The Mobile First Philosophy (and How To Start Building Your Own Mobile Strategy)

Technology Translated
The Mobile First Philosophy (and How To Start Building Your Own Mobile Strategy)

Despite overwhelming statistics and in-your-face use cases, a lot of businesses are still slow to embrace mobile in their marketing. Those that wait are giving competitors a leg up.

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Aaron Strout is the President of WCG and has been working in digital for 20 years. Aaron understands the importance of mobile for his business clients and has a knack for explaining it in a way that’s easy to understand.

Dive in with Aaron and cut through the noise to find out what Mobile First really means, how to incorporate it into your marketing strategy, and why context rules the day.

In this 25-minute episode I discuss:

  • What businesses should care about mobility?
  • The use of mobile and generational change
  • Drivers behind the increase in mobile use
  • What is mobile first?
  • Key elements of a mobile strategy
  • Mobile context
  • The role of location in mobile
  • Aaron’s thoughts on the future of mobility
  • Advice for businesses just starting with mobility

Listen to Technology Translated below …


The Show Notes

The Transcript

The Mobile First Philosophy (and How to Start Building Your Own Mobile Strategy)

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Scott Ellis: Welcome to Technology Translated. I’m your host Scott Ellis. Today, we are joined by Aaron Strout, president of WCG, an integrated marketing and communications firm. He’s going to be talking to us about mobility, mobile first, and what does mobile first really mean.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of mobile. Aaron is going to break it down for us, make it very easy to understand why it’s important and what are the things that we need to be thinking about. He’s got over 20 years experience in digital with brands, startups, agencies. He’s a very knowledgeable, very nice guy. Let’s get into the show and see what Aaron has to tell us about mobile.

Aaron, thank you very much for joining me today on Technology Translated. I want to be at least not the first, but amongst the first to congratulate you on your recent promotion to being the President of WCG.

Aaron Strout: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Scott Ellis: I know that was a few months ago. I didn’t even realize that it happened, so I apologize.

Aaron Strout: That’s okay. You blink your eyes these days, and four months go past. I’m connected, just like you are, to a lot of different people, and it’s hard to keep tabs on every single person. No offense taken, and I appreciate the kudos.

Scott Ellis: You bet. You and I have known each other for a while, but we seem to always miss each other at different events. I know we’ve tried to connect at CES. We’ve tried to connect at South by Southwest, and we seem to keep missing each other. I don’t think I’ve actually seen you in person for several years. You’re still down the road in Austin, right?

Aaron Strout: No, actually.

Scott Ellis: Oh, see, I didn’t even know that.

Aaron Strout: This is more recent. I just moved out to the Bay area, so I came out here in the beginning of June.

Scott Ellis: Okay, I assume that went along with the promotion.

Aaron Strout: Yes. The big boss here, our CEO, said, “You can go East Coast or West Coast,” and I chose West Coast since I’ve done East Coast already.

Scott Ellis: Makes a lot of sense. I think I would have chosen that as well. All right. Well, the irony is we’ll probably have an easier time connecting with you out in San Francisco than we did when you were in Austin.

Aaron Strout: Ironically, that is probably true.

Scott Ellis: All right, so a while back, what prompted this discussion was that, a few weeks back, you published an article on Marketing Land about mobile first and what that means with the generation of Millennials that are coming along. It grabbed my attention because I thought you hit on a number of key points very, very well in that article. You’ve articulated some things about mobility and mobile first that I thought was presented better than I’ve heard it in a while.

I wanted to bring you on to Technology Translated so that we can talk a little bit about mobility, what mobile first really means, and maybe expand a little bit on some of the things that you talked about in that article. Part of the mission of this podcast is to present information to people. It’s a technical podcast, or I should say a technology podcast, for non-techies. We’re here to distill these things down. Let’s just start off by maybe talking about why businesses should even care about mobility.

Why Businesses Should Care, the Use of Mobile, and Generational Change

Aaron Strout: Sure. Rewinding a little bit, and this is something I’ve thought a lot about over the last several years. When I was at Fidelity Investments, which was ’97 to 2006, I always was a bit amused by the fact that we had a chief mobile officer. It was one of those things where, great guy, but once a year, maybe twice a year, this guy would come to us — we were part of the interactive group — and would say, “This is the year of mobile.”

