With an avalanche of mobile content coming online this year, subscribers can't say they don't have choices. They can complain about the tedious navigation process and confusing hierarchical menus they must endure to find and buy content, however. Navigation on mobile devices is particularly cumbersome, and most usability research suggests that users give up after 12 clicks or 30 seconds. Little wonder the industry is so excited about mobile search—thought by many to be a silver-bullet solution that will allow companies to present content within an acceptable click-distance and make that all-important sale.
This euphoria could be short-lived. An increasing number of content companies worry that mobile search schemes—like paid search, which showcases content from the company that pays the most—could lure users away from the very sites many content companies have bet their bottom line to build. And right they are. The message came through loud and clear at the industry's first mobile search and discovery conference in London, organized by Informa Telecoms to launch its industry report (which I authored) about mobile search and content discovery.
"Content owners and brands want subscribers to come directly to their sites and not be directed by search engine results to explore their competitors' portals," remarked Peter Walker, VP of strategy at Bango, which offers a platform that enables content providers to market, sell, and deliver directly to users on all mobile networks.
Mobile content providers are also increasingly disappointed with operator portals, as they often showcase only a fraction of available content. After all, most operators' mobile portals are organized according to a one-size-fits-all policy, which exacerbates the navigation problem. Clearly, content owners and brands need to adopt a different and more proactive approach to rise above the noise and present their content where users can see and buy it.
A welcome solution is a new breed of software that effectively automates and personalizes the delivery and display of mobile content directly on the user's device. Put simply, these solutions enable content owners and brands to deliver branded portal content on mobile phones through a client application. By downloading the software, users gain 24/7 access to the content as well as updates, promotions, or special offers. This powerful client software leverages the handset's capabilities to deliver a more appealing user experience, increase service awareness, and streamline purchasing.
In my recent report, I profiled several of these companies, which I call on-handset portal providers. The market is crowding fast, with more than a dozen vendors jockeying for position including Nellymoser, Action Engine, Cibenix, Leiki, and SurfKitchen. One gaining traction with content companies is RefreshMobile. The company, which is the result of a management buyout of T-Mobile's News Express product, enables publishers to deliver mobile magazines (mobizines) in return for a revenue-share agreement with the content provider.
RefreshMobile's solution allows content companies to populate on-handset portals with content they already use in other channels, such as print and broadcast. In addition to delivering content updates quickly to the handset, mobizines collate detailed records on what the user reads, allowing content companies to serve up relevant content and additional services such as targeted promotions and competitions.
Condé Nast Online editor-in-chief Abi Chisman, who oversees the online activities of many major lifestyle magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Glamour, understands the power of an on-handset presence. As she put it, "Mobizines offer a rich, dynamic, stylish way to present our content, over which we have more control, as well as integrated ad formats that our clients will respond to." Moreover, mobizines allow her company to reach its most loyal readers directly and deliver relevant content immediately. And according to Scott Beaumont, RefreshMobile CEO, if content companies do their own graphical design, they can get a mobizine up and running for "a few thousand dollars." In the future, RefreshMobile aims to offer an even easier, less expensive tool ("at almost zero cost").
The pieces for mobile content discovery are coming together and the excitement is building. It's Web publishing all over—only this time it's about meeting the demand from the content companies for easy tools to present and update content for delivery directly to users' mobile phones. Add the potential for personalized and localized content offers, and each of us can create, distribute, and share content with our audiences anywhere, any time.