Why Branching Content is a Taboo in Mobile UX

Imagine a situation in which some ordinary sales director provides his entire team of sales representatives with iPads. They are cool, easy to use for sales, and handy for demonstrating product presentations to potential clients. And they look more prestigious than a boring laptop. This is actually a trend: up to 80% of all entrepreneurs, according to Model Metrics, are going to introduce tablets to the sales process by the end of 2015, and about 50% of them regard tablets as direct sales instruments.

IT specialists start brainstorming about how exactly the mobile app for the company will look and how mobile UX should function on the iPad. They start visualizing all the beautiful diagrams, graphics, rich media, videos, even product features that can be modified at once.

Although it may sound very attractive, they are multiple questions that you as a marketer and content strategist should ask before you go ahead with moving content to the iPad.

  • How will the new content fit our existing CMS (Content Management System)? How will we publish content from our CMS to iPads? If the iPad will contain content that is different from the main website, will our CMS be able to control it as a unified and integrated unit?
  • Will we use the product information from our main website or should we create all new content from scratch?
  • What if our CMS won’t be able to work with iPad or iPhone apps? Do we need to transport part of the content in order to use it inside the app?
  • Who will create videos and interactive graphics? Both cost quite a lot, so shouldn’t we be efficient and add the videos to our corporate website too?
  • If we plan to maintain two absolutely different versions of the content, what will we do when a content update is needed or when we generate a new product? How do we ensure synchronization between the website and the iPad app?
  • If I have to create two sets of content, will my company double my salary for this doubling of the volume of work to be done?

And it’s not just an abstract predicament: really cool and qualitative mobile projects of famous brands can easily fail if the process of maintenance and support is not thought out well.

Branching your content directly to your website version and your mobile website — or mobile app version — is a mobile UX mistake. The maintenance of the two units may not be connected in any way. It may even be two different people controlling two different systems. Instead of using one website homepage for publicizing content, many managers could be branching it. Your support team would be at a loss because many clients would be submitting contradictory tickets. Branching content only means additional workload and more chances to mess things up. The bottom line is that you want all your clients to receive the same messages.

A real example comes from a famous publishing house, Conde Nast, which invested quite a bit into creating a tablet version for its most popular magazines: GQ, Glamour, Vanity Fair, and Wired. First, the art director and production departments prepared the mock-up model and layout for the paper edition, and then they needed to work on two versions for the iPad — in a book and album format. These two versions were in fact not real digital magazines but instead huge PDF files that didn’t have most of the advantages that other digital mass media has.

Digital copies of magazines are heavy: they weigh 150 MB and more. Even with the fastest Internet connection, it will take 20 minutes to download them. Stepping out of your office and getting yourself a paper copy might be faster.

Take a look at the Dolce & Gabbana desktop and mobile website versions. They are identical in content, but the platform peculiarities are also respected. The problem is that the app interface is completely different. Clients get different messages, since the content strategists think that mobile app users should freeze in Winter 2015, while desktop and mobile website users can enjoy Summer 2015.

Digital magazines also do not simplify socializing. Want to send a catalog or magazine page to your friend? Copy and paste a quotation to your blog? Or search for exact text passages? These digital functions are very unfriendly (if they even exist) to the user in digital magazine editions because, in fact, you’re looking at just a huge photocopy of a print magazine.

The majority of publishing houses that issue digital editions for the iPad try to demonstrate that the interactive revolution has not passed them by. As a result, content is wrapped in beautiful wrappers with useless animation and beautiful transitions that are, sadly, unlikely to surprise and delight regular iPad users. The problem gets even worse since the effort spent on creating these effects does not add value to any other users but tablet holders.

Unfortunately, these digital magazines and brochures are not in demand by their target audience. Glamour, which is the most profitable magazine within Conde Nast, sells about 3,000–5,000 issues for iPad while the number of website visitors is over 1 million unique users, and the print magazine is distributed to about 2 million subscribers. Imagine the layout specialist who has to stay at work late at night (while the other departments are at rest) to create two iPad versions that end up being sold to merely 3,000 people.

Karen McGrane, an experienced UX designer and content strategist, stresses in her book “Content Strategy for Mobile” that the problem with Conde Nast and many other digital magazine editions is not low demand or unfulfilled expectations. The problem is that the workload is huge while the ROI is very low. The solution to this would be uniting everything into an integrated process.

Harsh arguments, about whether a mobile website or a mobile app is better, serve only to distract us from the main problem. The same is true about adaptive design versus templates. For the majority of companies, the global challenge should not be focused on choosing the right cross-platform code, since the latter will change and evolve all the time. The real challenge is creating a multichannel publishing and editingprocess, especially when there is a need to set different priorities for different platforms.

If you want to make an arguments supporting the idea that mobile users need ‘cut’ or any other particular kind of content, you should take into account the problems of maintenance and updating. If you plan to cut content for mobile users or offer a different approach to them, you will definitely experience severe headaches in the future. This is the very essence of content strategy, and you need to think deeply about these questions.

When we fail, the reason is the imperfection of our workflow, tools and coordination. In order to avoid content branching, we need a fresh approach to publicizing content on different platforms. The answer to our prayers is the adaptive content. I will dip into this topic in my next blog post.

How do you manage your content on all platforms? What tools do you use? Have some arguments about content maintenance and updates? Please share them in Comments.

Images made with Bitstrips