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Responsive Design is more difficult than you think

Data and views from the Consumer Insights & Targeting team at Experian Marketing Services

James Murray, Experian

*This is a post from James Murray, Digital Insights Manager, Experian Marketing Services*

The IAB recently published research into the web presence of the top 50 online retailers in the UK, providing great insight into the thinking behind some of our major brands’ mobile strategies. It turns out that most of these retailers – 37 out of the 50 to be precise – are optimising for mobile. In spite of this, only four are optimising according to device with just one retailer deciding to use responsive design.

The lack of incorporation of responsive design into mobile strategies demonstrates how far marketers need to go to really ensure a seamless consumer experience. Consumers today expect the same experience whether engaging with a brand instore or online, and marketers really need to start getting their mobile strategies in place sooner rather than later.

As a technique, responsive design has traditionally been linked to email as a way of creating email for a multi-channel world, creating email design with human behaviour in mind. As device usage continues to grow - it is estimated that by 2015, the number of wireless email users is expected to more than double from 531 million to 1.2 billion – marketers have been exploring the capabilities of responsive design beyond the desktop, ensuring content delivered direct to consumers is accessible on the go.

While the email itself has enduring potential, marketers should not be fooled into imagining they can simply plough ahead with a scaled-down communication strategy to fit onto the device in question– email design and consumption is evolving, and the supporting strategies should too.

Creating a tailored experience based on device usage is the smarter way forward, but that doesn’t mean that it comes without its challenges, and there are a number of nasty pitfalls to avoid when considering responsive design:

Getting your priorities wrong

While smartphone usage in the UK is high, session times are often limited – only one per cent of UK smartphone users browse in “one long session”, with 61 per cent browsing in short sessions. Marketers have a short window of opportunity for mobile engagement, so responsive design needs to address messaging hierarchy as well as the "design element" of your marketing material.

In this situation, understanding the hierarchy of your content is vital, with messaging and content prioritised in line with your consumer’s needs. Imagery in an email is great – but if you know your consumers are more interested in your latest sale, there’s little point in including click-throughs for this at the end of an email or the bottom of a webpage, and making it harder for your consumers to access the content they want could result in low click-through and transaction rates.

Optimising without taking human behaviour and mentality into account

Mobile email is exactly that – designed to be consumed on the go. According to Google’s Mobile Planet, more than half of all mobile users in the UK now use a device that’s capable of downloading and rendering fully-optimised email content. This transition has seen the number of emails read on mobile devices soar to more than one in three.

A consumer is less likely to open and click on your email if interaction and navigation hasn’t been designed with the consumer in mind. A screen “pinch” to zoom in to see a picture in an email or on a webpage requires more activity on the behalf of the consumer, and a crowded layout almost always ensures frustrating “mis-taps”.

Responsive vs. scalable – what’s the difference?

A big one. Whereas scalable design is a fluid state of an original piece of content, responsive design is much smarter and intuitive. Through clever coding, the appearance of a single email or webpage can change based on individual requirements – this goes much deeper than just size, and can offer changed to images and content.

There’s really no point in just scaling down your desktop content for mobile –A shrink-to-fit tactic will not get the best from your campaigns, and certainly won’t provide your consumers with a great experience.

Stopping at email

Marketers need to remember that consistency is key for the consumer – there’s very little point in ensuring responsive design across your email campaign if your mobile website is just a smaller version of your desktop page, shrunk to fit whatever device the consumer is using.

Responsive design for the sake of it

When considering mobile, the majority of marketers approach responsive design with much enthusiasm. But there are many instances where emails and landing pages have been adapted just so marketers can say that they have used the technique.

A recent focus group with our customers found that almost 50 per cent of consumers actually prefer non-responsive designs when it comes to providing a quick summary of content such as service updates or shipping notifications. Your message doesn’t always require the latest tools in responsive design, so think carefully about what you are trying to communicate.

The customer is what matters the most here and they should be the focus of your entire marketing strategy, mobile or otherwise. This should be reflected in any campaign that requires tailoring and adaptation. It is imperative that customers receive a consistent and relevant experience across all platforms, so make sure you consider how your mobile strategy fits in with your overall campaign. Those who ignore this do so at their peril

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