Boarding the mobile bullet train – How to forge an invincible mobile-first strategy

By Einav Mor-Samuels
How to forge an invincible mobile-first strategy

When researching mobile-first strategies, it’s not surprising to find that the term is often used in relation to design and development. But driving a cross-organizational mobile-first mindset involves much more than that. 

Mobile-first spans the whole concept of user engagement and user experience, pushing brands to keep up with the latest mobile trends and emerging technologies.

Over the past 20 years, companies across all industries have undertaken the massive challenge of evolving from legacy, brick and mortar operations – to becoming digital-first

In more ways than one, the pandemic-accelerated adoption of mobile devices, coupled with rapidly intensifying consumer spending behavior, pushed even more businesses to reinvent themselves in a world where the “always on” consumer is becoming a global reality. 

Whether ordering takeout, going about their online shopping, killing spare time on Candy Crush, or putting their digital wallets to use, mobile has become an integral part of the customer lifecycle – with more than 40% of total customers engaging with brands through their mobile devices. 

To be able to cater to a growing audience of mobile-minded consumers, many companies are moving away from low functionality, informational apps – to developing more engaging, transactional ones, where the user experience is king

In other words, the market is now recognizing the app as a powerful channel in its own right, instead of just a clone of their mobile website.

In this blog, we’re going to breeze through the basics of a mobile-first strategy, why marketers need to make friends with it, and some super practical tips on how to solidify an airtight mobile-first plan that will get your business all 2022 ready.

So, kick back and let the mobile wave wash all over you.

  1. The roadblocks and accelerators
  2. What does it mean to be mobile-first? (and why should you care)
  3. 6 very good reasons for going mobile-first
  4. Mobile-first legends – Show ‘em how it’s done
  5. Let’s get real, folks – turning a winning mobile-first strategy from a wishlist to a vivid reality
  6. Key takeaways

The roadblocks and accelerators

Nearly 66% of enterprises strongly identify themselves as mobile-first. With an average of 40% of sales taking place on mobile, a growing number of enterprise-sized brands see mobile as a highly strategic acquisition and retention channel.

So what’s keeping more brands from implementing a solid mobile strategy? Here are the top 3 challenges:

  1. Lack of organizational change management
  2. The need to hire experienced personnel
  3. Privacy concerns, ensuing the latest privacy-led developments – e.g. Apple’s game-changing ATT framework

Although these privacy concerns are understandable to an extent, they also point to an underlying knowledge gap around privacy developments that are already available in the market today. Businesses need to keep in mind that a wide array of solutions that address mobile measurement and optimization – without infringing on privacy laws – is only a decision away.

And when it comes to more positive changes around mobile-first adoption, many brands report it has actually gotten easier to develop defined mobile strategies and manage UX / UI development. So at least on the technical side of things – the path to the coveted mobile-first peak is much smoother than it used to be.

What does it mean to be mobile-first? (and why should you care)

What does it mean to be mobile-first?

“Mobile-first is not just about features and functions, but about whether the customer has everything they need.”

Finance Executive

Originally coined circa 2009, the term mobile-first approach used to be about how brands should adapt design strategies to address the transition from desktop to a mobile web format. That meant designing a mobile experience first, and working your way up to complement larger screens.

In most cases, some rudimentary desktop website was also released alongside the mobile version, but it often consisted of little more than a landing page.

Slowly but surely, this mindset rolled out to include corporate communications as well. Whichever piece of content, news, or announcement a business wanted to broadcast was first and foremost communicated via mobile, and only after on other platforms. 

The mobile-first design perspective called for a downsized version of a web product, which included a much leaner approach to design. Instead of building a full-fledged platform to later find out that some capabilities don’t fit mobile, the mobile-first approach enabled developers to focus on what’s important from the get go, and then add more elements at a later stage if needed.

Mind you, we’re not web snobs, and by “mobile” we’re not excluding the mobile web. True, mobile apps help bridge the gap between your brand and your customers like no other, enabling much more personalized user journeys. But that doesn’t mean mobile web should be ignored. 


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In fact, your website’s mobile responsiveness directly impacts its search engine rankings, and Google can ban your website from its search engine if it’s not optimized for mobile devices (more on that in a bit).

When you think about it, being mobile-focused doesn’t stop with mobile. Over the past few years, more and more channels are becoming “mobile-like”. Take IoT, connected devices, or smart TVs for example. Most of these operate with mobile app-like ecosystems, which are turning out to be the dominant software distribution model of our time.

But regardless of your mobile focus, bear in mind that as of the past 5 years or so, mobile-first is no longer just a design principle. It’s an inseparable component in brands’ overall strategy. From small-sized local businesses to global enterprise giants, the number of businesses that are actively adopting a mobile-first strategy is growing by leaps and bounds. 

