Catching up to Mobile

“Regarding the pace of change, we believe more users will likely connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years.”

–The Mobile Internet Report, Morgan Stanley, 12/09

A never-ending stream of factoids, quotes, and predictions flow toward me every day through Twitter and Google Reader. But even in a TweetDeck haze, the quote above got my attention.

Kind of like getting a big glass of water splashed in my face… while alarm bells went off… and a big neon sign flashed “THIS IS A BIG DEAL.”

For the purposes of this column, let’s just assume that the prediction is on target. Bear in mind, the full report is a whopping 424 pages long, so based on pure volume I’m willing to give the Morgan Stanley team the benefit of the doubt. No one can say they haven’t done their homework.

The implication: we’re on the cusp of a change as significant as the transition from a dial-up Internet experience to a broadband experience.

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental shift in how people access the Web and, presumably, a corresponding shift in what they do once they get there.

It seems like marketers are much less prepared for the mobile transition than we were for the long, slow shift to broadband, which we saw coming a mile away.

As the Morgan Stanley report makes clear, the mobile Internet adoption curve is much steeper. Basically, the introduction of one disruptive device (the iPhone) changed the entire landscape in a hurry.

Bottom line: many (if not most) brands are still in the “dipping our toes in the water” phase when it comes to mobile. Meanwhile, consumers have cannon-balled into the deep end of the pool and aren’t looking back.

So, if the game is afoot, here are three suggestions for how to play catch-up most effectively.

One: Brand and Category Audit

Every brand needs to figure out exactly what the impact of the persistently connected consumer is on their business, and more broadly, their category. How, when, and where do consumers use mobile to make buying decisions about what you sell?

This is most critical for any retail business, because as many holiday reports made clear, consumers have clearly begun to use their mobile devices as shopping assistants, checking prices and inventory in real time.

Just as Twitter has become an important customer service channel, retailers should think about how mobile can help fill in service gaps in retail environments. How many times have you stood in the middle of a big box retailer’s aisle looking for help? And how many of those questions could potentially be solved with your mobile and the right interface in the store?

If I owned a store, here’s what I’d do: any time I saw a customer using their mobile (browsing, not talking), I’d engage them in a conversation about what they’re up to and how I could facilitate that process.

Two: Move to the Big Kids Table

Mobile can no longer be relegated to the test and learn section, funded with scraps and value-add opportunities. If you look at the consumer usage, there’s no reason why mobile shouldn’t be a predictable and sizable portion of every budget.

For years, the argument has been used that online ad spend should bear some close relationship to the amount of time consumers spend with the channel. The same logic would dictate that at some point in the next couple of years, 50 percent or more of all online spend should be targeted to mobile devices. Clearly, it’s not as black and white as that, but we’re a long way from those kind of numbers.

Three: Get Serious About Mobile Analytics

Think about how difficult it is to get basic data, like how many times a given app has been downloaded, and you realize we don’t know nearly enough about mobile relative to its importance.

A ton of critical questions need to be answered to get the most out of mobile, like:

  • What’s the difference between mobile Web consumption and “static” Web consumption?
  • Is mobile Internet usage a replacement for static usage, or incremental?
  • Do we need to plan for two different Internet experiences, mobile and static, or does that not generate incremental value relative to the effort?
  • How local can we go, and again, what is the cost/benefit tradeoff of doing so?

Most importantly, mobile analytics needs to be rolled up into integrated reporting so that we can understand its impact on cross-channel attribution models.

So, here we are, just a couple of weeks into “the year of mobile,” and we’re already way behind. Time to get to work!

Adam is off today. This column was originally published on Jan. 14, 2010.

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