Listen Up! Mobile First’s Primary Problem Isn’t Tech

Digital Marketers at the GDS Mobile Innovation Summit say going Mobile First Isn't about Tech, It's About Culture.


I was doing a lot of research before our GDS Mobile Innovation Summit. I wanted to ensure I was up on all the latest disruptive technologies that marketers are trying to harness in order to help their organizations transform in the mobile-first arena.

Yet, five minutes into the event, the verbiage of my conversations were of the cultural, and almost philosophical, realm, rather than of the complicated tech talk.

“I think for people to understand digital transformation, it isn’t just about transforming the product,” Amer Kamal, Head of Mobile Channel Group at US Bank, told me. “It’s more about transforming an ecosystem and a culture. You need to understand that you need to create that environment in which you can later grow the products. You need to create it and nurture it and let it be that soil that can create digital products. That’s a challenge that the companies post-Amazon are having right now.”

A challenge that comes from an explosion of mobile that placed legacy organizations in a troublesome spot.

Mobile usage increased 600% from 2010 to 2015. Nearly 90% of millennials say their phone is constantly accessible and nearly 70% of business emails today are opened on phones. Six billion of the seven billion people on the planet have mobile phones.

There is no separate mobile-first culture. It IS the culture. And to recognize it as such is the first challenge. When I asked our executive attendees how they even defined “Mobile Innovation” today, the answers once again were about turning away from the tech, and coming to terms with the culture.

“Mobile Innovation is overloaded and everyone has their own interpretation,” admits Hamid Montazeri, Director of Software Engineering at Stanley Black & Decker. “A lot of times the interpretation is just to make a mobile app and get it out there. But there’s so much more involved. First and foremost, it must be based on some business metrics we can look at and then trial and error…and potentially fail forward or fail fast. But, many people agree that just doing a mobile app for the sake of a mobile app wasn’t the right thing. We need to find a better meaning around doing the mobile app.”

It was the crux of Peter Francis’ keynote presentation at the summit. The T-Mobile VP of Digital says today’s tech may be the shiny object, but it’s distracting organizations from the first step to going mobile-first.

“We have such amazing talent in the digital space right now and amazing mobile designers and software developers,” explains Francis, “and that’s made it really easy to come up with an app idea and 6 days later publish it in the app store… but what’s happening is we’re unfortunately getting wrapped up in the technology and not focusing enough on listening to the customer.”

It’s what Francis calls the new superpower we have yet to acquire. Mobility is akin to a superpower in itself – you can be anywhere, connected to anyone at any time! It’s like a teleportation machine for goodness sake! But we haven’t yet tapped into the best way to always make use of it, and that can only be discovered with the superpower known simply as Listening.

“We have to do a better job as marketers who build mobile experiences of focusing on the customer and thinking about what the customer really needs,” says Francis. “And you can’t just do that while you’re designing the experience, turning that into software and sending that out. We have to be agile in the way we design, build and update software, but, we also have to be agile by doing continuous listening with our customers.”

One way companies like Citi are finding helpful in their attempt to always listen and learn is to employ a culture known as design thinking.

“I think design thinking is a hard thing to define,” admits Stephen Carpi, SVP Global Head of Design at Citi. “There’s methodology and process, but I think at the core of it is how the person is going to take away an ability to really relate to a user and not think about themselves or how they would answer the question. It’s about using the resources and the data and the understanding of what the user wants and putting that into practice. It’s removing the emotional and it’s bringing in the intellectual and that’s what we’re trying to do. Design thinking is a culture change. At Citi, we employ it as part of the agile transformation. It is digital transformation.”