Open Up to Mobile Success

The web is dead. Apps are the future. Is tech blogger Robert Scoble on the mark when he makes this claim? It all depends on strategy.

As a channel to the customer, mobile apps offer significant advantages. They allow companies to generate increased awareness, encourage interaction, and boost loyalty. It’s no coincidence that media companies around the world are grasping the opportunity with both hands, producing an avalanche of smartphone apps and iPad apps aimed at getting their content in the hands of customers on the move.

At the other end of the spectrum, more companies are also making sure their mobile advertising campaigns end in a click-to-download call to action. In fact, the 2011 S.M.A.R.T. (Scorecard for Mobile Advertising Reach and Targeting) Year in Review report from independent mobile ad network and data platform company Millennial Media reveals that nearly one-third (32%) of mobile advertising campaigns directed us to download an app to our device. That’s pretty impressive if we consider that the more traditional post-click goal was the objective in 31% of campaigns, based on Millennial Media network data.

For many media companies the end game is about getting us to download and use their mobile apps. This interaction certainly lays the groundwork for an effective mobile strategy. But companies that have stockpiles of content can do and achieve much more.Take sports content giant ESPN Internet Ventures. In March, it quietly and cleverly launched a Developer Center, literally opening its doors to third-party developers and providing them access to its stockpile of editorial content, stats, and other data. As part of the launch, ESPN is making its Headlines API available, which will allow third parties to tap into the site’s daily news stories and headlines and to do cool things such as create a Top Stories summary to include in their apps.

ESPN, a pioneer that truly understood mobile’s potential before most, was already reporting back in 2008 that it had more traffic coming from mobile devices than traditional PCs. With mobile so deep in its corporate DNA, it’s exciting to read about this milestone move—and to think through what it could really mean.
Content, like knowledge, is only valuable when it is shared. Add mobile to the equation, and content also needs to be open to have true reach. ESPN needs little convincing, and I think other companies will follow its lead. It’s just the beginning of a wider shift that will surely see more content companies—even brands—open up their APIs to jump-start innovation around the content they own.

Media and content companies don’t only need to embrace mobile; they must also cultivate mobile developer communities. A recent post from technology news source TechCrunch sums it up best by quoting Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. He recently tweeted that APIs are self-serve business developments.
TechCrunch concludes that APIs are a business development catalyst. I would go one further. Open up your APIs, and you open up innovation that may help move your company a huge step forward.

It’s time for us all to take out and dust off Henry Chesbrough’s milestone book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting From Technology and read it with mobile in mind. Chesbrough famously argued that companies must be open to good ideas wherever they find them. To this end, companies should leverage the range of capabilities available in both their businesses and their business ecosystems. And they must “leverage multiple paths to market—even if the path to success is through another company’s business.”

I’m sure Chesbrough would agree the approach does not just apply to heavy industry sectors such as automotive, pharmaceuticals, and high-tech he was addressing when he wrote the book in 2003. Media and content companies that open up their APIs can likewise unleash a torrent of business innovation, enabling developers to build value-adding mobile apps.

If you take the time to connect the dots, you’ll find that mobile developers are more than the next innovators. They are also becoming stakeholders in an extended ecosystem where they provide the ideas and apps that allow media companies to extend their reach, grow their audience, and master the challenges of doing business in a multichannel, multidevice, multimedia world.