Mapping Out A Mobile Strategy

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Using Location to Make Content More Meaningful
Content creators can layer mobile-specific functionality on top of digital content to make it bite-sized, manageable, and more useful. By drawing on outside context such as location and user data, they can also fine-tune results to focus in on the user's immediate needs. Hoover's, Inc., which offers data on companies' vital statistics for marketers and analysts, offers a mobile app called Hoover's Near Here. Available in the App Store, Hoover's Near Here allows iPhone and iPod touch users to pull up corporate information based on a range of selected criteria, from location to company size and industry.

"We realized that what a user of Hoover's information at the computer wants to do is completely different from the tasks they want to complete on the road," says Lindsay Duran, product marketing manager at Hoover's. "Just republishing volumes of content on a mobile platform isn't that effective. Each of the apps that we've released is focused on trying to solve one particular problem for a mobile database."

The app combines information about the user's whereabouts with a map application that draws company details from Hoover's database, as defined by the user's preset preferences. Duran says the app was inspired by users such as her brother, a nutritional supplement distributor who taps Hoover's Near Here to see what potential clients he might be near and takes data provided by Hoover's to determine whether or not to drop in and attempt to leverage his trip into a new sales opportunity.

"The approach that a lot of companies take is simply to re-create their site on a mobile platform," Duran says. "That's not really that useful. Rather than trying to build a list of 10,000 companies, we're giving them at most 100 companies for each search. It's more about filling that immediate need on a mobile device, versus filling that larger business need."

Since the app launched in March 2010, Hoover's has drawn from users' experiences to make adjustments to fit the improvements in mobile functionality. For instance, the app now integrates information from users' address books and written notes, and the company plans to launch apps for other OS platforms, such as Android.

"Functionality from an app standpoint is easily mimicked," Duran says. "The data behind it is not. The value is really in the data, and what you can do with it, and how creative you can be in displaying that."

Making Mobile Results More Relevant
Smaller screens and more focused browsing forces digital content creators to think more strategically about how to deliver results that are targeted to the individual niche each user occupies, delivering highly relevant information along with pinpoint accuracy. "When you have a market that serves a lot of different interests across a lot of geographic boundaries, it's an opportunity for products that do deep-level targeting," Rosen says. "The challenge is and will be, you can target all you want, you can be like a laser getting down to the right information, but you have to have the right sources."

To cut through the clutter, companies are finding themselves thinking critically about how related functions, such as search, can work in a mobile setting to make the user experience easier.

Expert System S.p.A., an Italian company specializing in semantic search solutions, has developed a product called COGITO Answers software that allows mobile and wireless web users to submit questions via SMS and get an answer based on a semantic analysis of the question matched with structured data.

The local chamber of commerce in the region of Trentino, Italy, taps COGITO Answers to run its local information service. Users can send in queries via SMS, and the software will crunch the number, order, and context of the words to return the most relevant results it can. The system fields roughly 12,500 messages a month, with the most popular demands centering around questions such as the hours and location of the nearest pharmacy.

"The biggest challenge is that you have to be very precise," says Bryan Bell, vice president of enterprise solutions at Expert System. "With a mobile phone, which has a fairly small screen, a company needs to make sure that they're not only delivering the right answer, but in a usable way on a small screen. It really builds the power of semantics and mobile telecom-type applications."

COGITO also builds a feedback loop that gathers real-time information from users about whether the results met their needs, Bell says, in order to improve accuracy and hone semantic patterns. "As people become more mobile, and their phones are becoming a bigger part of their lives, they're going to be sending in more questions from their phones or computers," Bell says. "In a desktop environment, bringing back a lot of answers might work, but in the mobile future, companies are going to need to be able to say, I will allow you to ask one question and we'll give you the right answer most of the time, and then give you a feedback loop."

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