If processes can be simplified or streamlined to the benefit of consumers and the companies that serve them, then they by all means should be. 

Even if you’re not entirely convinced your business could benefit from a mobile-first investment, don’t let a false sense of complacency take the leads. Sometimes, adopting a mobile-first mentality means accepting that even if something works – it still needs to change. 

6 very good reasons for going mobile-first

good reasons for going mobile-first

1. It’s all about the people

You can never go wrong with a customer-focused mobile approach. 

So whether you’re a tech entrepreneur or a retail developer, remember that creating an engaging mobile experience boils down to offering your customers a tailored, hassle-free and contextualized user experience. 

Always ask yourself – “what is the simplest and fastest way for my users to get from A to B?”. The rest will build itself out from there.

2. It’s what your customers want

Almost 50% of cross-vertical businesses we’ve surveyed report that the pandemic has speeded up their mobile-first transformation process. Why? 

Because the past few years have marked a new mobile-centric era where customers took charge and leapt forward in their app usage, all in a quest to handle things quicker, more efficiently, from anywhere, and at any time. In other words, they are already mobile-first.

Back in the early days of mobile apps, a central rationale for using them was that in a world of slow mobile internet, having more content preloaded was important. But with the rise of the added value of the in-app experience – this is not so much of a core consideration anymore.

There are so many examples (more on that in a bit) where agile businesses have taken notice and offered their customers what they’re expecting: a simplified, intuitive, and time-efficient mobile experience.

Considering that the user experience in mobile apps is second to none in terms of personalization, performance, and ease of use – makes the choice to go mobile-first a matter of simple business sense. 

3. It promotes your organic visibility

A significant factor driving the adoption of mobile-first strategies is Google’s “mobile-first indexing”. As of 2019, Google’s search algorithm gives priority to mobile websites when initially indexing a new one.

In practice, this means that new websites that are developed without a mobile-first strategy are likely to experience sub-par SEO results. And no one wants that.

4. It gives customer engagement and retention a massive boost

Mobile devices bring your brand and your customers closer together. Sounds like a sappy cliché, but it’s actually a physical fact. Think about it, your smartphone is often the first thing you reach for when you wake up, and the last thing you look at before going to sleep. 

Offering your customers a value-packed mobile app, means you can quite literally be in your consumers’ pockets on a 24/7 basis, encourage their engagement, nurture retention, and increase profits.

5. It’s a powerful revenue channel

On the topic of increasing profits, mobile apps offer a wide variety of monetization strategies, including in-app advertisement, in-app purchases, gamification elements, and sometimes premium capabilities or paid products.To learn more about clever monetization tactics, check out our “app engagement and user retention: The definitive guide”.

6. It’s an unmatched source of first-party data

When it comes to gauging engagement, churn risks, behavior patterns, conversion, and even future trends – apps are a source of invaluable insights. 

True, recent industry-sweeping changes around data privacy have made user level data data much more challenging to gather and analyze. But, utilizing a blend of the following measurement tools could help you bridge that gap: 

Having enough data at hand can empower marketers to offer more personalized experiences, hone their remarketing efforts, improve campaign measurement, and drive more revenue to their core business.

Mobile-first legends – Show ‘em how it’s done

Mobile-first legends

While the number of leading retailers that have come to prioritize the mobile-first approach as an essential part of their digital transformation initiatives is on a steady rise, Gaming brands are pouring themselves another mai-tai at the mobile-first party, saying: “well, it’s about time.” 

One look at any of the most popular mobile games on Android or iOS, and you can instantly tell they were all built for mobile, even if they were based on pre-existing PC or console games. 

True, in most cases Gaming companies are inherently more agile, tech savvy, and experienced in terms of mobile adoption, but that only means the rest of the industry can learn a great deal from their years of accumulated digital knowledge.

There are countless incredible success stories revolving around brands that pushed their mobile-first experience to a whole new level. These include Spotify, Snapchat, Uber, Tinder, Robinhood, and Monzo – one of the earliest fintechs to adopt an app-based challenger mentality. 

But let’s focus on one specific brand, which embodies mobile-first in its truest sense of the word: Instagram. The mobile app that started its journey as a platform for sharing filtered photos has now become one of the primary social networks today, with an estimated value of $102 billion.

With over 2 billion users in 2021, the mobile-first-and-foremost mega brand continues to push the envelope with features and functionalities that are still transforming our notion of what a mobile experience is and should be. 

How did Instagram become what it is today? You guessed it. A laser-focused and uncompromising mobile-first strategy. 

