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Is cross-screen marketing the new mobile-first?

"Cross-screen" is overtaking "mobile-first" as a buzzword for marketers these days, but with significant challenges in tracking and creating compelling content, few marketers are truly ready to tie desktops, smartphones and tablets together into integrated campaigns.

Recently it seems that the talk around mobile-first marketing is dwindling down as more marketers are interested in running cross-channel campaigns to target consumers wielding multiple devices. Despite mobile-first losing steam, it is clear that the medium is playing a more pronounced role since the focus is moving beyond treating mobile as an add-on.

?Many marketers are already experimenting with cross-screen marketing, but the challenges are whether marketers are creating unified campaigns that are effective for each individual platform,? said Jennifer Okula, senior vice president at Millward Brown Digital, New York.

?Many marketers are still repurposing creative, and ads that are created for desktop may not be as effective for mobile,? she said.

Cross-screen opportunity
Marketers coined the term ?mobile-first? as a way to propel the medium to the forefront of a marketing campaign.

However, the term has lost momentum as mobile becomes a more integral part of a marketing mix that is weaved into every medium.

Mobile-first approaches may have also lost some traction as location-based and day-parting tactics have taken off in 2013.

Therefore, marketers are increasingly looking at mobile as a second or third screen instead of the primary screen that consumers are engaging with, according to Ms. Okula.

As an alternative to mobile-first, cross-screen is grabbing the same attention in the industry, but marketers are quickly learning that these approaches are easier said than done because of the challenges around measurement.

?It may be easy to put creative out there, but without an effective way to quantify the success of the campaign, the effort may be costly and inefficient,? Ms. Okula said.

Mobile?s lack of a cookie to track consumers? actions has always been an issue. Despite the talk about cross-screen measurement, there is not a universal way to follow consumers across multiple devices, which is likely pulling back some marketing investment.

However, as smartphones and tablets become more engrained into day-to-day lives, consumers are increasingly expecting to interact with brands across multiple screens simultaneously. 

In fact, research from Millward Brown shows that 38 percent of consumers would take a mobile action if they saw a television ad and 36 percent would use their mobile device if there was a call-to-action on a print ad.

At the same time, there are certain verticals, such as flash sites, where mobile-first still makes sense since smartphones and tablets are often the first place that consumers are getting access to deals.

Take Gilt, for example.

Gilt uses mobile-specific offers and heavily relies on push notifications to give consumers the first look at deals that in some cases are not available on the company's Web site.

Better experiences
According to Lia Osburn, senior marketing director at elevate digital, Chicago, one of the main reasons why mobile-first has been front and center is because up until recently, it has been difficult to transact via a mobile device.

In addition to measurement, finding the right mix of content that is tailored to a specific device is also a challenge since consumers are often using multiple devices simultaneously.

?Not every platform lends itself to the same type of consumption or consumer behavior, and one of the most common challenges marketers face with cross-screen campaigns is ensuring that their efforts, even when spread across several screens, remain focused,? Ms. Osburn said.

?Marketers need to find the right balance between a campaign that caters to different context and consumption while still maintaining a consistent message and feel throughout,? she said.

Being able to cross-target consumers will be especially important during the holidays when consumers are researching and buying goods across smartphones, tablets and desktops.

Some brands such as Staples are making a big bet on cross-screen shopping this holiday season.

The office supply retailer recently overhauled its mobile and Web properties to make it easier for consumers to shop across multiple devices (see story). 

Marketers that use cross-screen tactics this year will be able to experiment more with retargeting, which is a tried-and-true tactic for ecommerce, per Ms. Osburn.

Still, other brands are relying on responsive design and other tactics to push out content across multiple screens. 

However, marketer should be wary of the risks involved with responsive design since the technology does not take into account the unique features of each device.

?Mobile-first might not be going away just yet," said Wacarra Yeomans, director of creative services at Responsys, San Bruno, CA. "Rather, it?s an approach to planning messaging so that brands can prioritize what's really important to subscribers.

"Responsive design isn't a silver bullet, but it allows marketers to prioritize and think through what specifically their mobile audience needs," she said.

One of the ways that marketers can think beyond either mobile-first or cross-screen marketing is by taking a content-first approach.

This means that marketers place a bigger priority on campaign content that can then be diced up and tailored to specific platforms.

Take social media, for instance.

Twitter?s mobile usage and revenue has passed a tipping point with mobile as the primary way that consumers access the site and is therefore likely fueling some of the advertising interest in a content-first strategy with messages that are limited to 140 characters.

Mobile video is another solid example of how mobile is changing the way that marketers create content.

A few years ago, the notion that consumers would watch an entire movie via a smartphone was a stretch, but that is now the norm thanks to the growth of Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services.

?If mobile-first does go away, it will give way to content-first,? said Jeremy Sigel, San Francisco-based client director of mobile at Essence.

?Today we acknowledge that audiences engage with PCs, smartphones and tablets in different ways and at specific times of day,? he said.

?However, as we move forward and technology continues to improve, it may be less about what device you?re using and more about the content.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York