Familiar Challenges in a Wireless Future

The wireless Internet hasn’t yet found its killer app here in the United States, where users have been conditioned to use 17-inch monitors, keyboards, and color screens. But wireless access is huge abroad, and countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Japan are rapidly outpacing the United States in the development of mobile Web applications.

It will be a year or so until the wireless Internet is able to deliver the bandwidth that will make it compelling for a mass market of American users. But the industry is already trying to understand how marketing and commerce can adapt when the Net becomes untethered.

No one can foresee the future of marketing and commerce in a world of dispersed, wireless platforms. The only certain thing is that the issues we are now facing as online marketing and commerce develop will become more serious and complex.

Below are some of the issues that will become more pronounced as wireless applications are developed and adopted on a mass scale.

Privacy

Privacy is already a huge issue for Internet marketers — witness the downfall of DoubleClick’s plans to merge its online and offline databases.

When we start to carry the Internet with us, privacy will become even more important. The next generation of cell phones will have global positioning built in — so you can be found when you dial 911. But who wants his or her whereabouts tracked by companies such as DoubleClick?

When we use hand-held devices as wallets, entertainment platforms, and communication centers, that information will become inviolable. With all that personal information floating through the air, privacy safeguards will be imperative.

Personalization and Control

It’s hard to imagine customers wanting alerts on their wireless devices when they pass by a type of store that fits their profile. The only way people will ever tolerate such invasive marketing is if they have complete control over the messages they get. The concept of opt-in, stretched and abused by many online marketers, must come to mean that customers have full control over the marketing and promotions they get and that they can turn it on and off at will. The Two R’s will become law.

Most people hate ads on the Internet but tolerate them. Tolerance will be lower for ads on the kind of wireless devices that people carry with them. With bandwidth and screen space at more of a premium, downloading ads is considered even more of a nuisance.

But, remember, there is a fine line between personalization and privacy invasion. Too often, consumers find that entering their profiles is the classic bait and switch; the information they give increases the quantity, not the quality, of the communications they receive.

Integration

For successful marketing and commerce, online and offline efforts need to be tightly coordinated. If you buy a shirt via an online store, you should be able to return it at a brick-and-mortar location. It doesn’t make sense that online and offline function as separate entities. If this is true now, when most people access the Web from home or work, think about the day when your customer is shopping in your online store while standing in your offline one.

The same will be true for marketing. Since information will become platform neutral, marketers will need to learn how to craft messages that work across multiple communication channels.

Viral Communication

Today in Japan, millions of people use wireless devices to download cartoons, animation, and other entertainment-oriented content. When they want to pass something to a friend, they can just beam it over. Wireless devices communicate to one another constantly, exchanging information and even alerting users if a potential romantic counterpart is in the vicinity.

Since wireless Internet devices are developing as additions to the cell phone, it is natural that they will be an important consumer-to-consumer (C2C) communication channel that will be leveraged by marketers.

Usability

Years of research and millions of dollars in testing have gone into making desktop software and hardware understandable for the everyday user. But, still, people can find learning to use computers a daunting, sometimes humiliating experience.

The designers of the PalmPilot invested heavily in learning how to make the interface usable, and it is that factor above all that made the device a leader. Ease of use will continue to be the value proposition that will drive mass adoption of the wireless technologies of the future.

Wireless Internet will reinvent our industry. But the issues we face now won’t go away. We need to face up to the challenges of this new era or risk killing the golden goose of the wireless Internet.

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