Looking for a visual feast in the tablet experience

Tablet users demand interactive and engaging experiences when they surf the web, so brands need to evolve their content quickly if they want to keep customers

Consumers’ use of tablet computers is growing so fast that in four years it will account for almost as much internet use as all mobile devices do now, according to research from Cisco. In the face of this accelerating uptake, brands cannot afford to be without a specific strategy to ensure their websites and apps work effectively on tablet devices.

Internet-connected tablets alone will generate 1.1 exabytes of data traffic in 2016, almost as much as the 1.3 exabytes per month that the entire global mobile network is generating in 2012, claims the Cisco report on global mobile traffic data.

Marketers may be reluctant to find extra cash to produce tablet-specific content and to fund design features that take into account consumers’ different behaviour on the devices, but users demand an interactive and engaging experience, web analytics data suggests.

People spend longer visiting websites on tablets and view them at different times of the day, such as late at night, and are more inclined to share the content they see. The larger screen also means consumers are more willing to transact and provide personal data, something they have been reluctant to do on smaller mobile screens.

One brand committing investment specifically to tablets is bookmaker Paddy Power, which has launched a casino-style gambling app for the iPhone and iPad called Roller. Such is the company’s confidence in Roller that it has been set up as a standalone business.

Paddy Power senior marketing manager for mobile projects Ian Macleod believes Roller plugs a gap in the market, where many companies are simply repackaging versions of their desktop gambling sites for tablets.

“This is a serious investment because we know the games must be as interactive and real as possible for tablet users,” says Macleod. “With Roller, roulette players can spin the wheel and flick the ball into the wheel themselves so they have more control than just being able to drag gambling chips on to the board.”

In the business-to-business arena, some brands are investing in tablet apps for their employees to boost data collection from their field sales teams. Mitsubishi Motors UK, for instance, has given its sales reps iPads with a specific app installed, so staff can collect customers’ personal and sales information more accurately than with paper forms and send it to head office quicker.

Mitsubishi’s app, created with the help of agency Incentivated, includes a sales brochure with video footage of cars, photographs and the data capture form. Customer communications manager Katheryn Davies says the app needed to be highly intuitive for those with little technical ability and work even where network availability is unpredictable.

Mark Brill, chair of the Direct Marketing Association’s Mobile Council, says brands cannot ignore the gradual move to tablets. According to Ofcom, 11 per cent of the UK population own a tablet (71 per cent of them being iPads) and that’s up from just 2 per cent in 2011. The speed of growth is accelerating for e-readers, which are owned by around 10 per cent of the population.

Brill points to how immersive tablet experiences, such as watching films at home, are replacing the book at bedtime. This provides brands with an opportunity to find innovative ways to reach consumers at a time of day when they have struggled to do so in the past.

“Brands must find the money to embrace tablets, which means doing basic ‘hygiene checks’ to ensure their digital properties work on the device,” says Brill. “This area is being led by content curation, with social media and content sharing popular on tablets. Get the content engagement right, and there are opportunities to push marketing messages sensitively to those who have downloaded your app.”

The expected growth in the number of tablets, and in tablet internet usage, means that the advertising investment that brands devote to tablets is likely to go up. Mobile ad network Mojiva has even launched a tablet-only network.

Many advertisers are seeing benefits from designing campaigns specifically for tablets. Data released in October by M&C Saatchi Mobile reveals that during the previous six months global advertising spend on tablets led, on average, to a four times greater conversion rate than that for campaigns on mobile handsets.

One brand experiencing a welcome return on its investment in tablet advertising is Emirates Airline, which used the AdTouch platform from AdGent Digital. Emirates’ interactive Harmony campaign on Telegraph.co.uk and Independent.co.uk included unique audio and visual content featuring musical instruments.

The audience could ‘mix’ the videos to create a song and upload their efforts to Facebook.

The result was that for every 100 ad impressions, the ad was opened three times by the user, and 60 per cent of those who opened it went on to interact with its different elements.

Much of the additional money available to marketers is being spent developing innovative responsive design that takes into account the larger screen and the fact that a user can touch, rotate and even shake a tablet.

More people were accessing Drinkaware on tablets so a richer user experience is on the way

Dennis Publishing has established its own in-house app-building department. Head of commercial partnerships Jonathan Kitchen says this is important because the team understands both the brands and the audiences of the magazines it publishes, which include The Week, Auto Express and Evo.

Dennis works with its clients to offer a range of in-content advertising. Automotive advertisers, for instance, can tempt potential buyers with immersive ads that allow readers to change the colour of the car, view it from all angles and request a brochure.

“This has been a massive learning curve for us and the advertisers,” says Kitchen. “We are getting to know what content works, and how important it is that we make the user experience smooth and interactive.”

Dennis has also succeeded in getting readers to pay for digital content. Head of digital marketing Richard Ayerst says publishers must charge for what is a significant investment in new content for tablets.

“We wanted to set the digital price as close to the print cost as possible, with a price for buying subscriptions to both editions slightly higher than buying only the print copy,” says Ayerst. “Publishers need to make buying a bundle a no-brainer, especially if people are getting new content with digital apps such as extra pictures, video and audio.” He adds: “We treat apps as brand extensions, so the board understands there must be a financial investment and that these products won’t bring in large profits overnight.”

