The Missed Opportunity With Mobile

Most marketers look to the mobile channel as a way to connect with their consumers who are on the go. It’s a way to stay connected with their audience 24/7, regardless of their location. You can reach them while they’re in your store. You can hit them while they’re waiting for the bus. Or while they’re in line at the coffee shop. Or while they’re at the playground sneaking a look at the gossip sites while the children frolic.

And that’s smart. Mobile is good at that. In many scenarios, mobile fills a void. It reaches people in certain situations that used to be completely free of marketing messages. As long as all sides of the ecosystem (publisher and advertiser) remain focused on delivering value to people in those scenarios, then the sudden appearance of marketing messages may not be a bad thing. In fact, it may be welcomed by many consumers.

To address this “on-the-go” consumer, content producers, app developers, and marketers tend to pursue two key categories:

  1. Utilities: Things like communication (speech to text, for example), social networking, maps, weather, movie times, restaurant reviews, location-relevant coupons/offers, and so on.
  2. Snack-sized entertainment: Video clips, news, sports scores, games, e-reading, music, camera fun (you know you love IncrediBooth and Hipstamatic), etc.

Again, that’s smart. These are the kinds of things people need when they’re on the go. But, here is an important note of caution: to focus entirely on that “out and about” consumer misses a significant opportunity.

It turns out that nearly 40 percent of time spent on the mobile Internet happens at home. And another nearly 20 percent happens at work. In other words, almost 60 percent of time spent on the mobile Internet happens when there’s presumably a Web-connected PC available. Yet, people are choosing to go to mobile first, foregoing the PC in favor of the small form factor and convenience of the mobile device.

(Yes, I realize that not everyone has a computer at work – or home, for that matter – but the point is the same: mobile, in many cases, isn’t the backup choice – it’s the first choice.)

So what are people doing on the mobile Web when at home? I think there are a couple of things. First is convenience. Sometimes it’s just easier to look something up quickly on the phone. Why fire up the PC to look up the weather when the phone is right there and weather apps are so quick? Same with stock quotes, news, and so forth.

The other area where I suspect people are spending their time is media multi-tasking, especially when sitting in front of the TV. In fact, a recent Nielsen/Yahoo study showed that fully 86 percent of mobile Internet users are on the mobile Internet while watching TV.

That time is dominated by communicating with friends/family via text, but people are also:

  • Updating social network sites
  • Browsing Web content unrelated to TV programming
  • Looking up info related to a TV commercial
  • And more

The dominance of this multi-tasking behavior leads me to a prediction: second maybe to mobile payments, the next major mobile disruption will be services and content designed to encourage, facilitate, and/or enhance media multi-tasking.

Experimentation is already happening. Nielsen’s Media Sync technology enables content providers to deliver synchronized content to mobile devices like phones and tablets. ABC has been actively experimenting with the technology, most recently on Grey’s Anatomy.

Meanwhile, Yahoo announced some interesting new functionality to its TV Widgets platform at CES. The most interesting and relevant to this discussion is the extension to mobile devices. I shot a bit of video of the demo, which goes like this: you’re watching a TV commercial, in this case for the Lincoln MKX. A small overlay comes up, inviting you to an interactive experience. Clicking a button on your remote launches a Yahoo TV widget with additional information. But, when the TV program comes back, what do you do? The widget takes up some valuable screen real estate. No problem – simply transfer the experience to your mobile device and go multi-screen multi-tasking. See the video here.

So again, a lot of effort on mobile is centered (as mentioned earlier) around utility and entertainment – which is appropriate when targeting the on-the-go user. Those same content categories likely appeal to the at-home and at-work user as well. But there’s a third category that most marketers just aren’t thinking about – this multi-tasking behavior. This growing trend means that we need to embrace things like synchronized content and advertising. Perhaps more importantly, it means that we need to develop experiences that move seamlessly from one device to another – and potentially to a third device for later follow up. This doesn’t mean simply a mobile-optimized website, although that’s certainly part of it. It demands something bigger – something that may begin on the TV, move to the phone, and then later be picked up on the PC.

It may be a novelty today, but it will quickly become expectation.

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