• Aarron Spinley

The Delayed Evolution of Mobile

Updated: Dec 10, 2019


Are brands missing out? Since first publishing this article, there has been little advance in the role of mobile strategy to advance to cause of contemporary CX - despite its unique capacity to do so. Now, in the midst of the Experience Economy, perhaps it is time to re-think.

It happens every year. As we pour back into our offices after the festive season, some more enthusiastically than others, two things are certain:

  1. We'll need coffee, lot's of it. 

  2. Every man and his dog will make their predictions on the future of technology.

It always makes for good reading. In 2016, when I first penned this piece, it was all about the rise and rise of automation. The advances in marketing technology were expected to move beyond actual human intervention. It was indeed an exciting time.

Intelligent technologies, Gartner believed, would do more than automate repetitive operations. “They will investigate, evaluate and make decisions on behalf of both marketers and customers”.

Today we hear much about AI and machine learning. Gartner was right.

It strikes me that this trend was - and is - very much in parallel with the way mobile engagement has evolved. Yet, for all the noise about personalisation, I have to say that this is still not a commonly understood field. Many attempts at mobile engagement remain clumsy and ineffective.

It seems we are still largely in Phase 1, the approach I refer to as "high cognitive".

Phase 1 – High Cognitive

Phase 1 was ushered in by advent of the smart phone itself. It introduced a whole new form of screen navigation. The ‘click’ of the desktop was superseded by the ‘tap’ on the mobile. It was easier, more intuitive, and the touch screen a far superior experience in almost every way.

Whilst the 'navigation-think' was still largely borne of the PC experience, these changes nevertheless revolutionised the way we saw the interface between human and machine. And we began to imagine.

We generated apps with gusto, sometimes without much attention to their true value proposition. At times we pursued the feature, over the function. Many marketers simply saw mobile as a simple extension to the same familiarity of email marketing. New channel, old mindset. Email. SMS. In-app message.


Eventually, we learnt to throttle the stream of messaging through contextual triggers such as time, location and preferences. That was around 2013.

Yet go to a mobile marketing conference today, and this is still the most common example given for location based marketing. It's like the whole industry stopped thinking about this subject critically in the last few years.

Phase 2 - Low Cognitive Engagement

Ironically, in the “look at me" world of social media, it was a dating app that became the recognised pioneer of low cognitive engagement, at least at a navigation level.

Tinder’s swipe gesture has been copied far and wide. No longer are we navigating. Instead, we simply "gesture". We hardly have to think.

A simple swipe in a particular direction, or shake for that matter, and the intelligence of the background technology take overs. Think about it. The humble survey will (or should) never be the same again... 

In low cognitive executions like this, our apps are still engaging us but not in a manner which requires any serious degree of effort or concentration. In this way, low cognitive engagement moved the mobile phone toward being an extension of one’s self.

Swat away a fly, raise an eyebrow, swipe left...

It's interesting to think about how that might translate to contemporary experience design in the retail industry, a sector battling against weak consumer confidence, volatility in house prices, and increased competition.

How could they create brand loyalty from this evolution? Here's a thought...

As John waits while his girlfriend is in the fitting rooms of their favourite jeans store, the store's app bleeps.

“Want a coffee while you wait?”

He swipes right.


He swipes left.


He swipes right. Awaiting his brew he goes back to reading the paper, secretly delighted.

Phase 3 – No Cognitive Engagement

'No-cognitive engagement' is my - perhaps simple - summary of the notion, that by simply having our mobile in our pocket, our immediate surroundings are circumstances are altered, and our consciousness only deals with what is pre-curated.

We make no decision at all. Not one.

Our history, live contextual data, preferences, and external context data drive our actual human experience - without our knowledge.

Compared to John's coffee experience, a no-cognitive approach is positively covert: 

As he walks into the store, John's app is recognised through the wifi. Instantly, his name and last purchase information are presented to the sales assistant on their tablet, enabling a personalised human to human interaction:

“Hi, great to see you again. John isn't it? How have those 501’s worked out for you?”

As he continues to browse, the nearest in-store digital display automatically changes to present products that directly match John’s preferences and buying history, even indicating what is available in his size.

Nudge theory. Look it up.

John hasn’t done anything, hasn’t touched his phone at all. But his experience has been personalised and his propensity to purchase increased all because of its presence in his pocket.

The Challenge

Obviously brands don’t want to be low or no cognitive for their customers, they strive to be top of mind. But this mistakes experience, for brand impact. The former can be subtle, and still deliver significant oomph to the latter. 

But most importantly, customer’s expectations are evolving.

Consumers no longer accept a SPAM-like experience. It’s tiring, annoying, unwelcome. It's a brand killer.

Brand experience can come from any range of factors, elements, and interactions – all without hitting customers over the head.

Of course, to make any of these experiences possible, you’ll still need a native mobile app on the phone. And getting that digital real estate remains key.

The Takeaways

The Experience Economy is upon us. There is no turning back.

Yet many brands are still rooted in an acquisition-first mindset, where frequency and reach reign supreme, and customer churn expected.

But the game has changed.

Contemporary experience design is now far more focused on a longitudinal customer relationship. Subtle, unique experiences are often the most powerful. That feeling of delight is associated to the brand responsible for it.

This results in loyalty, and loyalty results in revenue.

Understanding low and no-cognitive engagement remains a potential goldmine in this quest. So, it is time - again - for us to think differently. Will we?

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