Why You Should Be Thinking Mobile First


When it comes to marketing your business if you aren’t thinking mobile first, you are doing it all wrong.

The truth is the majority of digital media consumption happens on mobile devices, not desktop browsers, and it’s been that way for the last two years. According to Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends Report the average time a US adult internet user spent engaging with digital media in 2015 was significantly higher on mobile (51%) than on desktop (42%).

A recent 2016 survey of more than 1,100 US consumers jointly conducted by Thrive Analytics & Burke Inc. reflects a shift in how and where consumers are researching new products.

The graphs below highlight mobile’s changing role in the buyer journey from the “bottom-of-the-funnel” type of information typically associated with smartphone usage (such as product reviews, pricing, inventory, or store locations) to more “top-of-the-funnel” type of general information (like identifying their problem and potential solutions/products/vendors).

“What types of information do you look for most often on your mobile device to help you make purchase decisions?” Source: Burke-Thrive Analytics (2016), n=11,103
“Where do you most often use your mobile device to help you make purchase decisions?” Source: Burke-Thrive Analytics (2016), n=11,103

The way we use email has also followed the mobile trend with 54% of all emails now being opened on a mobile device, according to email service provider Litmus.


But what does mobile first marketing really mean?

It’s not just about having a responsive design for your website and emails, or even a mobile app — ultimately the way that consumers find, learn about and communicate information across the internet has fundamentally and permanently changed.

There are some really great slides in this presentation from Paul Adams (VP of Product at Intercom.io) that underscore the internet’s shift from a collection of individual destinations/websites in its early days to today’s complex, dynamically interconnected network of channels and outlets for information. As we navigate through the internet today, 3rd party services like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn all use data they’ve collected about our personal behaviors, interests, friends’ interests, location, demography to provide the most relevant, helpful experiences that they can.

3rd party services use personal data to provide meaningful, relevant information across the internet. Source: Paul Adams, 2013

At the same time, the volume of information being published continues to increase exponentially over time, and as access to that information becomes more and more available, people will increasingly rely on trusted resources such as friends, family and colleagues for their information.

In his presentation, Mr. Adams argues that successfully reaching audiences requires marketers to shift their design thinking from “How can I drive more traffic to our website and app?” to “How can we create and publish content so that it can most easily be disseminated across the internet to maximize consumption?”.

To a large degree, mobile first marketing & maximizing consumption is about personalization: thinking through how and where your customers are using the internet (i.e. channels) and creating a message that is relevant and helpful for your customers (i.e. content). In a few ways mobile first is no different from traditional marketing: as a marketer, the goal remains getting your message in front of the right people at the right time. What distinguishes a truly mobile first approach is the format.

Mr. Adams uses the term “Atomic Unit” to describe what has been called “Cards” or “Containers” elsewhere, but the idea is the same: successful engagement with customer audiences depends on how you format your message, and the most mobile-friendly messages are packaged into neat, easy-to-share containers designed as stand-alone messages and considered from the users’ perspective (within a stream of other neatly packaged containers of info).

Examples of Cards on Google Now & Twitter. Source: Paul Adams, 2013

These design elements extend beyond social media. Google has long considered general mobile friendliness of a website in its search engine results, but they have been recently testing new containerized layouts on some of their results pages.

Example of new Google SERP design with containerized units of content. Source: Peter Myers, 2016

Peter Meyers at MOZ did a really great job detailing some of Google’s recent design experiments, but the bottom line is that this is more than just a design philosophy and represents a major shift in search engine optimization. As Mr. Meyers puts it: “Cards give Google a great deal of flexibility, and will begin to break traditional design barriers and result groupings…The era of cards is the final nail in the coffin of ten blue links. Ultimately, our definition of search engine optimization is going to have expand beyond traditional results and into any information that can drive traffic.”


Andy is a digital nomad / growth hacker / inbound marketer currently working from Split, Croatia as a member of Remote Year 2, living around the world with 75 other digital nomads from February 2016 to January 2017.

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