Unravelling Mobile - Keys to Delivering a Cross-Channel Customer Experience

White Paper

It is now impossible to ignore mobile. Regardless of your business size or business vertical, mobile is a business imperative. But many organizations are still far behind their customers in terms of adoption and expectation, which is having a detrimental effect on the bottom line. This report identifies the key solutions available for delivering content and services to mobile and will assist with making technology decisions for mobile delivery.

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Executive Summary

Considerations for investing in mobile

Confusion and complexity

Many companies have been caught unaware to the huge challenges of delivering to mobile devices, coupled with the difficulty predicting how consumers are using mobile in conjunction with social media, video, apps and the web. The need to make decisions quickly while keeping costs under control has resulted in numerous changes in direction, hampered time to market with new services and degraded customer experience.

In addition to the challenges triggered by constant changes to methodologies, techniques and strategies for delivering mobile, services are not clear or predictable. There are countless options to consider, each with their own pros and cons. Additional complexity comes from the need to integrate with long-held existing technologies such as eCommerce sites and POS systems, and in some cases the simple lack of specialist experience from vendors.

Today, mobile is no longer restricted to smartphones; mobile is the commonly adopted collective noun for all wireless devices that can connect to the internet, such as tablet computers, e- readers and wearable devices. This is the new landscape and most organizations are now realizing that they need to quickly make technical and operational changes to cope with the new mobile frontier.

Business impact

Most organizations have accomplished a level of mobile readiness by using a variety of techniques to deliver existing content to mobile or utilized apps to extend the brand experience across devices.

The cost and complexity, however, is now holding many companies back from seizing the opportunities that mobile is able to deliver. Mobile often sits in a silo, unconnected to the other parts of the business and in most cases, even presents different products, services and offers from the other sales channels.

Google Data demonstrates that mobile is more about context than content – 85% of smartphone users search for local information, 81% call a business directly after searching and as many as 40% visit a business after searching[1], which means that businesses need to have their local supply chain aligned and their CRM systems and call center integrated.

Building the correct infrastructure for a business that is designed to adapt to the flexing needs of customers’ adoption of mobile technology is critical. Making the right technical decisions is even more critical and will involve deep collaboration between IT, digital and marketing departments.

Why read this guide

Desktop sales were forecast to decline 5.3 % globally in 2013 and a further 5% by 2017. Portables were estimated to decline 11.1 % in 2013, and even the tablet market that has shown unprecedented growth is slowing as new formfactors and screen sizes find popularity. The app market is evolving fast, with new super apps and web apps gaining pace, demonstrating that mobile is a constantly changing landscape.

This report identifies the key solutions available for delivering content and services to mobile and will assist with making technology decisions for mobile delivery.

A look back

The origins of mobile development

Delivering sites which work on mobile devices has been through many changes in the technical landscape. It is important to understand the origins of mobile development to drive future solutions.

A three-dimensional view

On early phones with internet support, the browser was hidden away deep in the menu structure of the phone. Savvy users who found the browser were typically disappointed with the results, as the phones had no capabilities for displaying websites with any clarity.

At the time, phone browsers used many different languages – WAP, HTML3.2, HTML4, XHTML -- which made coding a website for mobile devices an almost impossible task. Consequently, the difficulty of developing sites and the limitations of the devices caused the uptake of the mobile web to stagnate for many years. 

It was not until the emergence of the iPhone in June 2007 that things started to change. The iPhone had easy access to a browser and supported standard HTML and CSS so it was able to display webpages in the same format as a desktop, albeit a lot smaller.

The first mainstream solution for mobile was to develop an optimized mobile site for the iPhone which took advantage of the touch interface and its screen size. A number of organizations adopted this approach. The results for iPhone users were very promising, but there were still problems for businesses - developing for the iPhone alone was not a sustainable business strategy.

In 2007, the Blackberry was still popular and the number of legacy ‘feature-phones’ easily outnumbered the iPhone adopters. Additionally numerous new smartphones that used Google’s more open Android operating system were entering the market and gaining popularity.

