Tablets vs smartphones: Why a 'one size fits all' mobile strategy is wrong

18th Nov 2013

From a device perspective, nothing is more connected to an individual’s personality than their smartphone.  It is always at hand and stands ready, next to you while you sleep. The smartphone has a very unique emotional and psychological connection to its user. We may love our tablets, but our smartphones are an extension of our very being. Mental health professionals have even coined a term for the fear of being without your phone: nomophobia – a condition that impacts 40% of the population.

Why does this matter to customer experience professionals and marketers? Smartphones provide an unprecedented opportunity to connect with customers. However they also present risks and pitfalls. With such a personal connection, the experience must be spot-on relevant and useful. Regrettably, a marketing disconnect occurs when all devices are lumped together in a “one size fits all” mobile strategy.  

Smartphones and tablets serve different purposes and even devices within the same class of hardware differ.

Marketers succeed when they proactivity seek to understand the differences in use and expectations per device type (smartphone vs. tablet), tailor the brand experience and content to the proper context and deliver value. As a result, organisations should develop distinct, segmented mobile strategies and approaches for a smartphones versus tablets, but one that still aims to deliver a coherent customer experience across all touches.

Understand the endpoint

Start by exploring the unique characteristics of the smartphone and the tablet and how they are used. Then apply this understanding to deliver the most relevant content in ways that make customers want to interact with your brand.

A good place to start is by looking at where and when a customer uses a tablet vs. a smartphone. For example, more than 50% of in-store customers use their smartphone to compare prices and to purchase. In 2012, US retailer Best Buy proclaimed they were going to counter attack showrooming by beefing up their online efforts and matching prices against Amazon. The sad reality is that an online retailer was consistently winning sales from a store with a customer standing inside it.  

So what can brick and mortar retailers do?  One approach is to develop ways to intercept the Amazon part of the customer journey and expand the in-store value-add story. In a move similar to the Ionos Flysmart app that leverages a phone’s GPS, travelers (within an airport) get useful airport information along with relevant, airport based vendor marketing promos. Retailers could also leverage GPS to provide a smartphone centric experience that offers in-store promos, product recommendations and convenient real-time purchase options.

In contrast to smartphones, tablets have less of an emotional connection and more of a pragmatic one. They are our ‘go-to’ device to browse, shop, communicate and consume content. According to Forrester, tablets are often used within the home and are quickly replacing the laptop as the purchasing platform for total eCommerce revenue, with an average sale amount 20% higher. 

Why? Increasingly the second or third screen - after the TV, PC and smartphone - tablets are essentially becoming a key part of the omnichannel customer experience journey. Often used in a relaxed setting such as the home, tablet experiences need to be informative, entertaining and engaging – this is where content will rule. The user experience needs to fit the tablet environment and not be an awkward, resized experience from a smartphone or a PC. The way to achieve this is by utilising the tablet’s larger real estate, crisp display and other unique attributes. This is where content is consumed, therefore organisations need to make it enjoyable and very easy to do business with their brand.

Tailor the experience

Rising customer expectations and increased competition requires organisations to optimise mobile experiences to fit the context of the device, situation and user. Tailoring differentiates the brand and delights the customer – often in subtle ways.  For example, Apple’s iPhone product team recognised the need to better understand the context for which iPhones are being used. The new iPhone 5s has a M7 motion chip that can detect if the phone is in a moving car so that it can shut down Wi-Fi – or if it has been motionless thereby limiting network pings. And while the full range of uses for this chip are still being developed, one thing is certain; from hardware to operating systems and apps, the contextual experience bar is quickly rising.

Moving forward, organisations need to take into account what people actually want to do on different devices. Simply changing the layout of a site or app for different types of device doesn’t actually address customer intent or patterns of use on different devices.

The good news is that there are approaches and solutions that can help. To be successful, organisations need to support a clear commitment and level of investment. As Julie Ask and Thomas Husson of Forrester clearly state; “Mobile on the cheap is over. . . Implementing the complex technology required to deliver rich mobile engagement requires not just a new vision of how to interact with consumers but also significant cultural changes and investment in infrastructure, staffing, and skills.”

However this is not to suggest that all things mobile must be expensive: charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, offer some of the most personalised mobile experiences around today.

In the end, deliver value    

Mobile customers have high expectations. Bad mobile experiences send them to the competition. Two things really matter: consistency and the value an organisation brings to the mobile experience. It is the free app from eSurance that blocks a teen driver’s mobile phone use while the car is in motion. It is the Ikea catalogue experience that helps customers find merchandise within the store and also allows them to see, using augmented reality on their smartphones, how a piece of furniture would actually look in their homes.

Collectively, these experiences enrich the customer’s relationship and perception of the brand. When Marvel Entertainment released their free app for the Avengers movie it engaged movie goers with an impressive experience that included cinematic content, participation in Comic-Con’s Item47 game and more. Maybe the marketers that understand the differences between smartphones and tablets really are super-heroes for their brand and customers.

Lou Casal is senior director, product marketing at SDL.

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