Mobile must finally come first in 2017
A view from James Hilton

Mobile must finally come first in 2017

With mobile spend now topping desktop and consumers devoting ever-more time to their handset, agencies and brands need to start putting mobile top of mind.

This is going to a big year for mobile. We enter 2017 with mobile dominating search, dominating display, dominating consumers’ time online, driving ecommerce and, most importantly, dominating digital adspend.

Mobile spend is now greater than desktop after the balance tipped in 2016 and, according to eMarketer, it is greater than linear TV and it is greater than print and out-of-home combined.

All of these statistics demonstrate that mobile is now the default touchpoint for consumers and for brands to reach and engage those consumers.

Default gateway to the internet

The UK remains ahead of the US in terms of mobile’s dominance of adspend and time spent by consumers, but we expect the gap to close by the end of 2017.

America is integral to the growth of mobile, not only because of the huge volume of advertising dollars but also be-cause it is the birthplace of the platforms that are so pervasive in mobile – most notably those that were conceived as mobile-first, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, and the big two that have become mobile-first, Facebook and Google.

Asia-Pacific is another enormous market for mobile but behaviour in the region is slightly different to the UK and the US. In developing countries with vast populations and a rapidly emerging middle class, technology has skipped a generation.

"Everything an agency does should be done through the lens of mobile. Brands that don’t adopt this approach will increasingly struggle to connect with the mobile-first consumer"

Mobile, rather than desktop, has become the default gateway to the internet.

This consumer behaviour is reflected in the latest figures from Singles Day – a Black Friday-style sale day across Asia. Singles Day in November 2016 racked up $17.8bn in sales, with a staggering 82% of that coming from mobile. That’s only slightly less jaw-dropping when you realise that there are 800 million smartphone owners in China and half of those users are active on, the ecommerce giant.

By comparison, sales on Black Friday in the US surpassed $3bn, with $1.2bn, or 40%, coming from mobile, according to Adobe Digital Index. 

So what will 2017 hold? From big data to the Internet of Things, every year brings a promise of a paradigm shift in the way we consume, communicate, work and entertain ourselves.

More intuitive

Artificial intelligence and machine learning could be the big game-changer in 2017.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, announced last year that the world’s biggest internet company would "move from mobile-first to AI-first".

All the big tech players are investing heavily in this area, with Google’s DeepMind leading the way. While DeepMind impressively demonstrated the promise of machine learning last year by beating the Go world champion, it was how the same technology was applied to a real-world issue that impressed most. DeepMind was able to deliver a 15% energy saving in Google’s data-centre cooling by finding patterns in data and applying the necessary changes.

Machine learning is already helping us better understand mobile data and the patterns to more effectively reach the right audience with the right message in the right location at the right time.

Combating ad fraud

Just as importantly, in the more complex mobile ecosystem machine learning is helping us to combat the challenge of ad fraud by identifying trends in the data.

The ad industry still thinks desktop-first when it comes to fraud and standards, and platforms need to evolve to ensure brands do not waste millions of pounds in mobile. 

Extra measures need to be taken when working across multiple mobile operating systems because of the complex app ecosystem, mobile tracking requirements and challenging attribution models.

It is only through machine learning and data that we have been able to counter extensive fraud on mobile that would otherwise be unidentifiable by industry standards.

Put mobile first

The rise, and subsequent dominance, of mobile has been signposted for some time, and it was always a case of when, not if, mobile would overtake desktop.

The big shift that must happen in 2017 is that mobile should no longer be viewed as a channel and instead be treated as the default view for all digital.

Mobile-first has been a media buzz phrase for several years. However, it is still far from the de facto approach for most brands. Mobile-first simply must be the way that all digital channels are approached: search, display, video, ecommerce, CRM, performance, web – everything digital – should be planned, designed and executed with the mobile consumer in mind.

That this is not happening by default for many brands still surprises me. The reason for this, in large part, is because some traditional agencies are simply not yet equipped to deliver in the mobile-first world. Having a mobile team separate to, say, a programmatic team (it happens)just won’t cut it. Everything an agency does should be done through the lens of mobile.

Brands that don’t adopt this approach will increasingly struggle to connect with the mobile-first consumer. Furthermore, consumers are increasingly voting with their fingers and switching away from brands and services that don’t meet their needs on mobile.

In 2017, it is no longer good enough for mobile to be part of an integrated approach. It needs to lead the integrated approach.

James Hilton is the global chief executive of M&C Saatchi Mobile