Henry Blodget doesn’t get Mobile First

“Mobile First” – this is something you’ve been hearing more and more these days. Many companies – especially the media – have embraced this lingo, following right on the heels of the “digital first” revolution. All of these “firsts” can certainly get confusing and reacting to them all at the same time (or in close overlap) – which is what is happening in the industry – makes it even harder to find any horizon. Nobody said it would be easy forever.

According to a recent article penned by Henry Blodget, Editor in Chief and co-founder of Business Insider, “Mobile First” is a “dumb strategy” because his staff still use computers in the newsroom. Huh? Yup, they still use big screens, mice, keyboards and electricity so “mobile first” is a myth, something that should be relegated to the tar pits, a passing phase, a dying trend. His argument? Strong, very strong: “But in the developed world, which already has a massive installed base of desktops and laptops, bigger screens are still extremely important. And they are likely to remain so, even when everyone who uses them also owns a smartphone and tablet.”

Henry Blodget has no idea what the concept of “mobile first” means. Taking stock of the newsroom, asking a few of his readers what they consume his content on today is akin to Ford inventing a faster horse. Blodget blurs the idea of offices moving away from desktops and laptops with the way his customers (30% of his audience and growing) and his FUTURE customers will consume his content.

Dear Mr. Blodget, “Mobile First” does not mean what you think it does

So what is this concept that has emerged as “mobile first” and how does it impact Blodget’s audience and staff? Let’s take a quick look at the changes these devices have brought on.

The “job”

The “mobile first” movement started over a decade ago when the laptop marched into the office. It changed the way and where we worked. Sales calls became interactive and digital, work came home with us and the “collaboration age” began.

PIM’s like the Palm and the IPac moved us further down the path to mobile independence. Schedules and contacts and task lists were synched and portable for really the first time.

The Smartphone has brought those pieces together and then some. Email, conference calls, SMS and pervasive connectivity with new innovations like Skype, FaceTime and many others have made the office redundant for a growing minority of workers today.

These devices have also reshaped our concept of a job. For the second time in this generation’s life, technology has caused a ripple in the work-space-continuum and we are moving ever so slowly away from the centralized company structure of the 1970’s and 80’s. Think of this as the business equivalent to the tectonic shifts that ripped apart Panacea to form the continents we inhabit today.

The “customer”

Mobile is habit forming isn’t it? How many times have you looked at your phone while just reading this? Did it vibrate? Is there a blinking light? Do you feel compelled to look? According to Charles Duhigg you are addicted. In his New York Times best seller, “The Power of Habit”, Duhigg states the obvious that one way to develop a habit is through repetition and these devices have conditioned us to respond at their beck and call.

Funny enough, aren’t we also our own customers? The habits we have formed are also the same habits as millions of others have formed. And what of the habits of the next generation where very few will be subjected to a mouse and keyboard growing up. My kids are 6 and they mostly use a tablet and watch videos on YouTube. Yours?

How will this generation consume business? Where will they consume business? When will they consume business? It will be in short attention deficit riddled bursts while standing in a line or sitting on a bus or watching something on TV or trending on YouTube.

What they aren’t doing today is sitting behind a big screen and seeking out your message. What they aren’t doing right now, Henry Blodget, is getting their news from Business Insider, they are using Circa or Prismatic or Zite or Pulse. Knowing this, how do you plan on finding your next-generation ad consumer?

So what IS “Mobile First”

Mobile first is part business design, part experience design and part interaction design.

For the second time in 20 years businesses have an opportunity to extend beyond their physical address. The web brought ecommerce and with it came industry-shifting ideas that made Amazon and eBay and Google. Mobile is this on Red Bull. Designing a business for this landscape is about deeper conversations with existing customers, deep dives into data analytics, millions of direct one-to-one marketing initiatives and much much more. This is NOT business as usual and not about fitting ads onto a smaller screen.

Consumers are more fickle and more brand agnostic than ever before. Resting on the brand for many will mean certain obsolescence. Those that do mobile well will create a deeper connection through the experiences offered. Think about how MLB is extending their audience through their app and content ecosystem. How long before musicians start doing similar things at live concerts? Products are purchased, consumed and discarded. Great experiences are revered and passed on.

Mobile is not only about being “fat finger” friendly. The way we all interact inside of a mobile experience is crucial – something mobile can reclaim from the often painful experience today’s web has become. Just because we have the big screens and real estate doesn’t mean we should omit good design but we have. We’ve just “added another button” so many times that a good interactive experience is celebrated instead of being the norm. Designing with mobile first means getting to the heart of what the user needs to get done.

The last huge piece to this idea is the shift in the way revenue will be earned and this will be painful for laggards and luddites like Blodget. They hold on to their way of doing things, skewing the trends in their favour and completely dismissing what is really happening. Make no mistake, change for them will be hard during this time. Big companies will fail, little companies will succeed and the only difference during this mobile revolution between the two is intent.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • jahmaicherry

    Rob, excellent article. I left the newspaper industry 10 years ago for this exact reason. Trepidation in the publishing world in regards to the future of information consumption.

    I do wonder what causes the almost blatant blinders that give reward to industry stalwarts and rarely fleshes out innovation?

    Do you think that there will be a follow up on this discussion, perhaps with a valid opposing point of view?

  • Thanks very much @jahmaicherry:disqus – I don’t get it either. I understand that you have to defend what you’ve got but, in doing so, you can’t blatantly disregard the steam train of hurt that is rushing towards you.

    To Henry’s credit, he did respond to the article on Twitter which should have been the start of a good conversation until he said “There’s no reason for a new business model to appear, at least not in news/content. It’s extension of same.” – WOW!

    Follow up conversation to this won’t really happen until more traditional media companies are eaten by the young. They have to stop thinking like the incumbents they are and start realizing they are about to lose this game. I should have sent them all a copy of The Innovators Dilemma for Christmas…

    If you like this piece, you should check out the episode I did with Patrick Reynolds of Triton Digital – that guy understands the role digital needs to have to move media forward – one of my fav episodes of 2012: http://untether.tv/2012/why-the-future-of-all-media-starts-with-mobile-with-patrick-reynolds-of-triton-digital/

    Thanks again for contributing!

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