Contextual Web trumps responsive design for mobile-first experiences
Responsive Web design, a darling of marketers, falls short on delivering artful mobile experiences, putting pressure on marketers to start thinking differently and deliver contextual browser-based engagements, according to a new report from Forrester Research. 
The report, Mobile-First Demands More Than Basic Responsive Web Design, makes the case for mobile Web experiences that are as app-like as possible if marketers are to truly meet the needs of on-the-go consumers. Currently, only Firefox, Google and Opera are making the changes to their software that will make contextual experiences possible while Apple and Microsoft are not. 
“RWD serves an important role in creating Web experiences that work across all devices,” said Julie A. Ask, vice president at Forrester Research and co-author of the report. “RWD, however, breaks down as the engagement complexity grows."
Contextual Web experiences
While marketers insist their goal is to meet the needs of on-the-go consumers, 56 percent are using responsive Web design and another 35 percent are piloting it or plan to pilot it, according to Forrester. 
The problem is that responsive Web design treats mobile as just another channel and does not take into account that people do things differently on their smartphones compared to their desktops. To succeed with mobile-first strategy or one that uses mobile to transform the customer experience, marketers need to give consumers what they need in their immediate context. 
Forrester Research recommends that marketers think about delivering contextual experiences in a browser. The contextual Web, as Forrester calls it, delivers different experiences based on a consumer’s location, preferences, habits and situation. 
To accomplish a more contextual Web experience, Forrester recommends borrowing from mobile app design. 
Getting started
To get started with developing more contextual mobile Web experiences, marketers should do research to identify the mobile moments and context that matter to their customers. If there is a strong overlap between how customers are using the desktop site and the mobile site, responsive Web design may suffice. 
The next step is to map out which elements of context a brand can take advantage of. If a brand has an app, it can start there and determine which elements of context can be replicated in a browser experience. The number of opportunities are growing to build context into Web sites, with Google, for example, agreeing with Flipkart’s request to give the Chrome browser access to the camera, messaging system, GPS, accelerometer and other phone resources so Flipkart can tailor its shopping experience based on physical context. 
Mobile sites need to be simple and fast. Sites should not be overloaded with information when users are looking to take a quick action, like finding a price or redeeming a coupon. Experiences should be fast, too. 
Marketers face a challenge convincing senior business and technology executives that responsive Web design is not the answer, given how popular it is. 
On the go
Forrester’s research consistently finds that consumers’ mobile expectations do not match desktop for critical elements of the experience, which is why responsive Web design is not sufficient for stellar mobile experiences. 
For example, mobile must be service-oriented. While desktop sites are designed to be all things for all people, mobile needs to serve the needs and motivations of consumers on the go. 
The divergence between mobile and desktop widens as the activity a consumer is engaged in becomes more complex. Communicating or reading may be similar across mobile and desktop, but using a camera to make a deposit or GPS for turn-by-turn directions makes responsive Web an insufficient solution. 
Consumers are very task-oriented on mobile, often taking out their phone to quickly answer a question, check a price or pay a bill. For example, for 55 percent of sessions on Delta Air Lines’ mobile app, customers go directly to the app and for 61 percent of mobile sessions on, customers go directly there first. 
Consumers also search differently on mobile and look for very specific terms to address an immediate need. 
Mobile Web design also needs to take into account that consumers on-the-go often rely on just one hand or even one thumb. When they are driving, they rely on voice commands. Meeting the needs of these consumers requires a different design than the pull-down menus often found on desktop sites. 
Mobile users also expect super fast experiences, something that is a challenge with client-side responsive Web design. 
“You won’t convince everyone that RWD isn’t the answer – it’s simply too popular, and people view it as a safe or cost-efficient choice,” said Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester as well as co-author of the report. “A figure with power will have to make the call."

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