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The future of… mobile


The future of… mobile


This feature first appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Marketing magazine.


As 2011 comes to an end, Marketing magazine decided to take a look at the most rapidly evolving channels. The pace of change across the industry made this a difficult decision, but the three we’ve analysed all share a common and ever evolving game-changer: technology.

In the second of our predictions trilogy, Joe Barber explains that mobile mutations will continue so marketers must stay on top of the technology.

Finally, marketers will get a chance to catch up in 2012 with the rate of innovation in mobile finally looking to slow and give way to evolution. While many brands and marketers embrace new innovation with vigour, and try to create consumer engagement not only through high impact executions, but also through consumer intrigue with new novel technologies, the rest now have a chance to analyse various strategies and start adopting mobile as an integrated medium with unique and compelling consumer response patterns.

In a relatively short period (even compared to the rate of evolution in the ‘web world’), mobile has continued to bamboozle a marketer’s understanding and adoption with new challenges and offerings emerging so quickly.

For such a long period of time, the primary mobile marketing execution was a ‘text to win’ competition model, which was crudely entwined with other channels, if at all, and left to deliver its own isolated results, with limited or no appreciation for the true scope of being able to develop and create a direct one-to-one relationship between a brand and a consumer. Branded wallpapers and ringtones supplemented the SMS campaign and marketers viewed this channel as a necessary evil and, in many respects, a distraction from their core activities.

Within a very short period, MMS emerged and then the game changer: the iPhone. The iPhone completely changed the thinking and was the first device to deliver such a diversity of options directly to non-technical mainstream consumers. The high-resolution large screen, supported by an ever-increasing array of applications downloadable from the iStore, changed not only the way consumers suddenly viewed their phone, but also put the other vendors and many other technology companies into catch-up mode. Then came the plethora of device changes in things like form factor, interface modes like touch screens and screen sizes, which opened up a whole host of new opportunities for marketers.

For a short window of time, most brands delivered or were planning on delivering an iPhone app in support of their brand – from branded games through to immersive multimedia experiences all designed to have a consumer engage with the advertiser. Interestingly, it was for many brands the first time they could actually communicate one-on-one with a specific consumer. An exciting yet also daunting idea, leaving many marketers wondering how to best utilise the medium. For a long time, there was such a disconnection between the mobile campaigns and the rest of a brand’s integrated strategy.

The iPhone also saw the demise of Bluetooth as a proximity marketing tool, with iPhone leading the charge to have its Bluetooth only connect or ‘pair’ with audio devices. Combine that with the fact that all you have ever discovered with Bluetooth executions is the number of connections and downloads, and its decline in marketing was inevitable.

Just as marketers were beginning to understand the new landscape with SMS, MMS and now on-device applications, the incredible uptake of Google’s own Android operating system as a device-independent OS (operating system) suddenly occurred. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, the iPhone went from dominating the majority of all initiatives to what we see today – a more balanced market share between the top three to four vendors. Android is now a formidable opponent, which means marketers now have to consider more than just the iPhone when it comes to application development.

In 2011, brands enjoyed the ability to use very engaging multimedia experiences through on-device applications. The balancing of market share with no clear dominating leader unfortunately meant that cost became far higher to provide and distribute across the three to four major mediums. Now, however, the medium was able to deliver the multimedia experience, which enables far greater integration between channels, with TVC-like quality and production value emerging in applications.

2011 was also the year of the mobile web, in many ways accelerated to prominence by the cost of on-device applications. To reach the majority of consumers, it is now a case of three or four applications or a single mobile web. Notwithstanding the development costs and the loss of full multimedia objects, mobile web quickly took centre stage with the speed to market, device flexibility and, most importantly, cost.

One final part of mobile came into prominence in 2011 and started being explored in a range of ways: location-based mobile. Proximity has always been a fascinating idea – tracking a consumer’s path, location-based deals and coupons, and geo-specific calls to action. It started in earnest with Bluetooth, which promised marketers and brands a lot, but in reality fizzled to nothing. In many ways, Bluetooth proximity initiatives had all the right ideas and campaign executions, but lacked the direct consumer connection and was stuck by the technology itself in not being able to ‘see’ past the handset.

