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It’s time for mobile-only, not mobile-first, says Malaysia Airlines’ digital lead

The smartphone is omnipresent and plays a key role for all of us to navigate our daily lives. Yet its significance has not yet been embraced with the same focus by the marketing and digital organisations of most companies to execute a true mobile-first marketing and customer experience strategy.

Even in 2019, it is still much too common to be presented with a creative approach, a campaign idea or a proposal for a web page in a PowerPoint deck with a nicely designed website in a desktop browser view. Or to be presented with beautifully selected images, perfectly cropped for what will work in a full browser window only. It is obviously more impactful and allows for a more creative expression when presenting to your client or decision makers in the conference rooms on a big projection.

But the fact is, in the real world, the campaign and website will more frequently be viewed on the mobile, and for a majority of consumers, mobile will be the only device they will ever use to interact with your brand or product. Just consider what percentage of your work emails you are reading/deleting/forwarding from your mobile rather than the laptop on your desk? Mobile websites started to gain traction about 15 years ago. These were limited experiences taken from screen-scraped desktop sites, displayed in a mobile-optimised view. This evolved to a phase of building a separate mobile site in parallel to the desktop site, the m.brand.com. Following this, we now have responsive websites that dynamically adapt to the device type and this is still the most common experience of websites in 2019. But even with most responsive sites, the mobile experience typically doesn’t match up to the features and functionalities of the desktop appearance.

How come mobile banking sites and apps are not as full-featured as their desktop banking portals? Why does an online ad link to a desktop website? Why does a website have a footer link to enable a “desktop view”? These are all symptoms of not having a mobile-first approach at the core of your marketing strategy. The key argument for not having feature parity between desktop and mobile usually sounds something like, “but the majority of our sales are done on the desktop”. If a marketer’s response to this fact is to continue building campaigns and experiences for the desktop, then you are trying to react to symptoms rather than fixing the root cause.

A better approach would be to understand why your customers transact on the desktop while most of the research and overall “time spent online” is on the mobile. Reasons can be wide ranging from customer perception about security of mobile payments, usability issues or a preference to type lengthy billing and payment details on a traditional keyboard. Or it could just be the self-fulfilling prophecy that an experience which is created without a singular focus for mobile will deliver a superior desktop experience.

Even at Malaysia Airlines, we are still faced with the same legacy issues as most other companies that weren’t born as true digital or mobile pure-play start-ups. Most bookings are done on the desktop, while most of the research is done on the mobile. To overcome these legacy issues, we have been building an in-house digital competence centre, and in 2019, will continue to in-source our mobile developments. The strategic importance of the mobile channel for marcomms, sales and customer servicing are too significant to put into the hands of vendors and service providers.

Also, the learnings gained from mobile marketing campaigns and releases of conceptual betaversion apps should ideally be a part of the ROI of putting mobile at the centre of your digital strategy. Be it through customer-facing apps, mobile marketing campaigns or by providing decision-making support and service recommendations in the hands of our crew and airport staff. It’s already all about the mobile. It’s time to approach your marketing – mobile-only

The writer is Peter Pohlschmidt, head of digital, Malaysia Airlines. The article first appeared in A+M’s The Futurist print edition.