The Adobe Digital Index is unpleasant reading for marketing teams, especially those who believe they are delivering a multichannel approach to consumers. The report entitled “Europe Best of the Best 2015” looked at the top users of the Adobe Marketing Cloud in Europe including a survey of over 5,000 consumers. Compared to many other reports the size of the survey suggests that the results should be taken seriously.
Tamara Gaffney, Principal Analyst, Adobe Digital Index, says: “Looking at the data, we’re seeing some fascinating trends, particularly relating to the consumer journey – people are increasingly switching devices, spending less time on sites and generally moving around a lot more. The reports show just how fragmented today’s customer journey is and that there is a major opportunity for brands that focus on delivering consistent, visually appealing and technically perfect experiences across devices.”
Multiple devices means lots of device switching
The survey tells us is that people are using multiple devices throughout the day from smartphone to tablet, laptop to smartphone. While the use of multiple devices is hardly news, the fact that 85% say that they switch devices during tasks is a surprise. It suggests that consumers still see devices as having distinct functional differences beyond that of work and personal. Another surprise is that the European consumer now owns an average of 6.1 devices although exactly what they were is not detailed. What is interesting is that people are switching mid-task. Some of this is because they prefer a difference device layout and some is due to functionality.
There is also a difference between men and women in what devices they use and how they use them. While this will raise some eyebrows the numbers from the survey are interesting. It shows that men are more likely to use a desktop or a laptop while women have overwhelming embraced the smartphone and the tablet. The survey doesn’t go into much more detail around why this is which is disappointing. It would have been interesting to know if this was due to the type of engagement such as texting or social media versus work , playing games or watching sports.
So is this use of multiple devices good or bad news?
Overall the answer appears to be bad. The reason for this is that visit times and consumption of content is decreasing driven, in many cases, by a difference in user experience. The survey suggests that a big part of that difference is the poor performance of browsing on mobile apps. This suggests that too few companies are either designing for mobile in the initial instance or have failed to optimise their existing sites for mobile users. Given that Google has been using mobile performance as part of its ranking mechanism it would appear that marketing and IT are not on the same page.
Only 40% of the consumers felt that brands were delivering a consistent personalised experience across devices. There are two parts to this and the survey didn’t really distinguish between them. The first part of this is about the blocking of cookies and use privacy which is now being enforced in the browser as well as through add-on programs. This means that it is difficult to provide the user with a customised world every time they visit a site without requiring them to log in. Some sites have now taken to telling users that they need to turn off ad blocking if they want to view content.
The second part is the way sites and even applications are coded for different platforms. Here it could be argued that the developers should be able to write something that delivers the same experience. The problem is down to time, money and technology. Writing something that will display in all browsers is not as simple as people would have you believe. To take advantage of technology inside different devices such as accelerometers often requires device or at least operating system native code meaning that an app has to be written for every single OS.
There is also the problem of screen estate and bandwidth. Replicating different sizes of screens will always be a challenge but it appears that even the processes of form filling and brand awareness are failing here. A similar issue is true when it comes to sending very rich content over the air versus down a fibre link. Rich content is as sensitive to bandwidth and latency as it is to screen and audio.
A shock comment in the survey is that UK has the highest performance for smartphones, just slightly ahead of the US. Given the regular diet of network problems churned out by the UK press, it seems things are not so bad after all. This week the European Commission has just refused the takeover of O2 by Three on the grounds it would reduce competition. That now seems like a good move because this survey suggests that the competition in the UK has been good for mobile users and performance. Of course this doesn’t solve the problem of moving rich media files.
All of this plays to a statement by Gaffney who said: “Consumers have more connected devices than ever before, but the fact that people are now switching devices during tasks could be an indication that the experience between devices is inconsistent and leading to frustration. This is a huge challenge, with smartphone traffic increasing significantly year-on-year, marketers need to focus on optimising for mobile, while not forgetting the desktop experience consumers will continue to rely on, even in a mobile world.”
Who is to blame?
It would be easy to blame the developers for this but that’s not quite fair. All of these issues from layout to design, brand consistency to performance are as much marketing department issues as they are development issues. In fact, as the commissioning client inside companies, one could argue that marketing is just using IT as a fall guy. But is is more complex than that?
Clive Howard, Principal Analyst, Creative Intellect Consulting thinks so. He told us: “I think that what this data reflects is that there is still a lack of maturity in the industry around creating experiences and within the customer as well. I think both sides are figuring out how to get the best from a world of different types of device. Creators are clearly trying different approaches and methods (websites, apps, Responsive Web Design, Adaptive Web Design etc.) to see what works best.
“At the same time customers are trying different devices and form factors (different screen sizes) to see what works best for them and then what the best tasks are for different devices: Should I browse on device X but buy on device Y? Should I just read emails on device X but reply on device Y? and so on. Therefore I wouldn’t lay it all at the door of the experience creators. This information should help Adobe to better address the needs of the experience creators.”
We’ve been on this mobile revolution for over two decades now. In that time we’ve seen the dot com boom and bust and the arrival of app stores and smartphones. With all of that it seems incomprehensible that we are still struggling to get a consistent experience for users across all their devices. Perhaps this report will be used by Chief Marketing Officers to get all those responsible around a table for a serious talking to.
If companies cannot establish brand loyalty across devices then they stand a real risk of newer brands coming in and disrupting their market share. Consumers are showing less and less resistance to switching brands today as the big supermarket chains are discovering through the rise of smaller companies.
Last week at Genband’s Perspectives 16 conference Katrina Troughton, General Manager, Social & Smarter Workforce Client Sales, IBM told delegates: “Life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies was 75 years in 1955. Today is it 15 years. This is not about them slipping down the rankings but disappearing completely.” Those big companies that are struggling to get their cross-device branding right might just find their days are numbered.