Last year mobile agency execs often told me they were urging their clients to get their "m-dot" strategy in place. In other words, even as brand marketers were coveting the iPhone and asking to get an app for their brand, smarter mobilistas understood that the mobile Web was far from dead. In fact, as smart phone users got accustomed to increased speed, mobile search engines and localized results, they instinctively started using their mobile browser in much the same way they used a Web browser. Consumers were getting in the habit of plugging a brand name into a mobile address bar and expecting (well, hoping) to get a decent mobilized experience. But what are the consumers getting when they brand-surf on a mobile browser? I decided to take one of my periodic scans of brand identities on the mobile Web to see whether the results are any more predictable than they were a year ago.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of brands that not only deliver a mobilized version of their site, but are distinguishing between Web and mobile Web experiences. American Express, for instance, starts where a number of banks and other credit card brands do, with a member sign-in, but then its site also offers a host of mobile services tuned to remote use cases. We get directories of event specials for cardholders, a gift card balance look-up, travel and shopping specials, as well as customer service for lost cards and a sign-up for text-based account alerts and look-ups.
The visual style of the Amex site is simple but well-branded, and kept light for quick performance. I like especially that the site doesn't put up a barren sign-in wall, which is just as likely to deflect users as attract them. Instead the company takes the opportunity to show its range of mobile services and speak directly to the user's needs out in the wild. By contrast, Citi's mobile site is basically just trying to push you into one of its apps. There is little attempt here to service a mobile user on the spot, beyond providing help in finding a retail location.
Target's mobile site takes the app approach by mirroring at its mobile URL the experience one gets from the downloadable app. The Web address becomes a tool rather than a promotional exercise. The Target.com location on the Web is more of a magazine-like, content-filled experience, even as it always pushes the user towards a purchase. The mobile Target.com seems to presume the user's presence in the store or proximity to the store. It identifies daily deals, keeps lists, lets you set a local store as the default and track gift card balances -- and even add to registries right from the store aisle. However, for my local, cavernous Target, I wish I could get an aisle guide to help me navigate the airplane hanger they call a store.
Toyota's mobile site is deceptively simple at the landing page because it becomes a much richer experience as the user drills into one of the car model selections. While the front page first offers you the smart phone shopping app, it also satisfies the mobile surfer's most obvious reason for typing the brand's URL: to see a specific model. Drill in, and each of the models has a surprisingly deep trove of detail, from specs and model pricing to galleries, 360-degree views, and even some pretty cool fly-through videos of interior and external feature sets that are kept politely silent. The full experience is among the most effective among the car makers. GM's mobile landing page wants to tell us about its big comeback, and the pages for individual car brands feel serviceable but decidedly stripped down. VW is similar, in that the predictable scroll of text menu items is almost too barren after a lead-in that promotes the current SignandDrive campaign. Toyota succeeds in pulling the mobile viewer into a genuine shopping experience by surprising the viewer with tools that invite car model experimentation and play.
What Target, Amex and Toyota seem to get right is leveraging mobile utility with branding and promotion. A great many m-dot sites are making the sensible but boring decision to deliver a bland scroll of menu items at the landing page to keep the load times low and the feeling of utility foremost. But as these strategies evolve, we will see brands think harder about mobile Web experiences that deal more creatively with this mobile hand raiser who navigated deliberately to their brand and is open to a broader message about how this company understands and serves customers.