Proximity ideas evolved using the mobile as a carrier with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, stickers or labels, with branding physically attached to the mobile and integrated in a new and different way. The consumer needed to link their RFID tag with their mobile number through a registration process and then RFID readers could be used to detect their presence. The most common use was for things like venue entry authentication and even ordering low-cost items like coffee at the local café.

Both Bluetooth and RFID, however, will give way to NFC (near field communications). This is a fully integrated technology requiring handsets and NFC-enabled SIM (subscriber identity module) cards and introduces an integration level that can launch applications and go beyond just detection. NFC will be a significant leap forward in potential brand executions and will deliver a level of integration not seen before – from detection (proximity) through to application launching, validation and linkage back to advertisers’ backend systems.

NFC will be the first true mobile replacement technology. It will supersede Bluetooth (as a marketing device) and RFID, and will introduce new and amazing things that a brand can do in its quest to interact and engage with a consumer. It is not, however, something that is expected in 2012 or even as mainstream in 2013. The need to have NFC-enabled phones and NFC-enabled SIM cards will mean that broad consumer availability requires everyone to change handsets. This is not something that will happen inside 12 months.

The closest thing to innovation that will have an impact upon the next 12 months is ‘push messaging’ and the launch by Apple of iMessaging on the iPhone and iPad. As technologies, they are innovations as they introduce new methods and processes for proactively connecting with a consumer. To a marketer, they are an extension in many regards to SMS and MMS. You are able now to send an iMessage to an iPhone user, which appears within their normal message inbox, but is delivered through a data channel, thereby avoiding SMS or MMS charging.

For a marketer, this push messaging option delivers limited benefits, except cost, and still has all the spam controls and requirements for opt-in. What it does for the service providers, supporting brands with their execution, is add a whole new layer of complexity and challenges in being able to recognise a consumer with push messaging support and to utilise this route over other more costly ones.

The mobile marketer in 2012 will have a range of mobilisation tools in their arsenal. SMS will continue being a valuable voting and competition tool, with MMS being a higher ROI method of messaging for coupons and vouchers. Both of these methods will be augmented by the use of RFID detection with the mobile being used as no more than a physical carrier of the tag.

The debate over on-device application versus a mobile-enabled website has all but faded and falls back to a matter of costs, speed to market, rate of change and updates, importance of a fully immersive multimedia experience, importance of availability to all consumers and finally, and most importantly, what’s in it for the consumer to download an app versus connect direct to a mobile website. From a period in 2010 and 2011 of frenetic applications development, brands now realise that without compelling reasons for them to install, consumers will ignore.

In summary, the next 12 months or so will be less about new technology, new directions, new devices or new handsets and more about the behavioural understanding of a mobile consumer and the consolidation of various mobilisation objects into a well-linked or integrated strategy. It has already started in part in the US and more recently in the UK, where agencies and brand managers are investing more in the professional understanding and analysis of how a consumer may interact, and for what purpose in each medium, than the cost of the mobilisation piece itself. There are now a number of professional service consulting firms just dealing with the psychology behind certain mobile actions and responses and then proposing a suitable compelling consumer mobile strategy.

Another interesting trend is the direction of mobile in replacing our wallets. There are lots of discussions and sampling activities regarding mWallet and online mobile commerce for everything from micro payments through to third party bill payment. Many of these include the ability to use the camera on a phone to recognise a barcode and conclude a purchase. All this sounds very exciting – leave your physical wallet at home; it makes no difference to your day.

Our mobile is very quickly becoming a single source of all things in our day: contacts, messages, email, calls, diary, credit cards, access control and even family photos. To most, this sounds exciting and for marketers it creates a passion and drive to get a brand in the hand of the consumer and into their ‘wallet’. Just as with a real wallet, the consumer is becoming far more discerning over what applications they load, far more considered regarding what lists they subscribe to and far more protective of the content on their mobile.

I suspect, however, it won’t take long before someone realises that this single device that is so central to our everyday life is also a massive threat to our identity and our security. Lose your phone and the chances are someone could almost take over your entire life. It’s creating the most perfect identity theft resource ever!

So, with revolutionary innovation slowing, the next 12 months will offer marketers the chance to catch their breath, actually take the time to understand the mobile channel and its ROI, and build more effective strategies to better integrate across all channels and mediums.


This article is featured in the December/January issue of Marketing magazine.

Joe Barber

Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of Edge80.com with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.

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