Recently it seems I can hardly glance at my Twitter feed or open my inbox without coming across some new report about the rise of mobile. There’s a deluge of new, compelling mobile data lately, and all of it carries huge implications for marketers – online and off. The mobile shift is real, and it’s happening now: It’s clearer than ever that we’re headed for a totally untethered future, one in which we’re working, playing, and buying on the go.
The data speaks for itself. Mobile web usage continues to increase dramatically; more people are buying smartphones and tablets, and taking them online. They’re changing the way we watch TV, experience advertising, and make purchase decisions, both online and in-store.
Thanks to this burgeoning mobile shift, scenarios that seemed futuristic not so long ago are becoming our here-and-now reality. Try this one on for size:
You are woken up by the alarm on your smartphone. As you brush your teeth (with your Bluetooth-connected toothbrush), perhaps you attend to a screen or two that’s integrated into your home – maybe via a smart mirror or smart window. Your screens present you with relevant, custom-curated news and information, tailored to your needs and interests based on the preferences you’ve opted to share with media companies. You grab a 10-Hour Energy – in the future, five hours doesn’t cut it – and you’re out the door on your way to work. All you carry is a smartphone and a tablet. When your cab drops you at your office, you wave your phone to pay. At your desk you place your tablet and smartphone in docks, via which they sync instantly with your office’s information systems. A laser virtual keyboard and Kinect interface allow you to input text and control your computing world with gestures.
Sound crazy? Well, pending a few processor upgrades and an uptick in mobile bandwidth, everything here is entirely plausible using technology that’s widely available right now. That same technology is about to dramatically alter how we shop – online, on Main Street, and at the mall.
Our mobile future is, if not already here, fast approaching. So how can smart marketers make the most of the mobile shift to capture new opportunities for consumer engagement?
Here are a few emerging technologies to keep an eye on:
- Near-Field Communications: This technology, which enables devices in close proximity to communicate, promises to have enormous impact on how we market to consumers. Right now it’s discussed mostly as a mobile-payment platform, which it will be, but it also has great potential to deliver hyper-relevancy and drive engagement. Chris Silva of Altimeter warns, however, that privacy issues will need to be top of mind where near-field communications (NFC) are concerned. And I have to agree with Silva on this point: “I don’t necessarily want a ‘Minority Report’ experience where I’m walking down the street and getting marketed to by name because I passed by a sensor.”
- Digital Bridges: QR codes and other offline triggers often get a bad rap, but along with apps like Viggle and Shazam, they’re invaluable as “bridging” technologies that connect the online and offline worlds via users’ mobile devices. What’s more, they deliver highly qualified ‘clicks’ to marketers – the QR-scanning customer has gone out of her way to engage with you. Now how will you return the favor?
- Device Fingerprinting: Still in its infancy, “device fingerprinting” will allow targeting in a way similar to what a cookie does online. This and other standards will emerge to allow consumers to decide what data they want to share with marketers in exchange for a new level of convenience and relevance. Google and others are looking at new frontiers to integrate data across devices and make mobile even more useful to consumers and brands.
- Showrooming: Brick-and-mortar retailers are likely to suffer the most from the new phenomenon of “showrooming,” where people use their phones to comparison shop online while in retail stores. During the holidays, 52% of shoppers used their phones to conduct research in stores, after which many of them chose to make their purchases online. It’s easy to see how this could escalate into a headache for businesses. Marketers can fight back by building apps or working with companies such as Milo that use offers and recommendations to incentivize store visits and purchases.
- Real-Time Dialogue: Customers aren’t waiting until they get home to review your shop, restaurant, or salon anymore – with geo-enabled apps like Foursquare and Yelp at their fingertips, they don’t have to. Next time you’re in a restaurant, look around. That’s right, look up from your own smartphone and notice how many of your fellow diners are engaged with their phones – looking up a Groupon offer, letting friends know where they are, checking reviews on crowd-sourced – or even (gasp) traditional – media sites. Mobile consumers are social, and they are going with the crowd. Tap into the ratings, feedback, and check-in data your customers so readily provide to open a two-way dialogue. It’ll add up to better consumer engagement, and better business performance.
There’s no question that our transformation to a mobile society is already underway. Broader adoption and better integration of mobile technologies will permanently alter the ways we interact with our customers and with each other. Marketers who understand and embrace this change will remain relevant long into the future.