Device fragmentation had arrived and the cost and complexity of delivering different sites for each new platform meant that organizations focused on the iPhone as their mobile strategy. However, by 2010 this was not a viable option; companies were losing customers and the iPhone represented only a quarter of their customers. As a result, other options - such as apps- were used to augment mobile strategies.

By 2011, HTML5 emerged as the next version of HTML which had mobile support, but on its own did not solve the device fragmentation and capabilities issues. HTML5, CSS3 and better Javascript support fuelled a number of methodologies for optimizing websites and content for mobile, all with pros and cons.

Today’s Mobile Options

Popular choices for delivering content to mobile

Companies have looked to the way that web has been developed for desktop to provide insight into mobile development and have turned to their trusted suppliers for advice, services and support.

Mobile solutions providers

The options for delivering mobile experiences are becoming more complex to unravel. In early deployments, companies used systems integrators, existing solutions providers or their retained agency. But as customer demand for more advanced mobile solutions grows and quick response to updates and services from internal teams becomes more commonplace, it is necessary to look to wider technology solutions and expertise.

Mobile solutions options

Selecting the right technology is important, but it is also necessary to select the right partners and dovetail these organizations into a broader mobile strategy. Many companies are building virtual teams of suppliers who work together to deliver a seamless product and services mix, each supplier bringing to the table a specific level of technology or expertise, such as real-time user journey recordings, web analytics and social media monitoring tools.

Navigating the different suppliers and identifying their core delivery expertise can be challenging. Many suppliers have recently broadened their offerings to include a full services suite; for example, many eCommerce platforms include a level of content management or mobile page template tools. While appropriate for some businesses, these may not be as specialized as a pure Content Management System (CMS) platform for complex web and mobile delivery. It is important to ask the right questions and understand how capabilities will be implemented, integrated and scale to meet future growth. The tools that offer support, training and continual updates are typically the most flexible and are more easily used by the different professional services teams, either in-house or outsourced.

Mobile Solutions

A deeper look at techniques and technologies

In the sea of different methods, techniques and latest “fix all” trends, unravelling the different solutions can be difficult. Many are confusing and in some cases misunderstood. Below is a deeper look at the different solutions to enable more informed decision-making for mobile strategies and delivery.

Techniques and technologies


HTML5 is the long awaited new standard for web development. It has been a long time coming but is still not fully implemented by all browsers.

Web developers still need to use methods such as RESS (responsive design with server-side detection) and responsive design to ensure websites work across devices. HTML5 allows developers to use these features, but it’s not an automatic mobile development tool.

Device detection

Device detection is a server side component that identifies the device being used to access the website. Device detection on its own will not ensure websites are mobile optimized but it gives the underlying website code details of the device so it can optimize the site accordingly. Some providers provide device detection as a SaaS model, while others are built in to the server.

It is imperative that device databases are kept up to date with the latest devices, device attributes, browsers and operating systems. This can be complex. Other than the commonly assumed 4 operating systems for mobile, there are over 7000 devices, more than 500 browsers and almost 300 operating systems to keep updated.

Separate mobile site

Some mobile strategies adopt a separate mobile site approach where the consumer is directed to a specially designed, mobile optimized site. This site typically takes the same content as the desktop site and displays it in a mobile optimized fashion, often with a different user journey than the original site. This is one of the more complex and time consuming approaches to mobile delivery, as it involves creating a separate website and requires managing the changes and maintenance on both sites.

However, a separate mobile site does have several advantages. While complex and time-consuming, this approach delivers ultimate flexibility with user journeys and user experience and is not dependent on a desktop experience. Because mobile adoption is evolving quickly, many companies are finding that their mobile experiences need to be in a constant state of change to adapt to customer needs. A separate mobile site aimed and targeted specifically to mobile browsing and mobile users delivers the ideal experience. But the cost and complexity of this solution outweighs the benefits. As an alternative, most companies are opting for a “One Web” approach with a website that uses responsive web design to adapt to different screen- sizes.