I’m only saying that because mobile has been one of those things, I think, for the last 15 years, almost 20 years, that people keep expecting it to bloom. I would say that 2007, which was the year that the iPhone came in, was the seminal year. It was the first year. Probably a little bit before that with the Treo that Palm put out, but really the first time that you were getting a small computer in your pocket that really had a nice interface to it. Treo was good. It wasn’t great. Blackberry had made some attempts before that.

Why I’m telling you all this is that, today, I would say over the last 18, maybe 24 months, mobile has started to significantly change our behavior and the way people not only digest content, but the way they’re starting to shop, the way they’re exploring, how they get from place A to place B, how they keep track of things. To the point of, I’m more inclined to leave the house without my wallet than I am without my phone.

I actually would argue that I feel more naked if I leave my house without my wallet than I do my phone, especially now with mobile payment. Everyone has started to embrace it at all ages. I think smartphone penetration in the U.S. alone this year is somewhere around 55 percent, so a lot more have them than don’t.

Just to put a fine point on it, if you think about the fact that people are starting to think mobile first, and to your point, thinking maybe before in my article I mentioned Millennials. Millennials will replace Baby Boomers this year as the largest portion of the U.S. population. I think it’s about 80 million. It’s somewhere in the middle of this year where the point will tip over.

Millennials, as we know, behave very differently. They’re digital. They think differently, have gone through different life experiences than we have as — I’m a Gen X-er — or Baby Boomers. Taking that radical different look at how we should be thinking about the sharper journey is critical.

Scott Ellis: Okay. Is there a particular point in time at which you would identify that mobile turning point actually finally did happen?

Drivers Behind the Increase in Mobile Use

Aaron Strout: It’s definitely been methodical. I have seen a couple of points where the earth has turned on its axis. I do think, and not to be too Apple-centric here, because it’s not all about Apple, but certainly Apple embracing iPay, NFC. I think you and I even talked about this maybe in our last podcast three or four years ago. The NFC chip, the Near Field Communication, was something that was this mythical beast that kept getting promised in terms of delivering on mobile commerce and never quite got there.

Apple finally made that a reality with the iPhone 6 and then enrolling some of the biggest players in the world in MasterCard, Visa, AmEx, some of the biggest global banks, and really getting people on board on this existing platform, iTunes, that already had 700 million credit cards enlisted.

It’s a combination of that and then the fact that tablets have become so pervasive in society. The third leg of the wheel here is LTE, or these really fast download speeds. You have Wi-Fi almost ubiquitous now. Then, for those of us that aren’t hooking onto terrestrial Wi-Fi, you have LTE, 4G, or 3G. Now, all of a sudden, we can watch video when we want. We can buy things when we want.

There’s location-based services, which is also not an insignificant piece. We’ll talk more about that. Companies can now know where you are and when you are so that they can customize some of your experience. All of those things have happened probably over the last 24 to 36 months with the real spike happening over the last 18 months or so, and Apple Pay playing a major role in pushing toward this mobile walling concept.

Scott Ellis: Okay, well, we’re definitely going to link out to the article that you wrote so that people can go back and review that. I am also going to throw out a link to an episode of Geek Beat I did not long ago that was on Mary Meeker’s report. I’m sure you pay close attention to that.

Aaron Strout: Yes, gospel.

Scott Ellis: It really is. It pretty well told the story as well in numbers that you’ve been describing to us about that shift to all things mobile. As that continues, and we know we’re really at the front end of that still in many respects, companies need to begin thinking about mobile first because more and more people are either only on mobile or they’re starting on mobile.

But the idea of mobile first, and this was really what grabbed my attention in your article, it’s used in different ways. It’s very muddy. Some people hear mobile first, and they just think, “Okay, I need to design my website for mobile.” True, but that alone isn’t mobile first. Maybe you can help us understand a little bit better about what mobile first really means.

What Is Mobile First?

