Why Start-ups Will Live or Die by Their Mobile Strategy

Over the last four years, ownership of smartphones in the UK has leapt from 52 per cent to 81 per cent of the population (Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey 2016)

It’s a trend replicated across the globe and figures rise even further for younger consumers. Nielsen found that in the US, 98 per cent of millennials aged 18-24 and 97 per cent of those aged 25-34 owned a smartphone. And slightly older consumers weren’t far behind with 96 per cent of 35-44 year olds owning a smartphone.

It’s hard to believe that the touchscreen smartphone, in the guise we know it now, has only been with us for around a decade, since the launch of the first iPhone in early 2007. Yet in 2016, mobile web usage overtook desktop usage for the first time. As a result, spending on mobile advertising has also overtaken advertising spend on traditional devices.

And today we use our phones for much more than calls, texts and taking photos. According to We Are Social, more than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days.

Now, I’m sure these stats don’t really surprise you. Sit in any coffee shop, workplace, or even your own living room and you’ll see people using smartphones. But the impact it’s had on our lives as consumers has been revolutionary.

Thanks to the smartphone we can research and shop for products and services any place, any time. We can book a holiday while watching television. Waiting for a train, we can sign up for insurance or buy cinema tickets. Spend five minutes catching up on social networks and you’ll be exposed to a whole host of products available to buy in just a few clicks. Our mobile phones have transformed shopping from a planned activity, scheduled in around other commitments, into an action we can complete several times a day.

When attending the Growth Hacking World Forum, my fellow speaker Dr Karl Blanks of Conversion Rate Experts called mobile “the new internet ecosystem”. What I took from this is that mobile is now the natural home of the internet, making it the first place people go to access the web.

Today, you are more likely to pick up your phone to access the internet than sit down at your desktop. It’s why Google, and other forward-thinking organisations, always build for mobile first. Some technologies don’t even make it to desktop – resulting in apps and mobile sites that perform better and have more features than their larger desktop counterparts.

In response to these changes, companies have had to adapt how they view mobile technology. In the past, while building a website, companies would remember (or would be prompted by their web agency) to make it ‘responsive for mobile’. For many, this simply meant making sure the design fitted on a smaller screen. But today, mobile is more important than ever and the most innovative companies always put mobile first. To succeed, a mobile-responsive site is no longer enough while a fully-functioning app is essential.

It’s easy to underestimate the power of apps, dismissing them as simply a novelty. Yet according to Nielsen’s figures, 89 per cent of consumer time spent on smartphones is spent in mobile apps, compared to just 11 per cent in mobile web.

89 per cent of consumer time spent on smartphones is spent in mobile apps, compared to just 11 per cent in mobile web.

Why mobile is important for start-ups​

We’ve seen that mobile is important for anyone marketing to consumers and particularly those selling to younger consumers. But mobile is especially important for start-ups. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why:

  • Mobile allows start-ups to engage with customers
    Start-up brands are usually aimed at younger consumers who are not afraid to use their smartphone to research, order and pay for goods or services. As we’ve seen, younger consumers are amongst the highest users of mobile devices. According to Deloitte, a third of 18-24 year olds use their devices ‘always’ or ‘very often’ when meeting friends, shopping or watching television.
  • Mobile is effective with a limited advertising budget
    Start-ups must think cleverly about how to maximise their marketing budgets to gain maximum exposure for limited spend. Mobile advertising can be expensive but because it’s so targeted, it’s incredibly cost-effective. Synchrony Financial found that 62 per cent of millennials respond to offers sent to mobile devices. And of course, when a brand uses mobile to tie into their social media strategy, they can gain amazing publicity for little or no spend.
  • The opportunity to start from the ground up
    One big advantage start-ups have is that they are free from legacy websites and outdated technologies. Rather than trying to adapt an existing website or process for mobile, they can start from the ground up, building their first website and apps specifically for mobile.
  • It’s expected
    Today’s consumers expect to be able to do everything from their phone. Really, it’s unthinkable for a start-up to launch without an app – or at the very least, a mobile website.

How to get the mobile experience right

Of course, it’s not enough to simply adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. You need to get the mobile experience right. Here are my top five recommendations:

  • Simple. Fast
    The mobile experience must be straightforward. The consumer shouldn’t have to think. If they can’t work out what to do, they’ll delete the app and head off to a competitor. Make the experience enjoyable and your customer will keep buying and be prepared to recommend you to others.
  • Transparency
    In my article exploring subscription business models, I examined the importance of transparency when asking consumers to buy for the first time. This is particularly true when selling via mobile as many shoppers are less confident when using their smartphone to make purchases.
  • The importance of referrals
    Make it easy for consumers to share their shopping experience with others. This might mean allowing them to easily share the news of a purchase on Facebook or Twitter or to send a voucher code onto a friend.
  • Stay up-to-date with innovation
    Innovation moves more quickly on mobile than any other device so make sure you continually update the experience to make the most of new trends.
  • Invest in design
    Design has to work so much harder on mobile. Limited screen space, coupled with the fact that customers are quite often multi-tasking when using their phone, means the design must be intuitive and easy to use.

It takes effort but get the mobile experience right and you have an amazing opportunity to disrupt existing markets that have fallen behind the latest trends.