Mobile's Near Future: The Impact on Business

Our mobile phones have become so tethered to our everyday lives that soon they'll become more important than our wallets. In fact, a recent multi-country poll conducted by market research firm Synovate found that 25 percent of people would rather lose their wallets than their cell phones.

These small, portable devices allow us to do virtually everything: communicate, shop, bank, access information, watch videos, listen to music, play video games, take photos, and stay organized and on schedule.

In emerging markets, where PCs are often prohibitively expensive, mobile phones are vital to staying connected and important for boosting economies. Already, many are using their basic mobile phones as electronic wallets, replacing traditional banks with "mobile money."

The growing impact of mobile was demonstrated recently by the American Red Cross, which raised more than $32 million for Haiti earthquake relief in just over a month. The ease and convenience of sending a text message to make a $10 donation (automatically charged to your cell phone bill) showed the power of the medium to rally a nation.

Indeed, the mobile revolution is helping to lead the shift from the Information Age to the Connected Age.

What does this mean for businesses?

In the long term, mobile devices could replace TVs and the Web as the primary connection point to consumers. The benefits are evident:

  • Instant access: Instant reception means instant reaction.
  • Personalized: Mobile marketing can be targeted to the precise needs of individuals.
  • Experiential: Emphasis is on experience and ease rather than on inundating consumers with every piece of content out there. For example, HP's mobile printing.
  • Effective: Recall is high for mobile marketing, especially for campaigns that provide solid value in simple ways.
  • Integrated: Easily inserted into a company's entire marketing ecosystem.
  • Established: Mature infrastructure and networks are in place (and improving steadily). The soon-to-be-launched 4G network will only increase speed and security.
  • Green: Mobile saves paper and energy. GQ and Esquire are making moves toward mobile publishing with their Apple iPhone apps.
  • Augmented reality: Overlaying digital information on physical environments.

While mobile marketing plays a supporting role for now in most integrated marketing strategies, its potential to be as effective as TV and Web is evident because it provides the right content in the right context.

Take a BMW mobile campaign in Germany. The auto company created a highly targeted yet rather basic MMS promotion that sent customers personalized messages with specific tire recommendations. The $60,000 campaign resulted in $45 million in sales and a 30 percent conversion rate.

The success stories of the American Red Cross and BMW will drive renewed interest in simpler mobile solutions like SMS and mobile Web, especially as more mobile work is done in emerging markets. Brands will have to be smart and create fluid solutions that change based on the audience and region; there rarely is a one-size-fits-all solution in mobile.

The big story for 2009 in the U.S. was the explosion of Apple's iPhone App Store, but iPhone apps are not the answer for every market.

Apps have had a huge impact on the growth of mobile: Apple boasts over 140,000 apps and over 5 billion downloads since its App Store launched. But other app stores like BlackBerry, Android, and Ovi are growing quickly.

And brands will have to take them into account given that Apple doesn't have the same market share in other parts of the world as it has in the U.S.

Apps are a great opportunity but also a challenge because the mobile landscape is fragmented--an app designed for a BlackBerry isn't compatible with other devices, causing brands to create multiple versions or to choose the most effective of the bunch. Brands that can't solve this challenge risk not connecting with hundreds of millions of consumers.

And that's why industry initiatives like the Joint Innovation Lab are organizing the world's largest mobile carriers to create unified standards that will allow apps to work across multiple devices.

Another reason for mobile's momentum is the fact that smartphone prices are dropping so quickly they'll soon be accessible to nearly everyone. In addition, some companies, like Verizon, are offering 2-for-1 deals on their smartphones, helping to bring more devices into the marketplace.

Industry analysts are predicting that by 2013, there will be more smartphones on the planet than either TVs or PCs. At that time, we'll start to see more people accessing the Web via their mobile phones than via their laptops, a trend that's already taking hold in some parts of the world. That will cause an even bigger fundamental shift in the media landscape.

What to do?

To make the most of mobile, companies must stay true to the values of the Connected Age (i.e., accessibility, transparency, authenticity, responsiveness), while devoting the same energy, budgets, and talent as they do to other channels. Brands must create a compelling mobile presence that provides anything a consumer may want or need.

Companies must also develop compelling mobile services like product comparisons and "text help" features to facilitate better purchase decisions and stronger sales among consumers shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

Finally, brands must build fun, useful, social experiences that will deepen consumers' relationships with a brand. Time is precious, so give them a valid reason to connect with your brand.