Aaron Strout: Yeah. I would be remiss if I didn’t pat on the back my friend and now client, Chuck Heeman, who works at Intel, who helped me think through what my topic was going to be that month. Very often, I want to make sure that what I’m writing about is resonating with the right people in the world. He said to me, “We hear mobile first a lot. It seems sort of like a throwaway term,” and that was a bit of the premise of my post. What does mobile first mean? It’s hard for me to come up with a right definition. I’m not God when it comes to this, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about it. I work with a lot of different clients that think about it.

The thing that I kept coming back to was this concept of having a responsive site, mobile app, or whatever it is certainly is helpful, but the 101 of marketing — and this is me having grown up in the digital space — is really thinking about what is it that the buyer needs. How are they thinking? What does that look like? What is the path that they take?

To your point where, especially outside of the U.S., mobile is truly a primary device. In any developing country and even a lot of places where Wi-Fi hasn’t been adopted until recently, people were more reliant on their phones than they were a desktop or laptop.

The idea behind the article was, one, this is just good basic marketing and customer service 101, which is, what does the journey look like? Two, due to the influx of Millennials both in the, not only marketplace, but maybe more importantly, the workplace. You have all of these people that have grown up with connectivity always being there, always having some sort of a device whether it started off as the computer, so they have different demands.

Instead of just saying, “How do I create a great mobile experience?,” saying, “How can I create a great experience where mobile plays a primary role given how important mobile is and given the way Millennials” – which, by the way, are getting mirrored by a lot of the other generations — “are starting to think?”

Scott Ellis: I do like that approach. In many respects, it’s the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? It’s still good, fundamental marketing that drives those decisions in that direction.

Now, there are going to be people and businesses that are going to hear this, and they’re probably already thinking about mobile. Now, they’re certainly convinced this is something I need to go take the next step on. I need to be thinking about mobile with respect to my customers’ journey. Beyond that journey, what would be some of the other key things in a mobile strategy that I would want to start at least planning for or thinking about as I am building that strategy out?

Key Elements of a Mobile Strategy

Aaron Strout: Well, one of the things that I touched on in the article is thinking about what is it that you’re selling. That’s going to drive what the journey looks like. I mentioned, a few of the bullets, how commoditized is the product or service? Is it really unique, so people don’t know that much about it? Is it something that’s fairly well-known? Does it require physical touch before you buy it? Just like Best Buy, who also happens to be a client, has experienced, a lot of people have used their stores as a showcase and then go and buy things online. I think they’re okay with that now as long as Best Buy is where they go to buy it, right?

Thinking about what role does that play. How big is it? Shipping can be a factor. Doesn’t mean you can’t buy gigantic things, including cars, but you do have to take that into account. Is it durable or disposable? Am I going to buy candy bars via my mobile app? Probably not, especially if it’s something that I want immediately and then the perishability, which goes hand in hand with that. Something like wine or chocolate or whatever, it gets shipped. It’s going to melt, or it could change the chemicalization. That’s one of them.

Then, the other is taking a step back and saying, “Who is my target audience?” This is where I’ll reverse myself a little bit. I won’t say that someone who’s over 65 doesn’t use mobile. I’ll give my parents as an example. I won’t say exactly how old they are, but let’s just say they’re somewhere north of 60. They will use their mobile devices regularly, but they might use them differently than let’s say me, who’s digitally re-born, or even my kids, who are Gen Y.

Mobile Context

Aaron Strout: It’s thinking about who is your audience – is it B2C or B2B? By the way, just because it’s B2B doesn’t mean that’s not a good use case as well, but thinking about where are they doing it, how are they doing it, what role will mobile play? Don’t forget that tablets, like iPads or Samsung, those are mobile as well, and that may be the mobile that they use. That actually gets used differently and at different times than a phone might in terms of how you digest content, how you make purchases, readability.

Just really getting inside of them. Who is my customer? What is their behavior? Then, also, to the contrary, not taking for granted that, if it is someone that’s older or younger, just because they’re 13, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy it on mobile. Just because they are 67 doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t going to buy it or use mobile as part of their process. The more you can think about all the different factors, back to the basics as you said Scott, the better off we can be in terms of how we redesign this experience to best fit them.

Scott Ellis: Yeah, it sounds like — and correct me if I’m mis-phrasing this — that mobile really becomes another context in which we look at all of the same types of marketing activities that we would have gone through in any other situation.

