The Mobile Imperative

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There’s a sad truth about mobile, but I don’t want to hear it.

Smartphones are becoming more and more popular and the same can be said about the meteoric rise of the tablet (with the iPad as the clear leader), but even with all of the impressive numbers, we’re still looking at a penetration rate amongst the general population of anywhere between 25% – 35% (depending on which research group you want to believe) for smartphones. Beyond the low penetration, it’s also important to note that within that small percentage, it’s even smaller when it comes to people that are paying for apps, downloading apps and actually using apps (we’ve all seen the depressing stats surrounding this in a myriad of different places). Making things even more complex are the telco companies who are still charging confusing fee structures for mobile data. As you’ll note, text messaging is not the same as mobile Web and different devices use different amounts of data (and we’re not even talking about the complete confusion or price gouging that happens when you roam beyond your country of origin). Beyond that (as if that’s not enough!), it’s hard to get adoption of smartphones to become ubiquitous if consumers are locked into three-year contracts, etc…

It’s too small for most Marketers.

It’s not only too small, but it seems like faster adoption may not be happening if all of those spokes can’t get the tire to spin faster and much smoother. It’s hard to convince a large brand to think about mobile when they just don’t see the uptake and motion from the consumer. It’s an ever bigger challenge to stop brands from thinking about mobile as a strictly transactional type of advertising ("ping the consumer with an offer when they’re near our stores!") and get them to see mobile as a consumer platform instead of an advertising channel (or to think about mobile from a utilitarian marketing perspective). The cost, effort and general stress of transitioning their current digital ecosystem over to mobile is also a daunting task. While HTML5 could well cure a lot of the woes, it’s still an expensive endeavor to get everything they’re doing "mobile friendly."

Don’t let purgatory get you down.

I often lament this moment in time as being one where us Marketers are trapped in media purgatory. It’s not heaven… it’s not hell… it’s somewhere in the middle. The challenge is what we all do at this unique moment in time. The skeptics see the data above as half-empty… I see it as half-full and rising. The reason why I don’t want to hear the woes of low smartphone adoption or the challenges of data charges and long-term phone contracts is that I believe – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that mobile is everything and that mobile is our future (and that future is not as far off as the data may lead us to believe). Fixed screens will simply be places that we toss our cloud-based content, marketing and advertising to for convenience. I believe that smartphones (and devices like the iPad and others that have yet to be created) will be the source of our ever-growing connectivity, and that everything else will just be a big dumb terminal or a piece of glass for viewing (for more on that: The One Screen World).

How long will mobile ubiquity take?

Some are stuck on trying to figure out if this is "the year of mobile"… I am not. It’s not relevant to me (it probably already happened… who knows?). I’m more curious to see how mobile connectivity benchmarks and trends with the ubiquity of other utilities  like electricity, phones, home heating and beyond. What I am convinced of is this: mobile ubiquity is coming fast (very fast). If you think that most brands still struggle with the Web, e-commerce and Social Media, I’m proud to state that I think mobile – and how it will connect us – will make everything else look like a joke… a blip in time. This doesn’t diminish or change what’s happening for marketers in-market now. Brand advertising is (and will be) important going forward. The same for loyalty, analytics, data, and every other media channel we’re currently engaged with (my saying, "everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of’" still rings true), but the majority of media will (without question) be consumed and created on some type of mobile device.

The question is: do you get going now, wait for it to take more hold or try and catch up after it’s too late?


  1. I’m seeing huge mobile uptake in a large community I administer. Mobile seems like a terrible way to read a forum, but both browser and app-driven views are exploding. My advice for any site, even those that don’t think mobile is important now, is to get ahead of the curve and make sure everything is mobile friendly plus offer an app if appropriate.
    Mobile isn’t all the same, either. The iPad offers a different experience. and that’s visible in analytics. That also means that an iPhone app will probably suck on an iPad.

  2. Tye earlier that brands are on mobile, to one extent or another, the earlier they can start trying different things to see what works. It’s clear that you have the same interaction channels as the standard web, but with mobile there are a whole load of new interaction cases that could be interesting.
    Moreover, mobile is much more personal in a way that is less true than the web. It’s hard to really conceptualize that, but your phone is with you all the time, how you interact with your tablet is different to your computer.
    Mobile is not easy for marketeers, but I totally agree that it’s essential to embrace this channel!

  3. Two immediate thoughts:
    1) Companies get caught in thinking that their mobile strategy needs to be exclusively about the customer. However, there is a huge opportunity for mobile in the enterprise. Just consider the work that companies like Apperian are doing with internal app stores for sales support, mobile CRM, and back-office functions.
    2) I don’t think you should conflate mobile and ubiquitous storage/access (cloud). Big screens are still better for some content; speakers are better than earbuds. As long as mobile devices are small and portable, they will be useful for drive-by check-in stuff, on-the-fly search, email triage and quick messaging, but run a distant second for content consumption.
    2a) On the other hand, as soon as your mobile device becomes the storage/player (as it already is with services like MOG and Spotify) and it just needs a dock to run your at home sound system, then maybe mobile IS the center of the universe!

  4. Great post Mitch, the biggest hurdle for marketing organisations is the gamble of how they implement their mobile strategy.
    Companies that have developed early for a single platform (iOS for E.G) are now faced with developing on additional platforms or developing web friendly version of their desktop sites.
    Ensuring websites are able to adapt to any screen is key (apps and other environments can be used as specific campaign & branding exercises).
    A fantastic example of have seen of an adaptive website is – best viewed on a web browser and reduce the size of the browser to see the adaptive changes.
    Intelligent design, built for multiple environments is the best way to hit this ever changing target.

  5. Mobile will be how most people connect to the web in less than 3 years…probably sooner. It’s how I connect for all my non-work surfing. The iPad greatly facilitated this for me.

  6. @Joe – this design concept is called “Responsive Design”. The Boston Globe used it for their recent design too, and I think there is a lot of merit to it, but I’m not sure it delivers an optimum mobile experience. However, when there are limited funds, it can be the best option.
    I think there is a difference between tablets and smartphones too. Tablets do a great job of rendering standard webpages, whereas smartphones do not. So the need to provide a specific experience for the smartphone may be greater.

  7. Although the transition to adapting internet as a new form of communication channel is still emerging, mobile smart phones and now even tablets have really changed the landscape for businesses again, requiring them to adapt to a new competitive marketing field just to stay with the game.

  8. Hey Mitch, great post and starter fuel for some strong comments.
    But I think you’re working with some flawed assumptions about penetration rates and importance. You need to see some actual data to see the real promise.
    Across the mobile world user behaviour is far ahead of what companies expect and what is reported, particularly in social and e-commerce. Basically, the shift among the most desirable audiences is way faster than companies are keeping up with.
    All the eMarketer reports and info graphics in the world won’t prepare you to see a mobile website launch and pay for itself in less than a week in incremental new revenue.
    If you’d like to review some real data from mobile traffic — we power 18,000+ on the Mobify Platform — I’d be glad to help you see the difference between projections, poll numbers and the real metrics.
    Seem like some good fodder for a follow-up post?

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