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Mobile Search: Changing How Consumers Navigate

  |  September 20, 2007   |  Comments

Mobile carriers already deploy search to help consumers find downloadable content. Are you ready for the next evolution?

At times, my work and personal lives collide, an experience everyone has at some point. It no longer catches me off guard because my social circle mostly consists of friends I've made in the advertising industry. It's a hazard of starting a career in your early 20s and sticking with it. There are, however, conversations I've learned to let flow without interjecting my two cents. Biting my tongue, after all, offers me opportunity to hear a consumer's viewpoint rather than be clouded by my biases.

Let me explain.

At dinner recently with a group of creative and advertising friends (save for one lonely soul), someone asked if any of us had tried Google SMS yet. I thought, "Who hasn't?" but I kept my mouth shut and let others respond, reminding myself that valuable insights would soon follow.

It's worth noting my friend's pure excitement while sharing his experience. He was genuinely pleased with his newfound discovery: a mobile feature that enabled him to retrieve a local restaurant's phone number so he could call in a delivery order -- without getting off the couch. Time and convenience superseded the depth of this experience. He utilized a device he always carries to navigate his physical environment.

Mobile search may have started as a means to make offline or Web search available via a mobile device, but now it's increasingly context-specific and more predictive than current Web search functionality. This makes sense given the form factor of mobile search compared to Web search's roots -- linkage of documents. Further, mobile search has the potential to fuel value such as added marketing services functions rather than simply spitting back pure information.

Mobile search's first evolution shows this promise. For some time, mobile search has been a cornerstone of the carrier on-deck strategy. Carriers use it to increase data consumption from downloadable content. A consumer can easily find this content (wallpaper, games, tones, and applications) with the help of white-label search solutions. In essence, consumers have been taught a behavior, carriers have increased subscriber ARPU (define), and those white-label search providers (not to mention the three big portals) are now moving to the next evolution.

Search applications that further help consumers navigate their environment will teach more consumers how to take advantage of time and convenience. The Google and Google-like applications that exist today have already built on on-deck mobile searches. They take advantage of a device that's always on and always within reach to connect individuals to local information, such as addresses, phone numbers, and directions. Though advertiser integrations into these search applications are in very early stages, the opportunity over the next year is limitless.

Exactly what that interaction will look like has yet to be fully fleshed out. Any marketer who has a strong offline search component to her media mix should think about ways to extend her strategy to mobile. Mobile is most successful when integrated into a holistic media communications plan, and that applies equally to mobile search. Start by talking to search vendors with whom you already have relationships. From there, extend the dialogue to mobile specific-search partners.

It's too simplistic to say mobile search isn't Web search. Because mobile search is emerging, one must make educated guesses as to its future. Well-established vendors are expanding their core services into the space, new vendors are adding competition to the mix, and consumers are ready for the benefits these services offer. But marketers and advertisers must be part of this conversation for mobile search to succeed. Will you lead the next evolution in search, or follow?

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Courtney Acuff

With more than 237 million cell phone users in the U.S. alone, Courtney Jane Acuff’s charge within Denuo as director is to deliver consumer insights and innovative media solutions in the wireless space. Prior to this, Acuff stood at the helm of one of mobile marketing’s most influential media agencies, SMG Digits, where she harnessed mobile communications' power, influence, and potential. At Digits, she researched, designed, and executed the first-ever domestic, consumer-centric wireless market analysis, providing insights into the medium’s potential for relevant consumer engagement. It was the first effort by an agency to understand consumers' burgeoning use of mobile applications, the content they access, and how they want the technology to be a part of their lives.

Acuff currently consults for clients such as Walt Disney World, Walgreens, Sprint, and Philip Morris, framing the mobile marketplace and guiding marketing initiatives. She maintains strong relationships with mobile back-end providers and is a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association. Her influence in the industry earned her coveted recognition as a “Twentysomething to Watch” in 2004 by "Advertising Age." Acuff holds B.A.s in political science and communications, both from Lake Forest College in Illinois.

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