According to Nielson, by the end of the year the majority of US mobile phone owners will have a smart phone. Morgan Stanley estimates that sales of smartphones will exceed those of PCs in 2012. Forrester Research forecasts mobile marketing spend surpassing $1 billion in the US this year. Indeed, the ubiquity of mobile shows no sign of slowing, and it cannot be ignored by marketers. Mobile search has been a nebulous topic so far, with no clear, definitive method for success having emerged. However, everyone is doing it. In fact, the IAB found that only 5% of marketers have not yet included mobile advertising in their budgets. Do not mistake this with one of those “just because he’s mobile marketing doesn’t mean you have to! Would you follow him off a cliff?” Jump on the bandwagon people.
People used to not be able to put down books. Then they were unable to turn the volume on the radio down. Then their eyes were rapt by the television. Now, I don’t even think about interrupting my friend during a game of Fruit Ninja. All of the innovative luxuries that waved through the past have finally crashed into a handheld device. For marketers, understanding how your potential customers are using the mobile channel is of utmost importance. There is a theme developing in the industry dubbed “mobile appropriateness,” which focuses on eschewing internal predilections in favor of providing the best experience for the user. As Razorfish’s Matt Cava puts it, “features and functionality might make internal stakeholders happy, but users would find awkward trying to engage with on a smartphone.” Create a clear strategy focused on the mobile user, stick to it, and do not compromise on the experience.
There is a lot of worry that mobile applications will eventually become so prevalent and popular that mobile search will become irrelevant. I don’t believe it. The web can do just about anything that can be done in an app, and it is becoming increasingly more efficient at it. The notion that the two are competing against each other is a misconception; apps and search will continue to work together to augment consumer experience. It would be wise for marketers to dabble in both areas to discover which approach fits best with which respective realm of business.
I see the next big thing in the mobile arena being Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows a mobile phone to receive data from another device or NFC tag at close range. This technology has tremendous potential in various respects. The most promising is contactless payment, where a customer simply taps their phone on a tagged device and the purchase is completed. NFC could change the way mobile phone users interact with each other as well; just touch phones and start playing a two player game. NFC is like the fancier version of the QR Code, whose novelty will turn out to be outweighed by user inconvenience. Some other cool futuristic stuff that NFC could allow: wireless headset-to-phone link, tap phone to printer to print, phone becomes bus/train/plane ticket, swipe-to-check in Foursquare locations. How about if a business owner placed a NFC tag just outside his business, so that when consumers touch their phone to it a coupon appears, ready to use immediately. What an exciting time we live in!