Face It, Mobile Marketers, You’re Not Normal

As I tried to make sense of an overloaded inbox on my mobile device’s screen while on the train for my daily commute, I had a bit of an epiphany. When I finally stopped scrolling and clicking, I noticed my fellow commuters were either in varied states of sleeplessness or intently surveying their choice of reading material, ranging from daily newspapers to the latest Harry Potter novel. Unlike me, a marketer who spends the majority of her time navigating the emerging mobile marketplace, they weren’t struggling with how to type with two hands while trying to not lose their balance. Suddenly, it dawned on me: I’m in the minority. This realization applies to all of us who live and breathe mobile daily. Quite frankly, we’re not “normal.”

I can hear the snickers from those thinking, “She just realized this?” But there’s an illuminating truth here. The guy seated next to you on the train, the woman who passes you by on the street, or the couple grabbing morning coffee together embody the definition of a normal U.S. mobile consumer. I, on the other hand, don’t.

Although it’s true today’s consumers rely more on their mobile devices for a bevy of uses: voice, text messaging, and snippets of entertainment, mobile usage doesn’t rule their lives. They’ve become adept at sharing pictures and video and won’t hesitate to play games, check sports scores, or the latest headlines to stay current during downtime. Increasingly, they’re finding and sharing content of all sorts with mobile search applications.

However, I’m confident these average consumers didn’t eagerly await last week’s posting of the FCC spectrum action rules. In a few years, they may understand the significance of those rules containing two of the four Google provisions, but it bears little meaning to them today. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t go to sleep with the promise of an emerging marketplace on their minds, only to wake in the middle of the night from the worry that comes from challenges and missed opportunities in the very same marketplace.

For the mobile marketplace to succeed, our biases and experiences must be removed from the program planning equation. We need to put focus back on the average mobile consumer.

While it sounds basic, we as marketers are due a reminder of who comprises the typical mobile audience. I don’t mean simply using demographic data to answer that question; that’s only part of the story. We need to think more about our target’s behaviors and motivations. What we, or our clients, want to achieve is only half the equation. We must think more holistically and truly understand what drives mobile consumer consumption and participation.

At its core, mobile is a communications medium; a deeply personal, individually relevant medium that requires a consumer-centric planning mindset. That means thinking of the consumer value add in tandem with mobile functionality (text, MMS, video, WAP (define), etc.) that brings an experience to life.

At times it seems the program objective focuses more heavily on that of the content provider or marketer rather than on the goal of creating a positive consumer interaction. Here’s an example of how we turned this thinking around in my office. Several years ago, my agency conducted proprietary consumer-centric qualitative and quantitative research around mobile teens and young adults. From that research, we uncovered four themes we’ve since adopted as the cornerstone of our strategic and tactical mobile programs:

  • Will the program enable a human connection?
  • Can it bridge the gap when consumers are away from other traditional communication platforms?
  • Does the interaction allow for self-expression?
  • Does it provide an opportunity to entertain and kill some time?

These themes hopefully serve as an additional, simple reminder that those developing technologies, selling services, or planning mobile programs are often more advanced in mobile behaviors and consumption than the audiences they aim to reach. These themes also translate globally, are tangible today, and can help prepare marketers for tomorrow by successfully implementing programs that can help set benchmarks for the future.

The next time you’re engaged with your mobile device on your daily commute, try stepping back to view the bigger picture for a moment. Classifying yourself as normal may not be such a bad thing.

Courtney is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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