Marketing planning becomes challenging as the mobile landscape is always shifting. The ways in which consumers behave and consume media has changed. Today’s consumers use multiple devices throughout the day to research, connect and shop. To add to the complexity, today’s hyper-connected consumer often uses multiple devices at once!

Marketers have to navigate the evolving multi-device world and what that means for their brand. But remember, just because someone is viewing on a mobile device doesn’t mean that they are physically in a mobile state. Different devices are used in different ways. This article covers the important insights about mobile behaviour and what to do about it.

The new consumer behaviour & challenges with mobile devices
graph4The last five years has been one of the greatest periods of change for the marketing industry. Digital marketing now represents over 30% of marketing budgets. Consumers are constantly connected via their mobile devices which allow them to access content when and where they want it. Time spent with digital media per adult user per day has increased from an average of 0.3 hours in 2008 (12% of a total of 2.7 hours across devices) to 2.8 hours per day in 2015 (51% of a total of 5.6 hours across devices).

eMarketer forecasts that the number of smartphone users in North America increased 11.6% in 2015. Canadians have always been early adopters in digital and lead smartphone penetration with 81%. It is important to note that tablet penetration is much smaller at 43%.

Different segments have their preferred devices. While one third of all tablet users are Millennials and the majority of them are female, Baby Boomers are six per cent more likely to use a desktop computer. The good news for marketers is that we can track device usage and preference, so you can determine the device mix of your key segments.

So why are mobile devices getting so much traction? It is important to keep in mind that mobile devices are personal. Smartphones and tablet devices are an extension of a person and they are an intimate friend who is only an arm’s length away. The latest mobile devices are lightweight and powerful, keeping people connected to their personal network. Mobile devices are personalized (unlike a television which is unattached and less personal). It is no wonder that mobile is used so much.

But it’s not all rosy for mobile. The glut of digital content for consumers causes more noise and competition for attention and the screen size is smaller compared to a desktop. Research indicates that attention spans are shortening. This raises the question: are the core marketing message themes really breaking through?

Different devices for different purposes
graph2Mobile impact depends on your target audience, your relevancy and the context of the interaction.
Based on the emails that we deploy on behalf of our corporate clients, smartphones generate three times more message opens than tablets (although smartphone penetration is twice that of tablet penetration). This makes sense because smartphones are in a user’s hands more often. They open email on smartphones because of habit and convenience.

Smartphones are typically used for quick and convenient communications. Consumers review incoming email messages and about 40% of smartphone users read commercial email messages in less than three seconds. Tablets are better for more involved browsing, reading and watching videos. Our tracking studies show that consumers have a higher propensity to open retail emails on tablets compared to those sent by financial or telecommunication providers. The preferred device for financial content remains the
desktop because of the more involved customer experience and amount of information.


In general, desktop computers provide the best overall customer experience and the highest click through rate. The screen is bigger and all the information is displayed unlike responsive suppression on a mobile device. Research confirms that desktop has the highest CTRO%.

Mobile behaviour lessons from email
graph3Email marketing provides a rich set of data around the three Cs of digital marketing: Customer, content and context. Below are some real findings based on North American email data:

a) Mobile devices account for the largest proportion of email opens (and growing)
The proportion of email messages read on a mobile device has steadily increased from 47% in December 2012 to over 59% in December 2015. The mobile opens increased +2% incremental from H1 to H2 2015.

The most popular mobile devices to open emails on are iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones. Tablets accounted for only 15% mobile opens and their proportion has been relatively flat for the last year.

This trend of increasing mobile opens comes as no surprise as smartphone penetration reaches new heights combined with the familiar new habit of always reaching for your phone first.

b) The majority of clicks still occur on a desktop (but smartphones are closing the gap)
Historically, smartphones generated fewer clicks compared to a desktop computer. Screens were small. An ecommerce research study reached a similar conclusion, identifying that 30–40% of online shopping occurs on a mobile device but only 10% of transactions occur through that same device.

Based on data for all of 2015, almost half of email clicks (45%) occur on desktop computers, but smartphones are catching up. In November 2015, we reached the cross-over point where the number of clicks on smartphones surpassed clicks from desktop! Marketers are thinking mobile first and designs are finally being optimized for the mobile click.

c) Mobile exclusive consumers are a minority
comScore estimates that seven to 11% of consumers interact exclusively on mobile. Our email data indicates the “mobile exclusive” segment is much larger. In a typical quarter, over 40–50% of subscribers read only on a smartphone or tablet. The ratio of smartphone only versus tablet only is five to one. This may indicate that tablets are more of an accessory.

d) Multi-device readers are more engaged & responsive
The proportion of subscribers who open email on two or more devices is increasing each quarter. Multi-device engagers typically account for 15–25% of an email subscriber list.

The great news is that the multi-device consumers who open emails on three or more devices have a 2.5x higher open rate and 3.5x higher CTR. This makes it very important for marketers to profile their device segments and really get to know them.

e) Timing & context is key for maximizing response
Marketers should time their messages for when the recipient is most receptive. This would ideally be when they are in a good mood, relaxed and have sufficient time to read the email. Interrupting someone is ok if the message is relevant. One to one messaging involves matching the right message, in the right format, to the right person, at the right time, to the right device.

f) Design matters in mobile
Behavioural tracking and message science indicate that images have a major impact on fixation and eye flow. Screen sizes vary and there are challenges with viewability. Clutter dilutes the impact and means you only get the glance… not the cognitive recognition. Design your creative carefully.

g) Know the device, know the person
There are discernable differences in behaviour between the device segments. Understanding the psychographic affinities provides valuable insights for messaging. Marketers should review their content plans and challenge assumptions. Focus on making the content more relevant and personal.

Final thoughts
The surge in mobile device usage has given marketers more user data than ever and this provides the opportunity to do more accurate behavioural analysis. The volume of digital messaging through social media, email and mobile apps is causing consumers’ brains to be rewired. Attention spans are shortening but so is the way they process information. The key for marketers is to really know their audience and more carefully orchestrate interactions.

The media metamorphosis will continue and marketers need to adapt and shift their perceptions about mobile. Mobile isn’t just a contact point; it is an important data source and strategic tool to improve the customer experience. Connecting the data points and inferring behaviour will create a true picture of the opportunities ahead.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Geoff Linton

Geoff Linton is a founder of Inbox Marketer Corporation and a data driven marketing expert with more than 25 years of applied experience in both client and agency roles.

He has worked in many industry sectors, including financial services, telecommunications, consumer packaged goods, technology, manufacturing, and professional service businesses. For the past 13 years at Inbox Marketer, Geoff has guided clients in digital messaging strategy and analytics. Geoff was previously an Associate Director for Air Miles (LoyaltyOne) and he was a Marketing Professor at Conestoga College of Applied Arts & Technology.

Geoff holds both a P.Eng and MBA from Queen’s University in Canada.

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