers can pay their phone bill with a single click, so it is a real surprise that so many brands are still unable to give their customers a good payment experience. Often, customers are forced to enter detailed registration information, an operator network, and phone number, or send complex text messages before a payment can be made. And if the consumer connects via Wi-Fi, they often cannot pay at all.

One example of this is the Nokia's Ovi store. Nokia, like many others, has followed the app store trend, but despite its many attempts to develop a successful app store, the journey to achieve this has been more than testing. As with many other app stores, the Ovi checkout process can be a frustrating experience. In order to purchase content, you must pre-register details on multiple pages; to complete the task and make the payment, the consumer needs to have a considerable desire to get the application.

Nokia needs to realize that supporting multiple stores across multiple devices and operating systems is not the way forward. The complexity, differences, and restrictions it imposes inevitably impacts the consumer payment experience, increases customer care costs, and reduces sales for the application developers. A web-browser-based distribution model is much more scalable and delivers far wider benefits to the handset. It also delivers the same slick one-click payment experience that many other content providers offer on the mobile web. In short, it provides choice and consistency.

3. Analytics and CRM
Many web analytics tools have failed to replicate their success on mobile, including the world's most popular web analytics tool, Google Analytics. But why is this? Google Analytics, like many popular web analytics tools, relies on JavaScript to collect data and cookies to identify unique visitors -- methods that are simply not reliable on mobile, even on the latest smartphones.

Perhaps with its current focus on the Android app store and tracking application usage, Google has forgotten that the vast majority of campaigns are delivered through the mobile web. The company has acknowledged these issues in some of its recent release notes, so only time will tell if it will refocus its mobile efforts and replicate its online success on the mobile channel.

The factors and solutions

Understanding and overcoming the challenges of mobile and taking advantage of the massive benefits it brings is essential for brands to succeed. Here are a couple of the top factors that must be considered:

Visitor identification
Unlike the PC, mobile phones have unique identities -- from built-in serial codes to the unique mobile phone numbers we all use. These identities are the key to delivering services that elevate mobile above the desktop web we are familiar with.

Mobile identification facilitates secure, single-click mobile payments and is crucial to analyzing the usage of websites, campaigns, and applications with any degree of accuracy.

Mobile phones and internet connections
Most phones connect to the internet via a gateway, a mobile web connection provided by the operator or handset manufacturer. Many phones today also come with Wi-Fi, especially the latest smartphones. These phones can switch connections, and consumers are becoming savvier when browsing, choosing between their operator and a local Wi-Fi connection to get the best performance.

This habit poses identification issues and a whole range of usability problems, especially when paying for a download. Brands need to use a reliable mobile payment solution that is able to identify every user, including those connected via Wi-Fi. This way, they will be able to provide a consistent experience across all connections.

These factors, among others, pose challenges for brands delivering services on mobile. Companies need to understand them in order to get the fundamentals of mobile right. When developing a mobile solution, it is important to realize that mobile is different; there is more to consider, but the results can be far better than typical digital campaigns. Don't just use the same tools and techniques from the internet and expect them to work.

Andy Bovingdon is VP of product marketing at Bango.

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