Even before being acquired by Facebook, Instagram made a conscious engineering and business effort to embody their phrase “Do the simple thing first“, and kept a clear goal of mastering the mobile app realm. Each design step was meant to enhance and simplify their UX, while taking full advantage of all the possibilities mobile had to offer. 

But even as their UI has evolved over the years, the core mentality has remained the same – focus on simplicity: an experience-minded, straightforward interface that allows users to go social with their visual creativity in a very intuitive way. 

So while mobile-first may seem a bit daunting, the importance of understanding the value it can provide is essential to any brand that’s looking to stay relevant.

Let’s get real, folks – turning a winning mobile-first strategy from a wishlist to a vivid reality

turning a mobile-first strategy to a vivid reality

The most important principle to keep in mind here is that mobile-first doesn’t mean shrinking down what you already have, but envisioning how it could be

You have to simplify, get agile, and get rid of excess or complexities. Refusing to do so is like forcing your mobile initiatives onto an old-world mold, and that will lead you nowhere.

So, let’s talk about 3 proven ways to ensure your mobile-first plan is prepped for success:

1. Keep your customers top of mind at all times

Mobile-first strategy: Customers

While focusing on the technicalities of going mobile-first, don’t forget who you’re doing this for. You don’t simply optimize your business for mobile. You optimize it for people. Your customers. 

Explore their journey in detail including all relevant touchpoints, and chuck any unnecessary steps that might hinder their joyful flow. When doing this, also be sure to come up with several journey scenarios – so you can better prepare for various user acquisition strategies.

Starting with your users encourages you to look beyond the look and feel of your app. Ask yourself why users need it in the first place, which will help you to stay focused on what matters most throughout the process. 

2. Streamline your user journey

Mobile-first strategy: User journey

Fragmented or overly complex user journeys turn customers off. 

Regardless of your industry, it’s crucial to pinpoint where your users might get slowed down on their way to the finish line. This could include a tedious sign up page, a form that is not optimized for mobile and forces them to zoom in, zoom out, and slide sideways, or broken links that lead to the depressing wastelands of 404.

Despite being extremely harmful for businesses, these pitfalls of bad UX can actually be easily fixed, so always exercise your user journey awareness to be able to identify and mend any hurdles as quickly as possible.

But ensuring a smooth and delightful mobile experience doesn’t just boil down to dramatic fixes. It’s also about more subtle things like helping users achieve their goals by offering them relevant information in a timely manner. 

These mindful steps are tried-and-true methods to cultivate more engagement, nurture brand loyalty, and yield higher user satisfaction.

3. Test, measure, fix, repeat

Mobile-first strategy: Test, measure, fix, repeat

In our day and age, businesses that aim for longevity don’t measure results and optimize processes based on a gut feeling. The road to a successful mobile-first business is paved with lots of data collection and constant analysis. 

After gathering data about your ideal customer journey, and designing an app with a specific UX in mind, it’s now time to monitor how users are warming up to it, while keeping a constant lookout for weak or problematic touchpoints. 

Keep a finger on the pulse of your engagement metrics (e.g. time spent in app, daily and monthly active users, retention, uninstall rate, etc.), but also run customer surveys, and monitor any feedback shared over social media or specialized review sites. 

Leveraging these data insights and implementing a nimble feedback-development loop can help you achieve incredible results, and offer your users an enjoyable, unforgettable mobile experience that is uniquely your own.

To learn more about smart user acquisition methodologies, check out our guide here.

Key takeaways

Mobile-first strategy: Key takeaways
  • Nearly 66% of enterprises strongly identify themselves as mobile-first, with a growing number of enterprise-sized brands see mobile as a highly strategic acquisition and retention channel, especially in our mobile-accelerated pandemic reality.
  • The top 3 roadblocks that are keeping more brands from following through a mobile-first strategy are lack of organizational change management, the need to hire experienced personnel, and privacy concerns.
  • On the flip side, many brands report it has actually gotten easier to develop defined mobile strategies and manage UX / UI development.
  • For many businesses, the unmatched user experience makes the choice to go mobile-first a matter of simple business sense. It’s what customers want, it boosts engagement and retention, it’s a powerful revenue channel, and a phenomenal source of critical data.

By focusing on your customers’ needs, ensuring your app’s ease-of-use, and continuously monitoring your app’s performance, you’ll be creating a seamless and joyful mobile experience for your customers that is guaranteed to transform your business.

Einav Mor-Samuels

With extensive experience in digital marketing, Einav is a Content Writer at AppsFlyer. Over the course of the past 15 years, she has gained ample experience in the mobile marketing landscape, researching market trends, and offering tailored solutions to customers' digital problems. Einav fuels her content with data-driven insights, making even the most complex of topics accessible and clear.
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