Adaption uses device detection to understand the device accessing the site and transforms the content to match to the device’s capabilities.

Initially, solutions like Novarra Vision and Bytemobile’s Web Fidelity Service were used on a company’s network to automatically transform web pages for mobile devices. Because the site was limited to the desktop site being transformed and had no knowledge of semantics or page design, these had limited success adapting the pages and delivering mobile optimization. Adaption has been subsumed into more modern approaches such as progressive enhancement and responsive design, which take some of the concepts and extend them.

Content Management Systems

Many CMS systems claim to be mobile enabled, but in reality, this is typically a responsive design bolt-on that provides limited functionality. A few CMS systems now have mobile embedded, allowing content editors to manage how content appears on different devices without having to resort to code changes. A CMS that uses a RESS approach with a device database will help enhance responsive design and optimize page size.

Mobile commerce (mCommerce) platform

Like many other web based specialist solutions, eCommerce platforms have developed products specific for mobile to enable customers to deliver their content to smaller screened devices. These solutions are simple to deploy and are maintained by the solution provider. However, their flexibility tends to be limited. eCommerce platforms have their development history rooted in desktop commerce and have been designed to deliver good quality and reliable commerce driven experiences which does not necessarily translate to the context of mobile. Most solutions deliver the same content, but laid out for small screens. Many eCommerce solutions also run in parallel with existing marketing based websites, which creates the challenge of managing and maintaining two mobile versions of the site.

While mCommerce extensions to eCommerce platforms offer quick and simple time to market, they typically do not have the advanced features that mobile users are starting to demand and are difficult to integrate into a wider mobile strategy that encompasses geo-location, integration into social media, product reviews and recommendations, feedback and product tracking.

Mobile platforms

Mobile platforms have seen big transformation over the past five years. Initially born out of the mobile operator space to deliver rich content to feature phones, mobile platforms were built from the ground up as “mobile specific.”

Mobile platforms tackle and solve all the common issues for mobile, such as bandwidth and limited processing power. They also solve issues for screen size, limited keyboards and a one hand browsing user experience.

Mobile platforms have generally been utilized by the larger and more advanced enterprises such as eBay and Facebook who early on experienced the cost and complexity of delivering their level of service across hundreds of devices around the world. Mobile platforms have matured and now deliver advanced levels of sophistication through easy to use interfaces, which means you don’t need to be a developer to make them work. Some of these platforms have been acquired by larger solutions vendors and in some cases the specialist mobile technology has been embedded into existing web authoring and content systems. These new mobile solutions offer the best of breed for content and mobile delivery.

Native apps

An alternative to a mobile site, native apps are downloaded onto a user’s device from an ‘app store.’ They are typically the most effective for power users of a brand and are an effective way to interact with loyal customers

Native apps can make use of more of a device’s features than a website can - such as the camera, motion detection and location services - which enables companies to deliver highly context relevant and rich experiences.

But app development on its own should not be seen as a mobile strategy either. 83% of customers will search the web before searching an app store (Econsultancy 2013), so having a fully optimized experience is crucial. A combined app and mobile web experience delivers the best possible coverage. If both also work in synergy technically and commercially, this is the perfect scenario.

Responsive design

Responsive design is a technique which uses style-sheets to alter the layout of a website for different size devices, relying primarily on screen size to decide how to layout the site.

Many developers use responsive design to create sites that work on mobile devices and it often seems like the quickest, easiest method to optimize sites for mobile. Sites that are content heavy with no requirement for transactional capabilities are best suited for responsive design, as it is easy to layout the site for different screen sizes.

A downside of responsive design is that it aims to fit the same content across different devices. It makes the site ‘work’ on mobile devices but is not optimizing for mobile. Transactional sites, however, need to be optimized to ensure the best possible user journey and conversion rates. Using a responsive design with server side components (RESS) to allow fine-tuned optimization is the better solution in this case.

