Mobile Breaks Search… And Your Brand

Mitch JoelPosted by

Mobile could well be the last true computing platform.

Not smartphones, but mobile. The ability to be connected (with high speed and consistency) anywhere and everywhere. This is nothing new. This is not an original thought. It was an original sentiment, when I started writing about it, well over fifteen years ago. Back then, the mobile carriers were not concerned with data. There was no real mobile Web. There was no real interest from consumers to use their mobile phones for a Web-like experience. In fact, when text messaging was first introduced, you could not text someone unless you were both on the same carrier, and the messages were limited to 140 characters (hint: this is why Twitter maintained that limitation, lest many people forget). Back then, saying that, “mobile will eat the world,” made anyone and everyone chuckle. Now, it’s not so funny. Now, it’s just a matter of time. 

Mobile is eating the world.

Ben Evans works at the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and he’s an amazing writer on the technology space out of Silicon Valley. He’s also known for his presentation titled, Mobile Ate The World. Just this week, Evans updated his 76 slide deck, and it’s well worth everyone’s effort to spend some time reviewing it, taking notes and sharing it with your teams. If you want to better understand where Evans’ headspace is at, when it comes to mobile, you should also read his piece: 16 mobile theses (from December 2015). He’s right in saying that mobile is the new central ecosystem of tech, and can’t be compared to Web browsing. From his article…

“Each new generation of technology – each new ecosystem – is a step change in scale, and that new scale makes it the centre of innovation and investment in hardware, software and company creation. The mobile ecosystem, now, is heading towards perhaps 10x the scale of the PC industry, and mobile is not just a new thing or a big thing, but that new generation, whose scale makes it the new centre of gravity of the tech industry. Almost everything else will orbit around it.” 

Everything. Yes, everything. Think about cars, drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, Snapchat, wearable technology, bots, and whatever else is captivating your attention. The ecosystem – at the core – is mobile. With the user at the center, there is still one big, honking and unsolved challenge that faces brands in this amazing world that we live in…

How will anybody truly find your brand?

Many will be dazzled and amazed by the many charts, graphs and flows that Ben Evans uses in Mobile Is Eating The World to build a dramatic case for why brands need to innovate… now. For my dime, there was something much more subtle. It’s a couple of lines of text that appear on slide number 54. The slide states:

“For 20 years, PC internet mostly meant web browser + mouse + keyboard. Search (and later Facebook) dominated. Mobile unbundles the web into apps, apps into the OS (& other apps), breaks search. From stability to rapid ongoing change.” 

Mobile breaks search. Focus on this brands… focus!

This is true. This is painful. This is scary. Think about the current user experience. If you’re not an airline, bank etc… the user has no real reason to download your app, and keep it on their already-cluttered home screen. You’ve seen the data (or just keep clicking through the slides in Evans’ deck). When it comes to apps, they are over half of all Internet use (we are moving from desktop Web browsers to this platform, very rapidly), but one third of all app use is Facebook, and the rest of time consumers focus on less than a handful of other apps. Think about that. We went from a handful of network television channels (CBS, ABC, NBC, etc…), to a handful of Web portals (AOL, Yahoo, etc…), to a handful of social media platforms (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc…) to a handful of mobile apps. The saving grace used to be Google and search to dig into the niches and find that more specific kind of content.

Now what?   

If your app isn’t a daily utility (like banking), and a consumer needs/wants your content, how will they find it? They’ll do a search? They’ll search on the app store? They’ll find you on the app store, download the app, open the app… who isn’t already exhausted? There is no fluidity, etc… from app to app. Even the mobile browser experience feels like a shrunken-less-than version of the desktop. Search is no longer the needle’s eye that threads these many brand experiences from one to another, when it comes to mobile. Facebook’s search functionality has yet to truly serve the consumer in this fashion. This is – and will continue to be – a huge issue for brands. The solution seems simple enough: we need a better mobile search experience that enables consumers to access content, and share it much in the same way that the desktop/browser experience provided. Still, we’re not even close to a solution. Plus, that solution needs to have the same, look, feel and usability as the many apps that these consumers use on a daily basis (again, not just a dumbed down version of a website)

What this means for brand’s today?

More than ever, brands have to realize that Facebook (and other social networks) could well be the Internet for most consumers. Assuming that social media is just another paid advertising channel or a place to do digital experiential is a huge mistake. These platforms are crucial for content publishing, consumer engagement and to build deeper and more valuable connections. In short: while you’re competition is foolishly just advertising on these channels, take advantage of this to make your brand something that much more connected, as the ground shifts from desktop to mobile.

Mobile is eating the world… is your brand primed?