canvas Screen Shot
Facebook’s platform Canvas offers an immersive ad experience

From selfies to shopping, people spend an average of two hours a day on their smartphones, according to Ofcom. Given that two-thirds of the UK population now have a smartphone in their pocket, this represents a huge opportunity for marketers to connect with consumers. Yet many brands are failing to live up to consumers’ expectations by delivering ads and content that are not fit for purpose.

Considering the shift to mobile, it is clear why some of the major players in media are developing technology and tools that will improve users’ experiences on their chosen devices.

Twitter had mobile browsing top of mind when developing its breaking news and content tool ‘Moments’ at the end of last year, and this month it introduced Google’s accelerated mobile pages (AMP), which allow instant loading of content and links embedded in tweets.

Facebook, meanwhile, announced the international release of ‘Canvas’ in February, which it describes in a blog post as “a new full-screen, immersive mobile ad experience that loads nearly instantaneously when someone taps on a news feed ad”.

The aim is to provide a customisable space so that advertisers can use video, still images, text and call-to-action buttons to build brand and product experiences on mobile.

Beyond the improvements in users’ mobile experience, both Twitter and Facebook have advertising revenue in mind for these developments. But are enough brands taking advantage of them and do mobile marketing strategies really take into account the user experience?

Not meeting expectations

“While everyone is talking about mobile there remains a ‘think-do’ gap across marketers and agencies, with the mobile brand and advertising experience falling short of how important we all say it is,” says Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever.

Weed believes that harnessing the contextual nature of mobile to bring people hyper-relevant and useful connections powered by data is one way to get this right.

There is also work to be done to ensure ad creative and content are fit for mobile, so instead of repurposing content, brands should take the user perspective into account when creating it.

Brands need educating on how to use mobile in its best format and should put aside the creative budget to do it properly, rather than “trying to rehash their existing desktop format”, according to Mike Newcombe, director of mobile advertising at publisher Time Inc.

Mobile ad spend broke the £1bn barrier in the UK in the first half of 2015 as budgets grew by 52.1% year-on-year to £1.079bn between January and June 2015, according to the latest Advertising Association/Warc spend report.

But for Newcombe, the focus should be on what that ad spend is used for. He says the aim of the media company, which publishes InStyle and Marie Claire, is to put the user experience first. He believes “mobile has suffered” as brands have opted for “easy money and splashing a lot of formats across a page”.

Newcombe says advertisers should be “building for the platform” rather than taking a
“one size fits all” approach. He says brands initially ignored video on mobile due to connectivity issues but as 75% of mobile usage comes via Wi-Fi, which is more reliable and has larger data limits, “there is room for decent video”.

However, he warns: “You have to hook the viewer very quickly, so [ads] need to be visual because the sound will be off in 90% of cases. You don’t need the big 30-second build-up and you want a simple call to action.”

Learning from abroad

Beyond the creative and technical aspects of delivering content on mobile, there are lessons to be learned overseas in getting the experience right. Having recently travelled to both New York and Shanghai, Unilever’s Weed says the difference in how people use their devices across the East and West is “both stark and revealing”.

“We have a lot to learn from how a market the size of China is developing and adopting mobile technologies,” he says, citing the growth of the country’s messaging app WeChat as an example. The app aggregates messaging, video games, photo sharing, video conferencing, ecommerce and social networking in one platform.

Weed adds: “I spent an afternoon with one of our young Chinese marketers travelling around Shanghai just with a mobile and no cash. We ordered and paid for taxis within the app.

“I bought products and a meal with [payment app] Alipay. I went to AliFresh, an Alibaba-owned bricks-and-mortar store, where you cannot use money and can only pay by Alipay via mobile.”

Consumer behaviour influenced the strategy behind Netmums’ mobile-first approach to user experience. In December 2015, the organisation launched Netmums Reviews, a mobile-optimised product review platform that features 2,000 products, buying guides and expert articles.

As mobile traffic accounts for 71% of site visits, Rimi Atwal, managing director at Netmums, says: “Everything we look at in terms of content creation, user experience and back-end infrastructure is done through a smartphone screen.”

Netmums’ metrics are based on engagement and reach, so when thinking about its audience, delivering user experience is always attuned to mobile. Atwal says: “[Our users] want the information when [they] need it; if it’s not on mobile, you’ve lost that opportunity to engage.”

Everything we look at in terms of content creation, user experience and back-end infrastructure is done through a smartphone screen

Rimi Atwal, Netmums

The site has been invited to join Facebook’s ‘Instant Articles’ programme. The new tool enables publishers to create articles optimised for fast mobile performance and allows brands to customise templates through new creative tools. Netmums is also going live with Google’s AMP very soon. “It’s about how you organise content so it’s easily consumable by the target audience and how you drive engagement through the [mobile] screen,” adds Atwal.

But to truly adapt to consumer behaviour, there needs to be a collaborative approach, according to Weed: “To grasp the mobile opportunity, marketers, agencies and platform owners need to make a change. [We need] to start thinking about providing a comprehensive experience that matches the way our consumers are behaving.”

Weed adds: “Let’s learn from the mistakes we made on desktop to get this right.”

Find out how to connect mobile with other touchpoints in the customer journey at Marketing Week Live on 27-28 April. To register for tickets click here.