While smartphone technology has been around since the early 1990s, it was Apple's release of the iPhone in 2007 that made it cool to be "smart." Today, according to Pew Research Internet Project's January 2014 research, more than 90% of American adults have a cellphone-58% have smartphones. Others put the adoption much higher. Regardless, there is no question that the use of smartphones is on an upward spiral. Marketers have taken notice and reached out to consumers through a wide range of mobile advertising options, from pop-up ads and videos to native advertising, in-app advertising, and more.
Peggy Anne Salz is an expert in mobile search, mobile marketing, and mobile technologies. She is the founder of MobileGroove and the co-author of The Everything Guide to Mobile Apps. Despite the easy-to-understand focus on the technology, though, Salz says that marketers whose focus includes basic customer engagement have an edge. Technology, she says, "should not cloud the issue or the core of what we're discussing here, which is, ‘How do I connect with my customers?'"
In 2014, she saw a shift back to the basics. "The discussion has finally moved on, and we're completely focused on the user experience and user interface. The user is finally central where they should have been from the start-but it took us a while."
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Mobile exploded in 2014. In fact, Monetate's "Ecommerce Quarterly Report" (EQ2 2014) indicates that mobile traffic increased 120% during the past year, overtaking traffic from tablets, which grew by only 35% (desktop traffic, as might be expected, was relatively flat). The report also indicates that revenue from mobile devices is on the rise. Ready-to-buy consumers can make purchases faster on mobile than they can on tablets or desktops. Larger screen sizes and improved payment systems are making these transactions easier, driving mobile commerce.
"We have moved well beyond the simple start of banner ads and text messaging into real-time, digital experiences with many new tools available via mobile apps as well as the mobile devices' built-in functionality," says Christina Trampota, managing partner of CGM Squared, a consulting firm. She points to Vine and Instagrams' Hyperlapse as examples of these new tools. "Many brands have already used them in their digital campaigns, and this will continue to increase,
especially when the target is the Millennial population," she says.
Bryan Hill is the CTO for Cadient, a niche digital marketing agency based in King of Prussia, Pa. In 2014, mobile marketers were able to leverage content ecosystems, responsive web design, and text messaging/testing, Hill says. In terms of content ecosystems, Hill states, "Discoverability is and will be driven by social media connections, mobile-optimized content, and location-aware services." Consequently, "preparing content for users' context is key."
Responsive web design takes into consideration the fact that users interact with multiple devices. They may start a search on a mobile and then move to a desktop to complete the process (or vice versa). "Providing coherent content experiences that scale from handheld smartphones to large flat panel displays" was a focus of marketers this year, according to Hill.
Texting has continued to be a focus with mobile polling, lead acquisitions, and alerts/notifications/reminders-all effective and useful tools for mobile marketers, says Hill. "Text communication has become the primary use for handheld devices."
What's not working so well are QR codes. However, he says, "While this never really has taken off other than for very specific transactional tasks, the next generation of image recognition may serve a greater purpose in marketing and communications."
The fifth annual Retail Information Systems (RIS)/Cognizant "Shopper Experience Study" (of about 5,300 respondents around the globe) provides some insights into the current behaviors and future desires of mobile consumers. The study suggests that "the power of mobility is vastly underutilized and often poorly delivered." Less than half of those responding indicated satisfaction with their mobile experiences. With 91% of respondents indicating they had a mobile device-and those numbers continuing to grow-content marketers need to think about what 2015 will hold in terms of both opportunities and challenges.
A LOOK AHEAD
One big challenge mobile marketers will face in 2015 is growing consumer concern over the privacy of their data. The RIS/Cognizant study showed that "68% of shoppers say they are not willing to share personal information from social networks." According to the study, respondents were also resistant to sharing credit card information (69%), online browsing behavior (61%), household information (64%), and phone numbers (61%). According to the authors of the study, the big takeaway is this: "Retailers need to earn permission from skeptical shoppers before using personal information for marketing purposes."
Beyond ongoing privacy concerns that marketers must address, Salz says, "The main attraction in 2015 is the individual, the person, the user." In 2015, she says, "Marketing 101 meets Mobile 101, and we're going to start to see some real results because we're going to start to focus on what really matters." And, she stresses, what really matters is the user experience.
That experience is likely to extend beyond mobile to wearable devices, which are just beginning to emerge. "Wearables like Google Glass and iWatch add yet another layer of convenience not found with mobile phones," says Justin Emig, a search marketing manager with Web Talent Marketing in Lancaster, Pa. "The Internet of Things is going to make a major impact in mobile over the course of the next 2 years," predicts Emig. "How will mobile interact when all of our devices are talking to each other? We will be in a more autonomous world in which our phones-or wearables-can control many aspects of our life."
A critical consideration here, says Salz, is that mobile is not an endpoint or even a single point of access. It is, increasingly, one of many. Mobile marketers are involved in a multiscreen experience, "if not omnichannel, and we're going to start to get our heads around what I've been writing about for a year-the ability for mobile to blend out digital and physical worlds," she says.
These possibilities and the potential for mobile marketers are compelling, and it can be easy to get caught up in the technology that makes it all possible. Ultimately, though, Salz asserts, effective mobile marketing will continue to follow "very, very simple rules that will not change-not in 2015 and never beyond."