This is number two in our series entitled “DMU: from the lecturer’s desk” aimed at giving the floor to the lecturers of the Advanced Master’s in Digital Business Strategy of Grenoble Ecole de Management. This time, we have written a piece based on an interview with Alexandre Jubien, who teaches Mobile Marketing within this program. We have come a long way in terms of mobile-compatibility since the early days of responsive design. For example, can you remember that Apple.com did not have a mobile-compatible website in 2012? Those days are over, and in 2019, thinking “mobile-first” is no longer an option. It means we need to be more radical and put mobile devices on top of our to-do list. Hence, we need to change the way we create our content and websites entirely. I have asked Alexandre Jubien, speaker and mobile expert, and a lecturer of our advanced master’s in digital business strategy to share his experience and vision in this area.

Mobile-first: a not so new idea from 2011

The idea to produce content for mobile before desktop use first appeared in Luke Wroblewski’s 2011 book, “mobile-first.” In this pioneering opus, the founder of Polar and former Yahoo! Chief Design architect puts us immediately in the swing of things: « […] Designing for mobile-first not only prepares you for the explosive growth and new opportunities on the mobile internet, it forces you to focus and enables you to innovate in ways you previously couldn’t […]. »
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Alexandre Jubien: “The biggest challenge for the future of the Internet will be to convinceadvertisers and agencies they should change the way they design and validate their content.”

This book was visionary. “One of its key concepts was to first select the content for the more restricted mobile environment, before adapting it to a digital tablet and desktop computer,” and not the other way around, explains Alexandre.

Beyond responsive design 

In a 2018 report describing the various techniques and trade-offs regarding the design of mobile applications and sites, Gartner was stressing the need for a Design-Thinking orientated approach. Responsive web design makes it possible for websites to be displayed correctly on all kinds of screen sizes. It is now taken for granted that all sites must be responsive. Only a minority of laggards, SMEs mainly, have websites which are still non-responsive. Many techniques are available, beyond responsive design, for the creation of mobile-friendly content. No two of these techniques are the same, however, and all imply trade-offs. Mobile-first design, at first a mere technical feature, has rapidly become a strategic tool for those businesses at the forefront of innovation. “Take BlaBlacar for example. They decided to launch their service on mobile devices before desktops in certain countries. The mobile-first moniker is perfectly apt in these circumstances,” explains Alexandre Jubien. In India, the well-known start-up even closed down its website in 2015. However, they have reinstated their website since then. This example shows, even if it is necessary to prioritise mobiles, that one shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that mobile-first systematically means mobile only.

2015, the advent of “mobile-only.”

The concept of mobile-only barely emerged 4 years later, thus 8 years after iPhones hit the market and over 10 years after the first generation of connected personal digital assistants. 
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The share of mobile in Internet searches varies depending on the industry, but it is dominant in most areas of the economy — source: Statista (2018) US only.

Since 2015, “a surge in mobile usage and the influence of social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have forced new concepts to emerge” explains Alexandre. “These applications can only be used on mobiles,” he adds. “These platforms still have a web presence, but it is only aimed at presenting the app.” These strategies are relevant because some users only use their mobile to searchthe Internet, but as mentioned above with Blablacar, the mobile-first option doesn’t come naturally to all in the same way.

Marketing in the era of mobile-first 

Google searches are primarily carried out on mobiles (with notable differences according to the sector – please refer to the numbers below). Emails are most often opened on mobile phones (between 40% and 80% in Finland with some variations related to the respondents’ education level). And videos are no exception (mobiles have a 62% share ). In short, mobile is inevitable, even though two-thirds of the time spent on this device is dedicated to four activities only: entertainment, social media, instant messaging and games.
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Comscore analysed the proportion of mobile use by country, and there are significant discrepancies (Comscore,Global Digital Future in Focus 2018).

Alexandre Jubien makes an important point: “In fact, not only should websites be built according to mobile use. All marketing tools are concerned. Besides, today’s advertising campaigns are predominantly designed and validated on desktop computers.”

New mobile-first formats are making their way onto the market

Nevertheless, new video formats are now emerging. NowThis, Buzzfeed’s Tasty channel and French-based video production company Brut led the way at the end of 2016 with the wish to target a younger audience (and admittedly the one most addicted to mobile use). These new video formats don’t even need a soundtrack since they are subtitled in a large type which can be easily readable on mobiles in a 1×1 square format. “The same should apply to advertising,” insists Alexandre. “You cannot expect a user to make the effort of turning around his or her device to watch an ad. The horizontal format aimed at television should be banned.”

Convincing advertisers they should change the way they produce content

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Mobile imposes a radically new way of designing and validating content [image by Neal Shaffer]

What lies ahead for mobile content? Must we consider a future where we create content for mobile-first only, and put an end to every other type of content? “This is not the real question,” warns Alexandre. “There is a dire need to change our approaches. However, it doesn’t mean we must stop producing desktop content at all. The biggest challenge for the future of the Internet will be to convince advertisers and agencies they should change the way they design and validate their content.” Much effort is required, and we must admit that we are not there yet, and that “too often, we design content behind a 27-inch iMac screen whereas the user has a mini 6-inch screen in hand.” Today’s tools are still not made for a mobile-first world. At least, “it would make sense to validate content on mobiles first if mobile is prominent, especially if the target is social media” concludes Alexandre Jubien. In a nutshell, the young content industry — not just video but all sorts of content— will have to reinvent itself in the next five years unless this mobile-first revolution takes place much faster than that.