Tell me something that matters to me
The future of social communication is mobile, at least if you believe the latest round of evangelism coming from the technopunditry. I actually buy it, mostly, and I think the idea of being immersed in a web of background, insight and opinion at any given moment is kinda cool in a cyberpunk consensual hallucination sort of way.
Though, like William Gibson’s sci-fi, it’s the vision of a future that is probably a bit further away than most folks would like to admit. But the implications for brands and marketing are truly far out.
The very nature of mobile is dependent on ‘right here, right now’ experiences; what you call up on your smartphone needs to matter at that moment, first and foremost (not to negate the likelihood of non-circumstantial browsing, but to put the activity and its product into context). That means the immediate future of mobile is price and location/availability.
The opportunities are immense in this regard. Discounts on merchandise that you’re literally holding in your hand while shopping in a store. Price checks on identical products located nearby. Promos that build on existing baskets prior to checkout to prompt additional purchases. Locating desired sizes of products and ranking best return policies. Some of this is already happening, though not always as easily as it should (and will).
But this is all ‘last click’ behaviour, really. It’s not much different conceptually than an online search engine connecting someone sitting at their desktop computer to a shopping site. All of the touchpoints and content that led to that last click aren’t valued (or at least imperfectly connected). The moments immediately prior to a transaction are going to be transactionally relevant, by definition, as if the only decision that matters is the matter of making a final decision.
So maybe ‘decision-relevant’ is a better term for the content and utility mobile provides. The moments leading up to a decision are like the price of an options contract approaching its expiration date; the ‘spread’ of what’s acceptable narrows, and when it comes to mobile marketing that means more content about price or location than anything else. Most of the front-end value is either discounted or forgotten altogether.
It also suggests the evolutionary path that social will make into these spaces. Again, some of it is already happening.
Consensus reviews on restaurants in your immediate vicinity. Latest average wait times for a table. Average number of washes before the colour fades on the shirt you’re considering buying in the next five minutes. Check-ins with trusted communities on choices between any items on a shelf or menu. Think of social networks becoming Social GPS for living.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. It’s not hard to imagine any opinion or desire that had once been a quality of individual experience becoming ‘outsourced’ to the social web, aggregated if and when that knowledge was relevant to a specific decision. One day, it’s quite possible that every decision will be based on the collected wisdom arising from all prior decisions.
Social media won’t be something from which clicks come because it’ll be an environment from which nobody will ever leave.
Think about that for a moment. You realise that such a future flushes most branding and marketing down the toilet.
Funny viral campaigns. Memorable TV spots. Generic ‘likes’ or +1 clicks. Every opinion about marketing and brands. Every tidbit of creative content intended to enhance or otherwise qualitatively influence what people think.
None of it will matter. What will matter instead will be what always mattered.
Brands will have to learn to spend effort and money on the quantitative inputs to those decisions, like customer problems fixed (or ranking on problems avoided), product performance, user sat, consistent availability, and real-time mechanisms to adjust to crowds, weather, and other circumstantial inputs to experience. Smart businesses will figure out not only how to make this information available to customers via mobile on their own brands but for all brands with which they compete. Think ‘reality portals’ run by brands so customers can make faster and better decisions.
Truth will emerge from how businesses operate, not what they claim as attributes of their brands. Imagine clothing shoppers gaining immediate access to percentage rankings of reliance on sweat shop labour by brand, or health rankings of individual ingredients in a can of soup or box of cereal. Marketers will have to learn how to make this information not only available but believable, in that a hundred years of brands claiming things that weren’t necessarily true has damaged their credibility.
Instead, they’ll have to figure out how to make the information entertaining and memorable, as well as credible, so branding in the future will be less about inventing artificial attributes for products and services and more about making their realities meaningful. This will be a huge creative challenge (just imagine if oil companies chose to communicate the truth about energy, or fast food brands talked about one hamburger versus another to consumers like adults).
Truth will cease being a matter of opinion or point if view, and become instead the collective conclusions to which anyone can contribute and everyone can benefit. Marketers can and should become the guardians of this content, not its manipulators or even active participants. Brands will contribute to conversations between real people about businesses, not with them. This will be the real P2P revolution, and it has only just begun.
The future won’t be mobile, though that will be how it will be delivered. The future will be created by brands that tell people things that matter as their behaviours are evermore translated into a series of decision points.
The brands that succeed will be those that figure out how to use those moments to tell them the truth.