Aaron Strout: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. Just knowing that, with this context, there’s a much richer source of information and a more immediate way to be able to communicate, not only information, but also person to person if you want to because of what mobile affords. I do like that. That’s a great way to think about it.

Scott Ellis: Okay. You tapped into location-based marketing earlier. We didn’t really get into it yet. You’ve written the book Location-Based Marketing for Dummies, so I know this is an area that is close to your heart. How does that location-based piece of this, then, start to fit into the mobile strategy, the mobile context, as we’re planning?

The Role of Location in Mobile

Aaron Strout: Well, when Mike Schneider and I wrote the book originally, Foursquare was really the main player. There were some others like Gowalla, et cetera. Right now, Foursquare’s a very different beast than it was before, and Mike and I did firmly believe that location would move from active, meaning people checking in, to passive. Although, I will argue that, on a fairly big social network called Facebook, a lot of what people do is active, checking in by tagging things. Saying “I’m going to the movies. I’m going from this airport to that one.”

Where I’m going with this is that, because of the fact that the phones have the ability to sense where you are, if you ever want to get into the guts of it — and again, I have an iPhone, but I think you could do the same thing on the Droid platform, or Android platform — you can go in and actually look and see how each app is set. I know on the iPhone, you can go in and some apps, it’s like, “Always use my location, use my location when the app is used, or never use it.” You can literally go in and discreetly set that for every single app.

What does that tell us? Some of those apps I have turned off. Some it’s like, “Yep, okay, I see the value of it.” I was just over in the UK for several days, and while I was there, I was amazed at how my experience changed based on the fact that I was in the UK. I was in France for another couple of weeks on vacation. I was amazed by how my experience changed — whether it’s changing languages that you’re in, whether it’s changing currencies, what it’s giving you in terms of mapping.

There’s a location-based traffic app, Waze, some people I know use. It’s owned by Google. Waze will even go and look and say, “Ooh, you’re in a different country. Let me reboot and start again because I know I need to pull a different context.”

Long story long here, it’s to your context point. It’s knowing where people are. It’s being able to present a different experience to them — whether that’s in the United States and you’re in one part of a city or another, or whether it’s you’re in a different country, whether it’s you’re near their terrestrial store, or not. Or is it something that you do regularly? Being able to understand that additional layer or that additional texture, as a marketer, can make you much smarter in terms of what experience you’re creating for the customer.

Scott Ellis: I’m very curious — a little bit of a sidebar here — but very curious about your experience overseas with your iPhone. Was it your iPhone, or did you have to get or use a different phone while you were there?

Aaron Strout: No, fortunately, I was able to use my phone while I was there. I did sign up for my plan ahead of time. That made it easier, although I will say that I did self-throttle my data. That sounds like a funny statement. I did turn off my data roaming a lot of times unless I was riding on Wi-Fi either at work, my sister-in-law’s house, or the hotel we were staying at.

Scott Ellis: Yeah, we don’t want any of those surprise bills when you come back across the pond.

Aaron Strout: No, no, no, no, we do not want those at all. We monitored our data very closely while we were there.

Scott Ellis: Good, good. A couple last questions to go over here. One is, if you look forward into what’s happening over the next, say, three to five years and, granted, in this world, things change so rapidly. Five years may be a little too far out, but what do you see as the future of mobility? What is happening next that I should be thinking about?

Aaron’s Thoughts on the Future of Mobility

Aaron Strout: Well, I think there are three things, and none of them should surprise anyone. One is this idea of Internet of things. It’s mobility being distributed into non-obvious objects, so moving outside of our phones and our FitBits into our clothing, into maybe even our food, the drugs we ingest, our jewelry, whatever it is.

Then, if you take an extension onto that — I call these two different things, but it’s probably a one A one B — you have this concept of a connected car and then of a connected smart city or even a smart home, enabling things with these Internet of things to make them all work together in a smarter fashion.

Again, it doesn’t necessarily seem like mobility at first much, but a lot of the things that we’re doing really is this distributed Internet that can go into objects, some which are mobile, so they would qualify. Maybe if it’s a Nest, it’s not, a Nest thermometer.

