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Marketers at odds over effectiveness of responsive design

Responsive design is becoming a very hot topic amongst mobile marketers. While many believe the technology is a step forward in the quest for strong mobile experiences, others disagree.

What is not up for debate is that brands are flocking to responsive design in growing numbers as a solution to the issue of device fragmentation and the need to provide a consistent user experience across devices. However, whether responsive design is the answer to these problems or merely a quick stop along the way toward finding a more permanent solution is not yet clear.

?With the potential ROI that businesses can achieve and judging from the number of inquiries we?re receiving, I definitely see adoption levels [for responsive design] increasing this year,? said Tim McLaughlin, president of Siteworx, Reston, VA.

?We just issued a report on a survey we conducted of holiday mobile shopping features and functionality and 66 percent of our respondents said they prefer to shop on a mobile website versus a mobile application,? he said.

?This data, among many other data points we?ve seen over the last year in terms of mobile consumer preferences should encourage marketers to think seriously about how they can cost-effectively deliver a brand-consistent, user-centric experience across devices while keeping their mobile design and development costs in check.?

Device-specific experiences
The attraction of responsive design is that give marketers a way to design one site and still deliver an experience tailored for multiple devices by prioritizing different elements depending upon what device a consumer is accessing the site from. This is why NASCAR, Disney, Microsoft, BBC and others have embraced it.

Using responsive design, brands are able to conserve resources, update content more easily and provide a more consistent user experience across screens,.

?Marketers should not be thinking about creating mobile-specific content, they should be thinking ?does my creative look good and function on mobile, tablet, desktop,?? said Tom Limongello, vice president of marketing at Crisp Media, New York.

?There is nothing wrong with using desktop creative for mobile, but desktop creative needs to be made in a more modular fashion so that elements can be shifted as necessary to accommodate orientation changes and varying screen sizes,? he said.

?'Desktop' creative is already starting to accept what were exclusively 'mobile' interactions as location is now available in most desktop browsers, so it's time to start responsive design of all digital creative.?

A Seamless executive speaking at the Mobile FirstLook conference said that responsive design is important because of its SEO value while others pointed to responsive design?s importance for marketers who have strong mobile Web traffic.

Customer experience is critical
However, some marketers may think that by using responsive design that are delivering a strong mobile user experience when all they are doing is simply extending their desktop content to mobile without any consideration of what the mobile user wants.

This was the argument against responsive design offered by Coca-Cola?s Tom Daly, group director of mobile and search, during his presentation at the Mobile FirstLook conference last week.

?If you get into this HTML5, hybrid mindset and start pretending that a screen is a screen is a screen, you starting forgetting about the customer experience,? Mr. Daly said.

Instead, marketers should be focusing on making sure they are delivering a differentiated experience in mobile that truly focuses on what on-the-go consumers are looking for.

One way to address these issues is to take a mobile-first approach to content.

?In a 'mobile first' approach marketers are forced to undergo a content prioritization exercise, which in the long run achieves consistent brand messaging and optimal user experiences,? Siteworx's Mr. McLaughlin said. "From here you can progressively add features and content as the device?s screen size increases, ultimately addressing the needs of your users? and the needs of your business.?

In the short term, it seems apparent that marketers will continue to explore the responsive design because of the numerous benefits it offers.

However, their success will be dependent on how much consideration they give to creating unique mobile experiences.

?I think marketers are beginning to understand the advantages of curating mobile-specific content and, importantly, the value of an integrated approach to designing experiences and content that are complimentary to the user?s context, whether that be a smartphone, tablet device, in-store kiosk, billboard or traditional TV,? Mr. McLaughlin said.

?We?ve seen a tremendous up-tick in interest in responsive design as one solution because of its inherent benefits over .mobi sites or native applications when it comes to operational issues such as streamlining content management, ensuring consistent branding across devices, and reducing the costs of multiple design and development teams,? he said.