As sales of PCs continue to decline, will 2014 finally be the year smartphones and tablets completely take over the personal computing space?
Every year for the last four or five years we have been calling that year "The Year of Mobile." But maybe this is finally the year that we start to adjust our budgets and plans to a new reality. It's long past due, as evidenced by the undeniable consumer preference for mobile devices and the increasing reliance and time spent with mobile technology.
Gartner just released a new study that details the seventh consecutive quarter of declines in the worldwide shipments of PCs. In emerging markets, the only personal computing device is often a smartphone, while tablets and tablet/notebook combinations are now the hot item for consumers across markets. We are entering the era of one family PC or laptop augmented by individually claimed smartphones and tablets or tablet/notebook combos and maybe an e-reader thrown in to cover most of our connected needs. As the cloud becomes a mainstream consumer storage option, hardware relics edge even closer to irrelevancy.
PCs have not disappeared just yet, but they're definitely fading into the background. As older business and family machines die off or their software becomes obsolete they will not be replaced on a one-for-one basis. This will be especially true for more affluent households who have rapidly adopted the sexier new technology and for younger generations who have never known a world without instant Internet access on the go. While that trusty old PC may be kept for backup or convenience, relegated to housing records or handling common everyday tasks, more and more of our time online is devoted to small-bite activities, social, and other connections better suited to personal and hand-held devices. Even routine household computing tasks will soon move to newer device platforms as support becomes available for those tasks in new device and usage modes and environments. Further, as smartphone and tablet usage patterns and preferences become ingrained, they will seep into business hardware choices helped by a growing availability of workplace and productivity software and apps.
It's not just the PC manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that need to recognize and adjust for this significant and pervasive shift in buying and usage behavior patterns; it's also the marketers who need to make a leap. Device choice has a significant impact on how a message is received and acted upon that should be reflected in the 2014 marketing plan.
Start with the compelling evidence in global stats and your own analytics. Show key decision makers the dominance of mobile buying from Holiday 2013 or the general rise in smartphone and tablet ownership and usage within your relevant audiences to set the stage for a general discussion of how your audience is using mobile in your space. Benchmark competitive activity in mobile channels and your current site conversions in mobile -- but do so with care. Your current mobile results mean almost nothing unless you have already built a seamless mobile experience and marketing program. You don't want to let what may look like poor results with the wrong approach drive future planning.
Assess your mobile readiness starting with your mobile destinations. Are those mobile experiences accessible and useful to your desired audiences? Do they support your goals? Can you track performance within those locations? Do you have commitment for the frequent updates required across platforms and devices? Don't forget your social channels in mobile. Luckily, the social platform players have shouldered the technology burden for you in providing the mobile experience but you may need to adjust your content and approach to better match the needs of the on-the-go consumer.
Define the role of mobile within your broader marketing plan. Do you have an integrated marketing and content plan that connects the mobile user to your brand with consistency of message and purpose? Mobile-specific ads and messages should reach customers with info or content useful to their mobile state and needs and then take them to the mobile-optimized location. Mobile behaviors morph quickly, as new devices are delivered to the marketplace, as connectivity and infrastructure advancements are made, and as clever entrepreneurs and corporations feed and sometimes create the needs that drive consumers. It takes commitment to stay current and relevant in this channel.
Above all, whatever its future forms, remember that the mobile consumer is really just a consumer and ultimately, not defined by their device choice or channel. Marketers must meet customer expectations of a seamless experience regardless of the access point. Make 2014 the year to start treating consumers as a healthy whole -- certainly with different responses and needs within certain environments and at certain times, but with just one brand relationship across time and touch points that should be protected and nourished.
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.
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