Those are two of the big ones, and then probably the biggest game changer, in my mind, is augmented reality. Not augmented reality for games’ sake, which certainly things like gaming and, unfortunately, even things like pornography will be a huge game changer. Think about Minority Report, but Minority Report done in a more responsible way.

My ability to go into a store and immediately be directed to what it is that I am looking for, or even not even going into a store, and saying, “Okay, I’m going to go virtually shop” — and this gets from augmented reality into virtual reality — “I’m going to go and virtually shop, so I can try things on that maybe I’m going to buy online.”

If you’re going into a store, maybe you’ve got a virtual assistant. Maybe it’s giving you directions to something you said, “I want to go and look at sweaters when I’m in this store,” point to exactly where you want to go. It helps see where it is. It looks up the price. Maybe it has a price comparison, and then even, all voice activated, it allows you to just check out without even having to talk to an associate.

It is one of the things that really is interesting. There’s a guy named Vyomesh Joshi, who ran the printer division of HP, and a guy named David Kirkpatrick, who runs Techonomy. He used to be the tech beat lead at Fortune. They were at an event at South by Southwest last year, and they were talking about the idea of natural language processing and voice to text. We all think about it as, “Oh, we want to get better when we’re in cars and giving Siri directions or being able to talk to type.” Really, what they said, which sort of resonated with me was, it’s actually to be able to have a better augmented or virtual reality experience.

So if you’ve got your phone with the, what is it called, Google Cardboard or whatever it is around it, that you can actually start to talk to it. Instead of having to have weird hand sensors, remotes, or whatever, you’re enabling your experience by talking to the device, and that changing the world around you and giving you this whole additional layer of information and ability to respond to things.

And, by the way, what the big revolution is, is that this can be powered by your phone. You don’t have to go and buy this fancy $10,000 device. You can use your phone and buy a $25 device on Amazon. That’s pretty profound when you think about it.

Scott Ellis: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. In particular, the project you mentioned, Cardboard, is very interesting how they’re going about doing that. Those are good suggestions. Definitely things to keep an eye on. I get the feeling that we could do an entire episode on the future of mobility. There’s so much happening right now.

We’re going to go out on this: for any businesses that have not yet embraced mobile as part of their strategy, part of their marketing strategy, what one or maybe two pieces of advice would you give them to get started?

Advice for Businesses Just Starting with Mobility

Aaron Strout: I love that question. I want to start with the second answer first, which is, don’t assume that a mobile app is the solution to what it is you’re trying to do.

Scott Ellis: Amen.

Aaron Strout: Most companies probably don’t need a mobile app, believe it or not, which may sound like heresy. Read a few of my Marketing Land posts, and you’ll get some deeper insight into that.

The second is, know thy customer. Back to the 101 that you were talking about, Scott, so really deeply understanding anything — whether it’s doing a 20-person focus group, whether it’s looking at your weblogs — guess what, a lot of us use things like Webtrends or Google Analytics. Google Analytics is free. You can go in and actually see which devices people are coming and accessing your site, and not only your site, but different layers of material within your site. So looking at things like that, but really understanding what are your customer’s needs? Does mobile make sense?

I’m going to give you a hint. It probably does, and if it does, how can you start to better re-engineer the process so that you can make the experience as friendly. Guess what, you don’t need to solve the entire nut right out of the gate. You can actually bite off little chunks, but if you sit down and draw out a road map — it can be on a piece of paper — think about what’s possible. Make sure it’s dated and formed. Then make sure you’re chucking away at that in a strategic fashion over time.

Scott Ellis: Excellent. I love that advice. I think that is the perfect place to leave it off, so people can wrap their arms around that and go get started.

Aaron Strout: Excellent.

Scott Ellis: Aaron, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking out the time. I know you’ve got to be busy in that new role. I’m going to let you get back to it, but I will look forward to catching up with you the next time I’m in the Bay area or you get back to Texas.

Aaron Strout: Sounds good. Well, I appreciate you taking the time, and great questions, great topic.

Scott Ellis: Great. Thanks again, Aaron.

Aaron Strout: Thank you, Scott.

Scott Ellis: Technology Translated is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more, and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

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