An interesting conundrum seemed to be on the minds of more than a few marketers at the Mobile Insider Summit this week. Everyone wants to build a more "seamless" experience for their customers, and for good reason. But does "seamless" mean a responsive-design-like experience? Or does it mean synchronizing the user data across Web, smartphone and tablet designs that are distinct and match the specific moods and modes of use associated with these screens?
On our opening panel in which we asked five consumer and business-facing brands about what they were learning from their mobile customers, it was clear that this is a big question for many of them.
A number of these companies are finding that mobile extends their usual touchpoints with consumers. Melanie Allgood of AutoTrader, Michelle Castillo of For Rent and Randy White of CareerBuilder.com all find that they are getting a second shot at the same customer they tended to see earlier in the day on the Web. There is a lot of lunchtime use of personal services during the lunch hour on Web and increasingly on mobile, but they may well see that customer again during commute or at home time. Devices are extending the day for them.
On the one hand, everyone wants to make sure that this multi-screen user is getting a similar experience. But a pure responsive design that replicates the Web onto mobile does not recognize the different mode that late-day user is in. White says his mobile user late in the day is especially responsive to clean and highly targeted emails with specific job offerings. He also finds people interacting with his Web site differently at night when they are on tablets. They are less likely to take an action here, but they want to consume a lot of content. An upcoming tablet experience from the brand will target an entirely different mode.
Allgood and Castillo are still determining whether people who come into the experience of their sites at different times need to be served different things.
I think we will see this tension between screen-agnostic approaches and context or device-awareness become greater in coming months as marketers need to figure out exactly how to invest in their multi-screen strategy. Our keynoter today, Bon Mercado of Google, told me that in terms of search keywords, the context in which someone searches is more important than the device. They see similar search keywords used in the prime-time living room -- whether laptop, tablet or smartphone is the source. Which is fine so far as search goes. But when it comes to how and why people interact with deeper content like a Web site, I think devices are still indicative of different user modes that invite distinct experiences. I suspect that the screen someone is on is partly determined by their context and their need (do we choose screens according to task?). Pretending that all screens are alike seems daft.
Synchronizing the experience for users so that key information they referenced on one screen can be surfaced easily on another (recent searches, shopping carts, etc.) seems to be where it is most important to be "seamless," not in all the specifics of the user experience.
It is a bit too easy to oversimplify the multi-screen reality and declare that all screens are now equal. They are in some respects and they aren’t in many others. Determining which is which for a brand’s particular customer set will be the challenge of the next year.