Where mobile is going
The development of the mobile web matches that of the early corporate website for excitement, rapid evolution – and the need for a strategic approach, David Bowen says.
|How to respond to the new diversity||Siemens mobile|
|Nestlé mobile||Daimler mobile|
|Pfizer mobile||Shell mobile|
|Eni mobile||Unilever mobile|
Mobile web is finally the new big thing. It’s been said many times in the past, but now it is true. As well as all the statistics showing that smartphones are running past desktop computers, we have evidence from the FT Bowen Craggs Index that mobile corporate sites are in the crosshairs of online communications managers. But that is about as far as I can go before moving into areas of wild variation and even controversy. The mobile website is where the corporate site was around 1997: no conventions, bickering about the way forward, a mass of opportunities for experimentation and lots more work for managers. And I haven’t even mentioned apps.
First, the raw facts from the Index. Of the 81 giant corporations whose online channels it examines, 21 have dedicated mobile corporate sites – that is, sites that partially or wholly reproduce the role of the dotcom site. If this seems unimpressive, it’s worth remembering that Siemens was one of the first corporates to create a mobile site, and that was only in early 2010. Growth is very rapid indeed. The overall number is also depressed by low penetration in China and the developing world: nine mobile sites are US, 10 are West European.
Then the variation starts.
URLs 14 of the 21 sites use m.companyname.com, five use .mobi, three have their own approaches. Four do not load when the main URL is typed in to a mobile phone; the rest do.
Navigation 13 have links in the footer, five use breadcrumb trails; at least six other devices are being tried out.
Content One mobile site carries all the dotcom site’s content, one all corporate material, five cut-down corporate content, 11 mainly media information, nine investor content. Six are aimed at customers.
Look and feel Some sites look remarkably like the big site, others are quite distinct.
Mobile sites versus smart phone apps Some companies have one, some the other; a handful, including Daimler, Nestlé and Shell, have both (ignoring tablet apps).
In other words, there is no convention in mobile, just as there was none in the early days of the web. The sooner conventions arise the easier life will be for users. In the meantime, though, businesses have to make decisions without a herd to follow.
To cut or not to cut
Should the mobile site reproduce the dotcom site in its entirety? This is a hot potato, with designers who are convinced by ‘responsive design’ – repurposing the same site for use on different devices – outraged by others who suggest that you will sometimes have to cut the site down to provide an effective service. As far as corporate sites are concerned, we are in the second camp. It is not a fundamental human right to get the same content on a mobile device as on a desktop computer: it’s a matter of what is appropriate. As our recent commentary on the proliferation of devices concluded, pragmatism must rule.
It is clear from the FT Bowen Craggs Index that most companies are choosing the cut-down route. Only Shell has taken a responsive approach, with a complete version of shell.com appearing on the mobile screen. It’s clever. The main navigational device is the breadcrumb trail. Inevitably, this can get very long, so it can be collapsed and expanded as needed. But the big screen layout loses much clarity when crammed into a tiny space, links can be tricky to click and anyone of a certain age will find their eyesight tested.
Contrast it with the Nestlé mobile site, which has been cut down and redesigned – there are now six big buttons on the home page and well-spaced links inside. Or with Pfizer’s, which is similar. Or with the Daimler iPhone site, which uses the phone’s ‘native’ ability to show an easily-scrolled list to display target groups within the job search. Or, most interestingly, with Shell’s own iPhone app, which uses a clear dropdown menu to move around (the relationship of the corporate app to the mobile site is a subject in itself).
If to cut, how?
As our analysis shows, consensus is lacking, but there are two main issues.
Should your mobile site have a specialist role or be a cut-down version of all or most of the corporate site?
The Index companies cover the gamut here. In the first group, Unilever’s site is aimed mainly at investors, Eni’s at Italian motorists and Intel’s at customers. In the second, Siemens’ site is a cut-down version of everything (and is incidentally the slickest mobile site we know), while Daimler and Nestlé cover several audiences. Someone somewhere has to make a decision based on business needs. As ever, ‘appropriate’ is the key word.
What should be the role of the main site?
At some stage you will want to push visitors from the specialist mobile site to the standard one. This is no big problem if the main site is quite simple, but what if it just doesn’t work well on a mobile screen? One option is to add links that allow visitors to e-mail the link to themselves, to view when they are back at their desks. Fine if your targets are investors or journalists (see the Nestlé site), less so if they are motorists on an autostrada.
Back to governance
One thing that is absolutely clear is that senior managers need to be involved in the big decisions on the mobile site. As with dotcom sites, every large organisation can only have one core mobile site. How it is used is a decision that cuts across many departments; as with social media channels, a strategic view must be taken to prevent resources being wasted and a valuable communications channel squandered.
No one thought of doing that in 1997. They should be able to now. But will they?
First published on 30 May, 2012