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Mobile first, web second.


Tablet first, mobile second.


Web first, mobile second.


In less than 2 years we have seen VCs, CMOs, designers, developers, “social media experts” and the tech blogging illuminati proclaim that their strategy for the ever-changing landscape of internet-connected devices is correct, or at least more correct than their previous one.

Nonsense. The reality is that for a startup or even an established company to have a successful content, services, game or product strategy, it isn’t enough to simply start with a single touchpoint instead of another… it requires all of them.

Users (and when I say “users” I will hastily generalize to the developed nations of the world) are accessing your content, consuming your services, playing your games and shopping for your products on every device they own. They don’t care if you are mobile, tablet or web first. What they do care about is whether or not they can access you and your content anywhere, anyway and at any time, on any device.

In the United States, 25% of the population owns a tablet. More than half own a smartphone (50% as of March 2012). How many households or individuals own a PC or laptop (or both)? What about at work? How many also own an Xbox or a Playstation? An internet connected TV? Lots and lots and lots of people do.

These devices and the way they communicate and complement each other is rapidly starting to converge and users are quickly hopping from device to device, screen to screen. 85% of TV viewers use a smartphone or tablet as their second screen while they “watch” TV.

If there is going to be one true strategy it must be a strategy that focuses on managing the myriad endpoints users (sorry Jack, I still call them users) use to consume your content. Focusing only on a single channel is a losing proposition as its failures as a strategy are highlighted by the constant shifting of strategies from the “experts” in the industry. Each “X first” strategy has its own respective set of benefits, but its respective set of shortcomings eventually require a strategic pivot. What you need to be is “Omnichannel First.”

What is the omnichannel?

In a nutshell, the omnichannel encompasses any and all touchpoints a user can, and in fact will use to consume your content or services. This currently includes, but certainly won’t be limited to, the web, mobile (smartphones), tablets (iPad, Kindle Fire), “smart TVs,” video game consoles, possibly digital signage, and maybe even in-store kiosks!

The challenge here should be obvious: How does one design, develop, and afford to tackle ALL of these channels? Well, no one said it would be easy and frankly, it’s probably healthy for the greater technology ecosystem to have some failures and force the weak hands to fold. Another $500,000 seed round for an app that only works on one platform is fighting an uphill battle.

The how

At a baseline, one needs to at least have an omnichannel web presence. This will be the most cost effective whilst reaching the largest audience. Leveraging the power of responsive design allows one to create websites and webapps that will work across any viewport whether it is 320 pixels (e.g. iPhone 4) or 3,000 pixels wide (smart TV).

Have a little more budget? Then a cohesive app and web strategy is key. Avoid the snake oil salesman’s pitch of the popular native versus web argument: It’s not one or the other, it’s both. On mobile and tablets specifically, the capabilties in native applications currently outweigh what one can do in a mobile or tablet web browser. Therefore, your web presence should be your baseline for content and engagement and your app strategy is a progressive enhancement on top of it. Considering you have access to functions like the camera, the address book and push notifications, you should be leveraging these as best you can while still keeping the web experience fully intact. The web is great at discoverability and sharing (i.e. sending someone a link is pretty universal at this point). Apps are great at rich, tailored experiences and intimately connecting with the user (e.g. push notifications). You need both of these.

The ultimate budget and timeline should concretely focus on not only providing users with key experiences across the plethora of available devices, but should also focus heavily on how the devices can interact with or complement each other. If you watch Dexter or Homeland on Showtime you may be familiar with the quick plug for their interactive iPad app before and after each episode. The app provides interactive polls and additional content that’s not available on TV. This type of omnichannel strategy is incredibly effective for engaging the fans of the show in a completely new and immersive way as opposed to the traditional passive form of engagement on only one screen: the TV itself.

In short, as the famous George E.P. Box so eloquently stated, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” There is no silver bullet when it comes to a proper technology strategy. But what we do know up to this point is what is not working. Focusing on a single touchpoint first, and leaving other touchpoints as second or third or fourth, becomes not only a losing proposition, but a business risk going forward. Your users are not impressed if you aren’t where they are. Provide them with your content and/or services in rich, immersive and compelling ways across all of their touchpoints and you will not only gain users, but you will keep them.

2 Responses to “Omnichannel first”

  1. Brad Closson

    Really enjoyed the article. Nice job explaining this “big picture” idea.

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