The sheer number of connected devices in the world today is staggering. While it's difficult to arrive at an exact number of smartphones, tablets and other connected devices currently in use, estimates are in the tens of billions. And that should send a very clear message to businesses across every industry: adopt a mobile-first mentality, or else.

If that's not motivation enough, Cisco estimates the number of connected devices in use will hit 34.8 billion this year, and by 2020, that number will top 50 billion. Naturally, the use of connected devices has significantly impacted our behaviors --the way we search, how we prefer to engage with brands, and the overall experience we've come to expect whether we're reordering supplies or refinancing a mortgage.

This change in behavior has made it more evident that brands need to be thinking about mobile beyond digital marketing and a mobile-friendly website. Adopting a mobile-first mentality is also critical to shaping the customer experience.

Customers are commanding a different experience

In many ways, consumers have been conditioned by mobile experiences to expect a level of convenience and personalization from which there's no going back. Mobile has fundamentally changed how people interact with the world around them and what they're willing to put up with.

Once willing to wait in line at the bank, or sit with a loan officer through the lengthy process of a loan application, consumers now expect to be able to handle these things via their mobile devices. And this is precisely why fintech brands like SoFi and Rocket Mortgage and healthtech companies like Oscar have been so successful --they were, in effect, built for the mobile generation.

These brands identified a growing market: the "self-service user" who prefers to trade the face-to-face for the convenience of conducting their business completely online. They took the time and attention to get to know their customer so well they were able to identify the pain points associated with these tedious tasks (applying for a loan and finding health insurance), eliminate them, and completely rewrite the experience in a way their customers have grown accustomed to in other areas of their lives.

In the instant-access world we live in, no business, regardless of industry, will be immune to the expectations customers have grown to expect. But it starts with knowing who your customer is and what types of experiences they've been primed to.

It's no longer enough to be mobile-friendly in design

As mobile increasingly becomes the go-to for consumers to perform just about any task, the demands placed on companies to design intuitive experiences on mobile devices grows. In the early days of smartphones, having a mobile site that replicated the desktop version on a smaller screen was sufficient --this was enough to keep you current in the eyes of your customers.

Now, with devices capable of so much more, designing for mobile can't be an afterthought. In fact, it's often where you should start.

Even if you're a brick-and-mortar or an already established brand, it's not too late to adopt a mobile mentality. It could be as simple as eliminating wait times for your customers by making certain features available via a mobile app.

Simply put, we can't put our phones down

Smartphone users perform an activity on their phones upwards of 150 times per day, whether that's checking email, browsing the web, going for a new high score or just unlocking their screen for no reason at all. What that means is that mobile has become habitual --for many, it's woven into their core behaviors.

So what does that mean for businesses? Mobile has to be at the forefront of not only your marketing strategy, but also at the core of your strategic decision making.

Just looking at the marketing side of things, consider approximately half of all online searches are conducted on mobile devices, and it's predicted 30 percent of searches will be done without a screen (via connected devices) by 2020. These rapidly changing trends are challenging brands to get to know their audiences in all new ways to more effectively reach and communicate with them.

The bottom line is our behaviors have fundamentally shifted and brands have to be prepared to meet their customers where they are. And as more people make the transition from face-to-face and even desktops to mobile, your digital presence has to accommodate it or they'll take their business elsewhere.