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Strategic Thinking for the Mobile Mind Shift

When it comes to how companies and customers interact, we’re in the midst of the most profound change in decades. It’s the mobile mind shift: the expectation that I can get what I want in my immediate context in my moment of need.

Want proof? There are already more than 1 billion smartphones and more than 150 million tablets worldwide. Of U.S. smartphone owners, 62% expect companies to have mobile-friendly sites and 42% expect companies to offer mobile apps, according to our research. And there are more than 1 million apps in Apple’s App Store alone.

Somewhere in your organization, people are panicking. Bright marketers are saying, “Let’s build an app!” If you scramble to move forward in this frame of mind, you’re going to fail. You’re going to do what so many of our clients have done: You’ll try to cram some piece of your website into a mobile experience. If you’re lucky, your customers will ignore this. If not, they’ll actually try to use your app, get frustrated and reward you by complaining—or leaving.

Just as shoveling brochures onto websites was a failure, shoveling your sites into apps also is doomed. You need a new way of thinking.

In search of this new way of thinking, we interviewed more than 200 companies about mobile. As we describe in our new book, The Mobile Mind Shift, successful companies follow four steps represented by the acronym IDEA: identify, design, engineer and analyze.

First, identify the mobile moments and context. Mobile moments are central to the new way of thinking. A mobile moment is a point in time and in space when someone pulls out a mobile device to get what he or she wants immediately, in context. It’s the moment when you check your bank balance or see if your flight is late, or determine if it’s going to rain this afternoon or tell your Nest Learning Thermostat to warm up the house.

Mobile moments are the new locus of competition. Be there in your customer’s mobile moment and you gain their loyalty. Be absent and some entrepreneur (Hipmunk, Uber, Roambi or any of countless others) will swoop in and steal your customer’s attention.

For you to succeed in mobile, you must map the mobile moments in your customer’s day. Starbucks figured out that a key moment was the moment of payment, so it built a mobile payment app that lets you pay in an instant, recharge your loyalty card built into the phone and even leave a tip. The key is an awareness of the context of that payment moment: You’re in the store and you’re balancing your phone and a drink, so it has to be quick and easy.

Krispy Kreme figured out that its moment was the moment that fresh doughnuts come off of the line, so it built an app that lets you know when hot doughnuts are available near you. Half a million downloads later, its same-store sales are up by double digits—without advertising.

One you’ve figured out what moments are worth targeting, you must design the mobile engagement. For any customer, there typically are dozens of possible moments to choose from. Design means picking the ones that matter. For example, Rob Moore, CTO of Hertz, figured out a few moments where he could make customers happier, like searching the lot for the best available car right from the airport bus, or upgrading to a nicer car. These features hit the sweet spot: They’re useful for customers and they generate value for Hertz. Your design process should prioritize features that fit this sweet spot, then develop appropriate forms of interaction (notifications, sharing, content, etc.) that fit the customer’s context.

After design comes the hard part: figuring out how to engineer the systems—platforms, process and people—that drive the interaction. Companies typically spend 80% of their budgets and effort here. The Home Depot has announced that it will spend more than $1 billion to reengineer its systems for mobile and other forms of engagement. Your investment won’t come near that, but recognize that mobile creates surges in traffic and requires new application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect to your customer databases, transaction systems, reservation systems, inventory systems and other corporate systems of record.

Unless you’re prepared to analyze the data coming from your application, you won’t know whether it’s working and, more importantly, you won’t know how to improve it. The analyze step is the one that companies most often miss. If you’ve instrumented the app properly, you’ll know what kind of business it’s driving, and which parts of it are most valuable and which need changing. Mobile reveals new insights because of the direct relationship that it creates with customers, but only if you’re carefully analyzing the data that it generates. The IDEA process is a cycle because it requires continuous improvement to remain competitive. Go ahead. Build that mobile application. You’ll benefit—but only if you’ve got the right strategic IDEA.

Josh Bernoff is senior vice president of idea development at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. He is the co-author of Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, both published by the Harvard Business Review Press. Groundswell was named book of the year by the AMA in 2009.

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Marketing News.