Op-Ed: Mobile First? No – The Trials and Tribulations of a Stoic Strategist

By Kiran Aditham 

And let’s start the ball rolling once again with new monthly contributor, Simon Mathews, currently chief strategy officer at West Coast shop, Extractable, and who’ s also worked at the likes of Isobar as well as Molecular on the strategy side during his career. We think the headline explains it all, but not so sure if he’s striking a Zoolander or Hansel pose in this one. 

The pitch was going well. The large team of potential clients, spread two deep around their boardroom table, were engaged and clearly expressing their business needs. I was heading towards the climax of my section on our agency’s strategic approach. I ended my last slide with the crescendo of, “We build data-driven digital experiences,” ready to hand over to our Creative Director.

Scanning the room, a few people looked a little quizzical. The client’s web manager speaks up, “We are thinking of implementing a mobile-first strategy. What do you think?”

Of course, I knew what they meant by ‘mobile first’. They meant that their current mobile experience was poor, and that they think mobile is important to their future. However, from our analysis their desktop, social and mobile were all poor experiences and there was an opportunity to dramatically improve the experience, and outcomes, for their users across any device.

My inner dialog kicked in. The following is what I probably should have shared out loud, but as they say, discretion is the better part of valor.

“I understand the need to give users coming to you on mobile devices the best possible experience. However, let’s think about who your customers here. Your business is healthcare in one state, here in the US.  Your customers have a wide mix of devices from which they may access your web assets. Some only use desktops, from work. Some only use smartphones from the bus. But our data shows that many, if not most, access you from multiple devices—from giant-screen PCs, through laptops, tablets, phablets and smartphones.

And not just that they reach you from multiple devices but that device preference is variable depending on where they are, what time it is, and the nature of the task. And sometimes the choice can be as simple as which device is lying next to them on the couch while they watch American Idol or Breaking Bad. We even see evidence that some users are logged in on a desktop and mobile device at the same time.

So, we should not be thinking mobile first. We should be thinking person-first.

First we understand what your customer needs to achieve and what you, as a business, need them to do. Then we ensure we deliver the best possible experience across every platform and device—from desktop to smartphone—as well as across your own sites, partners and social platforms.

Such a person-first approach does not mean every experience on every device is the same. It means we leverage the unique features of each platform (e.g., the larger screen and easy typing of a desktop or the camera and geo-locating features of a mobile device) while focusing on the total experience for each person.

In a few years we will look back and find that person-first strategies will be a given, in the same way that today no one really has a ‘Firefox-first’ strategy, despite the fact that each browser has different features and capabilities.  Unless your business is a mobile app, 100% location-based or reliant on mobile payments in Kenya, mobile first is not the best strategy.

So no, I don’t think it’s a good strategic move, to go mobile-first. Think person first. Device second.”

Of course that was my inner dialog. My actual response was more along the lines of “Yes, many of your customers want to use mobile. Once we understand your business in-depth we will be able to give you a clear strategic recommendation”.

And, I know now, that that recommendation will be “Person first, device second”.