From Mobile First to Context First

Summary: As we are stepping into the “delight economy”(10), in which you aim at turning first time visitors and adopters into lifetime consumers and brand advocates, user experience and engagement are essential. And if device awareness was a vital step to take, to deliver optimised user interfaces, it was a baby one, we are still to embrace more broadly the necessity of context awareness, in our online presence and web services, to maximise engagement and conversions.
Mobile is dead

I read this interesting article on the blog of SDL  the software company behind the enterprise CMS Tridion  The title was purposefully provocative: “Mobile is dead” (1).

Making a point around the fact that it’s great for a brand to have a mobile friendly public website, a couple of mobile apps for iOS and Android, mobile responsive landing pages, and even a mobile first strategy and fully device aware web services… but it’s just the very first step in a more ambitious journey towards the user, his needs and his context.
The 5W questions
From Mobile First to Context First” to summarise it in a concise formula, after Peter Sena from Digital Surgeons (2), and if you google it, you’ll quickly grab an eclectic selection of bookmarks on the topic, walking you through user centred and context driven design, and leading you onto the adventurous ground of page less design (3), smarter websites and digital storytelling (4) in the delight economy (5).

This is all very exciting and promising. It explains why leading CMS vendors like SDL, Sitecore and Adobe are fiercely competing on this new segment of CXM, or Customer Experience Management, seeking the Grail of ultimate context-based personalisation. And it also justifies the rapid emergence of all these startups focused on analytics and performance monitoring: Crazy Egg  Qualaroo  OptimizelyNew RelicFuel Deck, etc …

Yet, I can’t help wondering if all this technology is going to help me actually getting right my “context first” strategy without a radical change of perspective on the online presence of my company and my brands? Measuring variety and complexity is great to understand it and gain insights, but it can be outrageously onerous to action, as any digital marketing manager can tell. And even so, once all is measured and charted, can that really help me overcoming complexity, reaching this state of simplexity (6) I am looking for, and starting to produce delightful experiences which will turn my visitors into lifelong consumers and advocates?

Context
The 5W questions
Maybe this needs a whole new view on what a website should be. Context First is a good starting point, asking the essential 5W questions of Who, What, When, Where and Why. So let’s discuss how web technologies can help us in answering these questions. We’ll discover that we are not necessarily talking about million dollars software here, but most often simple native browser and network capabilities.
Who: Let’s clear up this one, which is pretty obvious. Unless you have NSA clearance, there’s no way you can tell and guarantee who is visiting your site. Cookies, and in particular those from social networks offer some interesting footprint, unless you explicitly ask your visitor through a form or a call to action
When, Where: These are the easy ones, thanks to the native capabilities of browsers and devices and web servers. We can even know “Where from…”, through the the HTTP referrer parameter, which most often provide invaluable pieces of context.
Why: A subtle question which, outside of an explicit call to action, can only be dealt with in a predictive manner, by matching the known session parameters with preset personas and scenarios.
 
The 3S: Search, Social, Spam
In fact, direct or bookmark access has decreased over the past few years, as most of the traffic comes from either Search engines (primarily Google), and increasingly from Social networks (primarily Facebook). According to recent studies, and depending on industry verticals, between 40% and 60% of the traffic comes from organic or paid search, and around 20-25% comes from social and referrals, leaving only 20%-40% to direct visits. (7) (8) Apart of this last chunk would be generated by another powerful source of traffic: Email Direct Marketing, EDM or “Spam” for the sake of pulling together our 3S: Search, Social, Spam.
So WHY are visitors coming to my website? Because they’ve been searching for something, because a friend has shared an interesting information with them, or because they have received a call mail call to action. In all 3 situations, your website should be able to capture this information, and pull together some context for personalisation.
What: This question 2 fold, as it involves the visitor but also you as a publisher. What is the visitor looking for, and what am I able and willing to propose to him or her. Back to the WHO question, this can only be determined through proactive guess working, via carefully designed calls to action in my landing page.
The 3 clicks rule for engagement
Obviously, there will always been situations where you can’t collect much about your direct visitor, due to their privacy settings for instance. Therefore you’ll have to get the best out of their first few clicks and interactions to profile them and tailor their experience. As a rule of thumb, and beyond the myth (9), aim at locking WHO they are and WHAT they are after in a maximum of 3 clicks, in order to serve them best informed content from the 4th one and onward, and produce delight.
Context First
Conclusion
So what about Mobile and browsing devices and software in general: Does it really matter that much? It certainly does from a usability perspective and we ought serving the most suitable touch UI to visitors on smartphones and tablets. Again, it’s about generating engagement through delight, via the best use of available capabilities.
But beyond that, talking context? I can browse with a smartphone on the couch, with a tablet from work, and with a laptop from a coffee shop terrace. Does the device really determine my context? Probably not, at the end of the day it’s mostly a game of probabilities .
Device awareness was a vital step to take, to deliver optimised user interfaces, but it was a baby one. Context is everything and web publishers are urged to build context aware web services, beyond responsive or adaptive brochure-ware websites, there’s a real need for something like smart agents to acknowledge and properly greet and guide visitors, and leave them with a memorable first impression, just like I’m a brick and mortars experience. This broader “Context First” perspective could bring within the next few months some radical changes in the way we even think online presence, and trigger a massive upgrade of current brochure-ware websites into a new breed of smart web agents. To be continued along these lines.
References:

 

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