Mobile: Channel vs. Device

Posted by James Malins on February 10th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Oh, how quickly we all forget.

In 2011, Forrester published an article on the topic, is mobile a channel or a device, posing a great question for the marketing community to chew on. The article proceeded to make the case for its answer,  “Is ‘mobile’ a true marketing channel that demands its own strategic expertise and focus, or is it simply a different device through which consumers come into contact with messages you've already established for other campaigns? The answer is that it’s both.”

It’s 2014, and we are suddenly addressing this again.

What’s changed since the original question was asked?

Well, companies have merged and offer multiple channels/devices now; agencies have combined roles and responsibilities and perhaps no longer have “mobile specific” buyers, but digital teams that buy all channels. Both making it easy to ask, why still make the mobile distinction?

The reason is because nothing has changed for the consumers and the way they receive a message on mobile. Mobile has had rapid adoption – over 50% of Americans own a smartphone and it has become the first screen for many people, but it is still a screen that serves specific, and different, purposes for consumers. The more important question to ask is how a person is using mobile in conjunction with other devices like the PC, tablet, and connected TV. People have specific use cases for each of their devices and perform different activities at different times of day in certain environments on those devices. They may start one activity on their smartphone but complete a transaction on their desktop or in-store. According to eMarketer, of the time spent on the mobile Internet by US mobile users, email remains the dominant activity (23.3%), social networking (14.9%) is a close second followed by entertainment (13%) and shopping (10.8%) activities.

Regardless of the distinction of mobile as a channel or device, both are important, and marketing messages and strategies should address the context in which the user is receiving the messages. The context is why it should be addressed separately.

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