Another drawback to responsive design is page weight. The method dictates that all data for the site gets sent to the mobile device, which then discards the data it doesn’t need. The result is pages that are bigger than needed for the mobile experience which slows the experience overall. For many websites this factor is not critical; however, for commerce sites, slow websites means lost customers.

Responsive design with server side components

RESS combines the best of both responsive and adaptive server side optimization. Standard responsive design can be enhanced with knowledge on the server side about the device being used. This means the server can optimize the content, images and layout of the site for that particular device. Data that is not needed is not sent so the page weight and loading speed are optimal.

It also provides the flexibility to change the layout for different classes of devices so you can create user journeys specific to certain users, ensuring higher conversion rates than just using responsive design on its own.

RESS will give you the ultimate flexibility for delivering optimized sites now and into the future where you will need to be delivering your content to a huge range of different devices.

Mobile solutions delivery partners

Creative agency

Digital agencies are a key piece of the puzzle for delivering ideal mobile experiences. User experience design, customer profiling and usage reporting are critical, and these are elements that agencies are focused on providing. It is important, however, to understand the technology that they propose to use for the physical delivery of the site. Digital agencies have typically leaned towards responsive design as this is a natural progression from web development for desk-tops. They may also use a content management platform, or in some cases a mix of CMS driven responsive templates. Mobile platforms and middleware are beginning to find favor with some agencies because they offer tools to speed delivery and assist with common problems such as image transcoding, device detection and device databases. Whatever the agency’s preferred approach, it is important to ensure that it is aligned with the company strategy and it can scale for long term needs.

Technical agency

Some agencies are more technically focused and will generally offer a fully outsourced solution. Some technical agencies have developed in-house mobile solutions, generally based on the use of responsive design coupled with a device database to provide device detection. Technical agencies are generally well-placed to utilize software solutions and mobile platforms because of their technical focus. Often, technical agencies provide outsourced services to larger systems integrators so their technical capabilities have been tested on large and diverse mobile projects like banking and commerce. Maintainability and flexibility are key factors. If a solution is too complex, regardless of its delivery capability, maintaining the output against a backdrop of fast paced consumer behavioral change and increasingly high expectations will lead to a huge overhead, slow adaptability and can stunt an organization’s growth. On the other hand, if the solution is easy to maintain but too simple or limited, the results will fall short of business and customer expectations.

Mobile solutions in context

Choosing the right solution for your strategy

Mobile delivery has seen rapid change in a very short time-frame. Just since the launch of the iPhone mobile development techniques in 2007, methodologies and best practices have been in constant change.

Building the right solution

Enterprises have been seeking the optimum results from mobile - often through trial and error - which is both costly and time consuming. As the web goes more mobile, enterprises will need to implement robust, secure, flexible, cost effective solutions that future proof the deployment by offering seamless Integration, simple tools and user interfaces that allow rapid editorial and creative control with advanced features that enable the delivery of highly contextually relevant mobile experiences.

SDL recognizes that organizations want to drive captivating interactive brand experiences that are optimized and contextually relevant for any channel and device. However, challenges associated with rapid change, accelerated complexity and growing scale are standing in the way of delivering the very best interactive customer experiences. By seamlessly integrating advanced segmentation, intelligent content targeting and personalization within the contextual content delivery process, SDL empowers marketers and IT teams alike to consistently drive contextually relevant experiences to all touch points and devices while globally unifying brand value across languages, locations and cultures.

As a result, marketers can easily exceed customer expectations with a relevant mix of content and poignant rich media experiences that drive engagement, conversions and insight. While operational and IT teams can maximize operational efficiencies and brand consistency by leveraging SDL’s unique combination of component based content management with superior inheritance functionality.

And in the end, you engage your customer consistently with valuable and relevant brand experiences – everywhere, all the time, on all touch points and devices.

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