With iPads, Galaxies, and Xooms, what do I do to prepare my business for the next generation of hyper-mobile users?

It’s almost too cliche to say, but (ugh) I’ll do it: we’re more mobile than ever (although if you’ve used a tablet yet, you’ll know that you’re anything but “mobile”). We’re using our mobile devices for more, more often—and the usage is growing exponentially. Nielsen reports the #1 gift requested between ages 6 – 12 was an iPad. The Federal Reserve is projecting that electronic payments is a $40 trillion business. While your market may not be your average 12 year old, we all now how these things make their way into our hands. Millions of iPads have been sold around the world. Competitors are close behind, so what is your business to do to prepare itself for this next round of connectivity?

To quote Matt Groening, “We’ve been running a little behind schedule. But only by about 15 years or so.” The reality is that this is true for a lot of companies when it comes to things that combine technology and marketing. Websites are still be created and launched today that don’t work in major browsers, don’t connect with prospects (don’t convert to customers and clients), and don’t play friendly with search engines like Google. For some companies, the debate about whether the website is a marketing function or a tech function still rages. And if you’re struggling here, we have some thoughts to help you make heads and tails of the next generation of market empowering technology.

1) Focus on search. Browser based information seeking is one of the top uses of any web-enabled device, and being found through Google or Bing should be top priority. For a new site, optimize starting with conversion in mind, and make sure that code, design and content support this strategy. Already have a site? Make sure it’s sound under the hood, create your content to work toward your goals, and create visuals that engage your users and guide them clearly through logical next steps.

2) Remember your brand. Every time an employee picks up the phone and speaks with a prospect or client, they’re impacting your brand. Every interaction affects their decision to work with you. How is your website any different? When dealing with mobile, you can assume based on your industry, your prospect is looking for your site for a specific reason: location, contact info, or product/service research. You know all those cool, flash-based bells and whistles, walking and talking on the home page, taking up bandwidth and your user’s time? They’re cute on high-speed internet, but lousy on a mobile device. Oh yes, and if you have these, forget about the segment of your market with an iPhone or iPad—they can’t see Flash animations, they can’t read Flash marketing messages, and they can’t order your stuff from Flash-based shopping carts.

3) Understand the differences between desktops, smartphones, and tablets. Desktops have high speed connections, big screens, and (relatively) standard browser support (yeah I’m going to get heat for that one), but they’re not mobile. Smartphones have tiny screens, keyboards, some touchscreen capability, and can be notoriously slow (dependent on carrier), and browser support has been all over the charts. Tablets fall in the middle, with a good-sized screen, relatively easy WiFi/high-speed internet access, new forms of interaction, and browsers, you have a whole new playground for your content.

4) Make your content usable regardless of platform. What’s the cost of losing a customer because your site was created in 2001, based on 1998 web standards, and doesn’t scale well, or present information fast enough to your mobile and tablet web users? Take the time to make sure you have desktop-, mobile-, and tablet-friendly versions of your site. It’ll cost a few more bucks, but your prospects will appreciate it, and it’ll be one less reason to jump off your site and move onto the next.

5) Build in tools that leverage tablet technology. How about instead of a product gallery where you click from one to the next (old school mousing), you create a rapid access swiping gallery that users can scroll through with their fingertips. Now you really can put thousands of products at your customers’ fingertips. Create interfaces that leverage the device—like Apple’s two pane approach: list and preview on the left, content updates on the right.

6) Embed social media experiences. Look at providers like EventBrite. When I log in, I get to see which of my Facebook friends has an EventBrite event coming up. That’s HUGE for your social media campaign. Stream twitter on your landing page. It’s more likely to be more up to date and topical than typical news. Embed Google maps, don’t just show a snapshot. This is infinitely more usable than a static image to a mobile user.

You might be reading this and thinking,”this is going to cost a lot for very little ROI (or benefit).” It really doesn’t have to. Using browser detection tools, and custom themes, we’ve been able to quickly customize user experience based on the device for a little more than it cost to develop the full site. This is especially useful if you need to update the content on your site frequently, you have news and social updates, or you have events or constantly changing pages.

The takeaway? Tablets are just now making the splash, like the iPhone and Androids when they came out. No, not everyone has one, but they’re tracking pretty steadily and in many places hard to get (presumably due to supply). You prepare your lobby for that moment when your first client walks through the door. You dress to prepare for that first meeting of the day. You train your team manage that first project—to handle that first problem. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure your website—often the first point of contact for many businesses—to be as presentable as the rest of your business, as easy to use, and conversion focused as everything else?

What do you think the role of tablets will play in your business—both from a customer perspective AND from an internal business perspective?