Not all brands feel it necessary to produce specific content for tablets. Virgin Atlantic’s strategy manager for e-business Fergus Boyd works with technology agency LBi and has noticed a move towards people buying tickets in the evening via their tablets rather than desktop PCs. But he believes that as long as users can access the full website on a tablet there is no need to add too many bells and whistles.

“As a brand you just need to understand how your customer is using different devices and connect the journey together,” he says. “People will share information about a price or destination they find on their tablet.”

Sitting in the middle of the exclusive tablet content debate is London social life planning website Designmynight.com. It is redesigning its mobile website but only making subtle changes to the desktop version so it works better on tablets. Chief technology officer

Will Taylor-Jackson says mobile usage remains dominant, but people viewing the site on tablets behave more like desktop users.

“On all key site metrics, including time spent on the site and the pages viewed, usage patterns are closer to desktop than mobile,” he says. “Modest changes in the redesign have included removing the ‘sign up’ pop-up from the home page on the tablet site, because it blocked access to other content and users had to zoom and click the close button.”

Developing a strategy for tablet websites and apps is not always easy, especially when it comes to providing payment pages for online retailers. Wendy Dobson, head of innovation at DataCash, Mastercard’s payment arm, says this is one part of a website that brands can overlook when planning their tablet strategy.

“Tablets are taking mobile commerce to another level but it is a challenge,” says Dobson, whose clients include Boots, Tesco and Argos. “The traditional mobile e-commerce experience has been awkward so we must embrace innovation around tablets and make payment pages easy to use and sexy without exposing the store or the consumer to any security risks.”

There will be a plethora of new tablets under the Christmas tree in a few weeks, so brands must think now about how they will adapt their marketing for these devices in 2013.

Case study

Condé Nast

Vogue’s redesigned site aims to bring users’ experience as close as possible to print editions

Magazine publisher Condé Nast has redesigned Vogue.co.uk with visual content designed to bring the tablet user’s experience as close as possible to the print version.

It has taken eight months to develop the site, which has ads embedded within the magazine content that adapt themselves to different screen sizes and devices – techniques known as ‘responsive’ design. Advertisers can create these ads in HTML5 coding or use Vogue’s HTML5 ‘ad builder’, which enables existing creative assets to be repurposed. The site sponsor Ralph Lauren is using the technology to showcase its autumn/winter collection.

Condé Nast digital director Jamie Jouning says developing the site so it works effectively on tablets is challenging. The publisher and advertisers still discuss what a responsive ad should look like, for instance.

“We have had to think differently about how people use and navigate the site on tablets, and with a strong visual brand like Vogue, try and break the mould with responsive design that is at the cutting edge,” he says. “The in-content ad formats sit elegantly within the main article experience.”

The site has ‘topic sections’ that showcase all articles, catwalk shows, Vogue covers, blog entries and galleries, searchable by brand, people or events. The catwalk gallery experience allows the user to explore backstage, find out who was in the audience and what was on the catwalk.

“Ten per cent of readers come to the site via tablets,” says Jouning. “People are browsing the site in the evenings when they prefer to settle down with their tablet and they stay on the site for longer. We have changed the homepage so people work their way around the content more than they used to.”

Condé Nast deputy managing director Albert Read says the publisher is working towards offering advertisers tablet-specific

ad metrics, provided by Adobe eight weeks after the on-sale date of the magazine issue.

“Advertisers have a lot of expectations and think you have at the touch of a button all this information about how people are using tablets,” he says. “We can provide numbers relating to digital subscriptions, single sales and subscribers for the print and app packages, as well as total content views, average views per page and views of a premium ad against a static ad.”

He adds: “In the New Year we should have more information about ad engagement and how long people are spending in each area of the app. It all depends on our technology partners and everyone, including advertisers, moving in step as the technology advances.”


Ben Butler, head of digital, Drinkaware (alcohol awareness charity)

Visits to Drinkaware.co.uk from tablets have increased by 2,000 per cent in the past year and people coming to the site from these devices spend longer per visit than they do on desktops – as much as 43 seconds longer during September.

More people are viewing content on tablet devices so, as designers, we must respond to the ways people choose to access the web and we can do this by embracing responsive design.

We are helping people to make positive changes in their relationship with alcohol and have always used many web properties to do this. Our new site brings these different elements together, but it needs to work effectively on whatever device people prefer to use. We are confident the plans we have for the new site will provide an even richer experience for people accessing the site on tablets.

I have spent a long time with our strategic digital agency TH_NK, focusing on content and identifying gaps that could be filled by mapping out the ideal experience a user will have before, during and after their time on the tablet site.

Since our new site is responsive, tablet users will see the same content and tools as for desktop. The difference is the way the layout changes to fit the device size and orientation. This ensures the site experience isn’t compromised on smaller screens.

Working with the TH_NK team we are arranging the content into sections that more closely match the users’ goals and support their journey through the site. By focusing on the content early in the project, it has made designing the site in a responsive manner relatively trouble-free.

In each new generation for tablets there will be great improvements in pixel density and image quality. Although there is less progress in making tablets more physical and tactile, it will be interesting to see the developments in this area. What can be added to a screen to alter the feel of its surface, for instance, and how will manufacturers develop gesture and voice recognition?



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