From DigiDay Mobile: Focus on the Consumer Not the Device

From my friend and colleague Brian Reich, who attended DigiDay Mobile on Teeming Media's behalf:

It seems obvious to me -- a digital communications strategist and heavy user of all-things digital -- that mobile devices are a game-changer in the context of marketing. The simple fact that consumers can now access information wherever and whenever they choose, means that brands, media, and anyone else with something to sell have a whole new set of opportunities to explore. And yet, as I listened to the discussion at last week's DigiDay Mobile conference, I couldn't help but get the feeling that most marketers haven't figured out how to fully leverage what smart phones, tablets and other similar screens make possible.

The organizers of DigiDay Mobile framed their day-long discussion saying: "As more and more people consume content on their mobile phones, media companies and marketers need to quickly determine how to best reach and engage with these audiences." I couldn't agree more. However, as the conversation unfolded, across a series of panel discussions and case study presentations, the focus was clearly on what advertisers and agencies needed and wanted, not what audiences value or have come to expect when seeking information about products and services.

Some observations:

1) There was significant focus on the technology and not the different kinds of experiences that new and emerging mobile devices make possible. Presenters routinely cited apps, ads and the challenges of 'discovery' but spent little time exploring what is required in a mobile-enable society when the goal is to establish a relationship or support a consumers interests beyond a single, basic transaction. In my experience, it is far easier to determine the best ways to use technology to engage consumers if the behaviors of the audience dictate the options as opposed to letting the features or functionality that different platforms and channels make possible drive the decision-making.

2) While there seemed to be agreement that handheld screens, regardless of size, are what is driving the change in consumer behavior, and thus the need to adapt marketing strategy, the focus in terms of where to focus execution was mostly on smaller screens and more basic ways that mobile phones can be used. That makes sense if you are basing your marketing choices on data about mobile usage -- the statistics show that consumers do a lot of text messaging, for example. But, when you consider how tablets are influencing the way consumers think and act (whether they own an iPad or not) this focus is unnecessarily limited. To realize the full potential that mobile devices offer, it will be necessary for marketers to think beyond how to measure an initial transaction and instead strive for deeper, more meaningful interactions that extend across multiple screens.

3) I would suggest brands and agencies focus their attention on creating new and compelling ways to market their products and services and not on hating Apple. Despite evidence to suggest that apps are popular with consumers, many of the presenters dismissed apps as a viable marketing tool in favor of mobile-web based options claiming that consumers were more interested in searching for information than establishing a direct connection with something that interests them. In reality, marketers hate apps because its hard work to create and support an app that a consumer will find valuable, and use every day, but far easier to dismiss the whole concept in favor of something that provides more options (even if they aren't as compelling to consumers). For similar reasons, there was a lot of anger directed at Apple and the iAd platform they have developed. I suspect that the control that Apple has over the market causes frustration because it means marketers no longer have as much control over how their products and services can be presented -- and that makes them uncomfortable.

Marketers and media companies absolutely need to determine how to best reach and engage mobile-enabled audiences... and fast. My suggestion, with the discussion from DigiDay Mobile still very fresh in my mind: focus more on the consumer interest and behavior than on the platform that delivers your message. Most adults in the U.S. now have cellphones and one in four are using smartphones. With their rich features and capabilities, these devices are driving more than just a mobile app economy, mobile web revolution, or marketing explosion. They are changing behavior.

It will always be challenging for consumers to navigate through the mass of marketing messages and options that are being pushed by brands and media companies. New platforms and formats will emerge and different standards and best practices will be uncovered. But what has always been true, and what mobile devices of all sizes and kinds will enable in ways that we haven't been able to imagine until recently, is that people will seek out what they find valuable, and expect to get access to what they want, when they want it, and on terms that they dictate. If brands and agencies focus on that as a starting point for their mobile marketing decision-making, many of the other challenges will seem far easier to address.

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