Mobile Platforms in Relationship-Based Businesses

October 09, 2014 Camille Bilodeau

Everywhere you look, you can find evidence that smartphones have become ingrained in our everyday lives. In the U.S., 81% of adults ages 25-34 now own a smartphone, and more than 50% of adults over 55 are smartphone users. This trend has translated into a rise in mobile internet use, with mobile internet access having doubled since 2010. With a growing number of clients, prospective clients and recruits browsing your site on their phones and tablets, the shift to mobile has become difficult to ignore.

You’ve likely thought about mobile, but how do you know where you stand in the market? What are your competitors doing, and how do you keep up? Or, better yet, how do you get ahead? To answer these questions, we analyzed the mobile presence of three professional services industries – legal, consulting and architecture – to better understand how different firms’ sites are communicating with their mobile audiences. We surveyed 40 firms per industry, for a total of 120, and focused on determining whether or not these firms utilized native applications, mobile sites and/or responsive design. The goal of this research was to help businesses in these industries benchmark against their competitors and give them the information necessary to develop strong mobile and digital strategies.

The Numbers
After gathering the data, we were able to find some interesting statistics surrounding the mobile presence of legal, consulting and architecture firms:


The Way Forward: Responsive Design
In the past, having just a site specifically for mobile was the way to improve your user’s mobile experience. Now, Responsive Design is the way to go. A 3+-year-old web design technique, it enables developers and designers to create a single site layout optimized for various screen sizes. Responsive Design allows sites to respond to the visitor’s screen size to present content in an optimal arrangement.

This technique has many advantages for content managers and users alike. A single responsive site makes content easier to manage and universally available. It also means you only have one site to maintain.

Although there is still a place in the world for developing native applications, many of the firms currently using mobile sites and native applications are moving toward developing responsive sites.

That said, Responsive Design in the legal and consulting industries has a long way to go. This, in combination with the overall lack of mobile presence in these industries, means that there is plenty of room to lead in these industries – not only by establishing a mobile presence, but by establishing a better mobile presence.

How can you establish a better mobile presence? We have a few suggestions:

  1. Go Responsive
    We recommend firms in any industry take a responsive approach. If you want to enhance the experience you deliver your audience, you must keep in mind every context they’re in when they interact with your brand – for example, when someone's sitting on a train perusing your company's site on his/her tablet or smartphone. The best investment is to build a responsive site from the bottom up. This approach also helps you to re-prioritize content and other elements on your site as you think through the different responsive states. It will also serve as a future-friendly solution that allows you to account for many variations, not just the current phones and tablets.
  1. Responsive Retrofitting
    Though it is always ideal to start from scratch when integrating Responsive Design into your website, sometimes you already have a site that you like and you need a faster alternative. Responsive Retrofitting involves taking a desktop-based site and adding responsive capability. This will allow you to improve your site’s user experience more quickly and allow you to keep some of the features you have already developed.  
    Because Responsive Retrofitting is a shortcut to a responsive site, there are drawbacks. Though your site may be beautifully designed for the desktop user’s experience, there will probably be features that won’t work well on smaller screen sizes. This will force you to decide to either sacrifice features on the previously developed site or to sacrifice the quality of the site on a smaller screen. Similarly, you will have to decide whether you will start from scratch with the front-end development of the site or work with existing code. The former will take longer, but the latter may make the site tough to debug and the support more difficult down the road.
  1. Section-by-Section Responsive Design
    Section-by-Section Responsive Design, also called piecemeal, can be thought of as selective retrofitting or redesigning. The idea behind Section-by-Section is that certain pages of a firm’s site are more likely to be visited on mobile than others and that developing those pages on mobile should be prioritized. For example, if your firm sends emails containing articles and thought leadership to subscribing clients, those articles are likely to be opened on mobile devices. To accommodate those users, you could develop a mobile view for your articles. A good example of Section-by-Section Responsive Design is Microsoft’s new homepage.
    Which sections of a site get retrofitted and how will be different for differing clients and across industries. We recommend you leverage your site’s analytics to inform this decision. Keep in mind that with this kind of strategy, some users will likely still be navigating to your desktop-only pages, and they will still not have as good of a user experience. Similar to Responsive Retrofitting, Section-by-Section Responsive Design is a good way to create an optimized mobile experience and buy more time to develop a fully responsive site.

At the end of the day, Responsive Design is the best way to provide a consistently awesome experience for mobile and desktop users alike. Although other techniques can help get you started on the path to a better experience for your ever-changing visitors, building a responsive site gives you the best opportunity to create a cohesive, future-friendly site that works great - and looks great - for everyone.


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Camille Bilodeau Strategy Intern

At the time of publishing, Camille was a Strategy Intern at One North.

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