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Carin van Vuuren is chief marketing officer at Usablenet.

It’s no secret that smartphones are overwhelmingly the most popular and fastest growing mobile access point to the Internet today. Just recently we learned that by the end of this year, mobile devices will outnumber the amount of people on earth, and by 2017, there will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices. So how does this influence the future of mobile development?

As consumer behavior continues to trend towards mobile as the primary channel for customer engagement, the stakes have clearly been raised for brands. Increasingly, brands need to offer tailored mobile experiences that are relevant, add tangible value, and meet users goals in the journey.

The early evolution of mobile was centered around optimizing a desktop site for mobile, but with rising consumer expectations, a fresh approach is needed.  Here are three ways brands can ensure a compelling mobile experience.

We’ll be diving even deeper into the mobile experience at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit, an invitation-only conclave of 180 top mobile executives, next month. Request an invitation here!

1. Create a context-rich mobile experience

To drive meaningful engagement, it is essential to create a unique and engaging experience that takes the context of a mobile journey into account. To accomplish this, brands need to incorporate three core elements into the mobile experience: social, local and personalization.

The ability to share content and experiences socially is the bedrock of a thriving mobile experience. To do so effectively, brands must go beyond merely offering access to social networks and instead make social content from platforms like YouTube, Pinterest, and others an integrated part of each mobile experience. Successful mobile experiences must also leverage GPS functionality to deliver location-aware dimensions to mobile. Go beyond the basics of simply finding a nearby store or hotel and instead incorporate deeper location-based features that are triggered when a customer is within the proximity of a specific store, or starts a search on mobile.

A great example is specialty women’s retailer Caché, who is leveraging push notification technology on mobile to offer targeted, personalized promotions to its customers. Upon downloading the Caché app, users can opt-in to receive push notifications that are periodically sent to inform shoppers of sales and discounts in nearby stores. These notifications are also used to promote new products and special events. To ensure shoppers receive relevant information and offers, these sophisticated notifications can be customer-targeted based on recent shopping activity.

2. Define mobile UX to achieve critical customer journeys

In today’s world, where registration, booking, check-out, and payments present some of the most critical aspects of a customer’s mobile journey, it is essential to understand how mobile impacts every stage of the shopping journey. Mobile experience considerations include how to present large amounts of information on a smaller screen size, device interactions (click versus touch), fluctuating network bandwidth, and limited time to complete actions before a user loses interest.

The key to ensuring effective UX is simplifying the process of any action to make sure a user can complete it in two minutes or less. Keeping this “two-minute use case” rule in mind will significantly help reduce the barriers to task completion via mobile. The check-out process, for example, has the highest drop-off incidence on mobile, which underlines the importance of applying mobile UX to all actions surrounding the cart, payment field, and purchase confirmation.

Amazon is a prime example of a brand that has mastered mobile and set a new standard in customer expectations. Beyond simply optimizing its website, Amazon has created a mobile experience for customers that is streamlined, seamless, and facilitates mobile commerce. To start, Amazon offers keyword search functionality, mobile barcode scanning, even allowing customers to take a photo of a product for the site to match. Amazon’s mobile merchandising is also top notch, making it easy for customers to browse a range of products, curated pages, comparison shopping, and more. Further, the company clearly understands the hassle of entering data via mobile, and keeps form-filling to a minimum while storing all purchase and shipping details securely. The site also offers one-click checkout and free shipping to help further drive repeat purchases and stimulate impulse shopping.

3. Effectively integrate mobile promotions

If implemented correctly, mobile can be both an engagement channel and a central hub for a brand’s marketing strategy. Currently, mobile drives less than 10% of all online revenue, but its impact and influence across every aspect of retail is extensive. For example, more than 40% of all email offers are opened on a smartphone – making mobile an integrated part of the marketing mix. We’re seeing more and more loyalty and email campaigns that offer mobile-only redemptions, coupons and discounts. And innovations like Apple’s Passbook makes it even easier for brands to drive sales and increase mobile engagement through real-time, integrated promotions.

Starbucks stands out as a brand that effectively offers mobile-only promotions. The brand is known for its innovative SMS messaging campaigns, QR code scanning and mobile payment offerings that allow users to check their mobile balance, purchase history, and receive mobile-only offers. Their ability to incorporate mobile directly into the in-store purchasing process and promotions offerings sets Starbucks’ mobile presence apart from many other brands.

It’s not mobile first, it’s users first!

We’re clearly living in a mobile world, and it makes sense that the rallying cry of designing for “mobile first” would resonate. However, this idea should be adjusted to reflect a design approach that start with users’ needs first. The winning approach is one where technology does not impose limitations, and experiences can deliver on business, brand and user goals in every channel and device.

Carin-van-VuurenCarin van Vuuren is Chief Marketing Officer at Usablenet, the global leader in mobile and multi-channel technology and a pioneer in mobile usability. She is an experienced marketer with a diverse background and over 15 years experience in brand-building and strategic marketing communications.

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