Thought Leadership

Reality Check: Mobile

Editor’s note: This is the 9th in a series of 12 guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2013. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2013, the series began Jan. 7, 2013, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.

The momentum of mobile is dazzling and inevitable, but we’ll be in danger of making the same mistakes we made with social media if we fail to understand the nature of mobile’s expanding role on the marketing stage.

Gartner reports that, by 2016, two-thirds of all Internet traffic will be viewed on mobile devices. Global mobile data traffic will have increased 18-fold from 2011 to 2016. Alt12 Apps recently reported that nearly 70 percent of moms regularly use a mobile device to shop, and one-third of those shop with mobile devices more than half the time.

This shift toward mobile devices—primarily smartphones and tablets—is clearly the most transformative trend shaping the marketer’s landscape for the next five years and beyond.

Many marketers, however, are viewing mobile through a telescope instead of a wide-angle lens, just as they initially did with social networks and blogs. We learned quickly that social was not a marketing channel of its own but rather one that tied together and amplified conventional channels. Similarly, mobile should not be viewed as a discrete channel. Rather, it both connects consumers with more traditional channels and personalizes marketing in ways never before possible. It’s not a dedicated channel, but an integrated channel. All major digital technologies are headed to mobile—telecoms, computers, the Internet—and all major media are shifting that direction as well, with mobile-accessible music, gaming, news, television, advertising and banking.

So to manage mobile well, we must consider the concept of “marketing channels + mobile.” The term “+mobile” simply describes a new consumer environment in which most consumers augment or filter traditional communications channels through a device that they carry close to their hearts 24/7.

Using mobile effectively means having the ability to get very personal. Mobile devices lend themselves much more readily to content than to advertising – mobile users can easily circumvent many forms of mobile advertising and the user experience often makes ads seem more intrusive, degrading their impact. Unlike computers and TVs, smartphones and tablets are devices carried and used by a single person and are rarely used by others. Therefore, the marketing messages delivered via mobile devices can be—and must be—very personalized, building on the purchasing history and demographics of individual shoppers.

With this mobile perspective in mind, we can anticipate a number of market-shifting developments emerging from the global proliferation of mobility:

  • Corporate teams and agencies that specialize in mobile marketing will flop unless they have strong ties to integrated programs. Mobile must be viewed as a tool to connect consumers with other marketing channels. For example, the Consumer Electronics Association states that at least 60 percent of Americans have used a smartphone or tablet in combination with a TV program. Mobile apps like Shazam are turning radio commercials into directions to the nearest retail location of the advertiser. Marketing presentations are being transformed by real-time audience interaction and commentary via mobile social networks.
  • Marketers who have been stumbling through the clutter, searching for a way to measure ROI effectively, will finally be rescued by picking up the phone.  Smartphones will enable more accurate data about consumers, providing better analytics for segmenting and targeting markets and thereby better ROI from integrated marketing programs.
  • Near-field communication capabilities will advance the connection between consumers and brands. A consumer might touch her phone to a tag on a shoebox and immediately receive details on the shoes, accessories to match them and reviews of the product. A moviegoer who arrives half an hour before show time could use his NFC-equipped smartphone to tap a tag on the armrest and receive his own personal preview of an upcoming movie, based on movies he has watched in the past.
  • The mobile payments phenomenon will erupt in a Thumb War as services like PayPal, Square and Google, along with banks and many smaller players, scramble for the largest share of wallet. Phones will become point-of-sale devices, while conventional point-of-sale devices become mobile. Imagine walking through a theme park tunnel and, using your smartphone, paying a few cents every few yards to play a game or advance a story, or a resurrected video arcade that allows you to move to exclusive levels or play premium games with a quick mobile payment.
  • Mobile devices will change the physical bricks-and-mortar store forever. The store already has become an intermediate stop in the retail experience as consumers shop online with their mobile devices, visit the store to consult with a sales associate and complete the sale via smartphone, with purchases delivered to their home. Increasingly, retailers will need to focus less on traditional efforts to connect their brand with consumers and more on digitally connecting their physical stores with consumer devices.
  • Stores will become experiential centers, instead of shopping centers. Consumers will enter bricks-and-mortar environments for a brand experience, not to make direct purchases (which they can do online much more efficiently). The new “expershop” will pick up on the social atmosphere once found in large bookstores, which hosted scrabble tournaments and Trivial Pursuit nights, but the 21st century store will maximize digital connections to allow consumers to interact with each other and see how the brand can shape their lives or move their careers forward.
  • More mobile websites will incorporate responsive design, reconfiguring the site for optimum display and usage on each type of device where it is viewed—tablet, smartphone, laptop or TV. Smart marketers will take responsive design a step farther and incorporate custom messages and storytelling, based on the preferences of an individual user and/or the majority of consumers who use a particular type of device.
  • Customers will become clients as sales associates become consultants. Equipped with mobile tablets containing CRM data on each customer, associates will advise shoppers before, during and after their store visit about options, accessories, deals and trends. Luxury watch retailer Tourneau has perfected this approach, called “clienteling.” Its customers go online with their mobile devices to choose the watches they’d like to see and set an appointment with their “personal-shopper-style” associate, who has pulled the selections for viewing by the time the customer arrives.

Mobile is changing our shopping, merchandising and marketing habits as radically as any other digital development since e-commerce. It impacts every single business – whether a local boutique or an international conglomerate, whether the customer is a mother of two or a CEO with 10,000 employees around the globe. There’s no hiding your proverbial head in the sand. If your brand isn’t looking at mobile, it’s likely to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Janet Tyler, APR, is co-CEO of Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter

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