It's hard to believe that just a few short years ago tablets didn't exist, and there was no such thing as a smartphone. But that was then. Mobile devices have emerged as perhaps the greatest disruptive technology in recent history. According to Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, about 31% of adults now own a tablet computer (about three times the number from 2011), and 45% of adults own a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011.
Competition is fierce with major players such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon competing for a share of this rapidly emerging market. As they compete, content providers are kept on their toes trying to predict which technology will rule so they can determine which platforms will drive their content.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
In 2013, the big news about mobile content was growth. So much growth, in fact, that it has been difficult for content providers to keep up with emerging trends and options. The past year has really been one of reflection and experimentation, with most organizations "behind the curve" when it comes to the use of mobile, says Russ Danner, VP of products with Crafter Software in Reston, Va. "Almost everybody we talk to is saying, ‘I'm seeing the change happen, we need to get out in front of this as quickly as possible.'
"The writing is on the wall-the traditional laptop/desktop experience is going to continue to be a factor, but more and more we're going to see people coming to our sites on their phones or on their tablets and the way they want to interact when they're on those devices is going to change," he says.
It is no longer a question of whether content providers need to embrace mobile, says Megan Cunningham, the founder and CEO of Magnet Media in New York City. It's now a question of how soon and in what manner.
The problem is, while many realize that mobile is a factor, they're not quite sure how to use it effectively. "There has been a tremendous amount of development and there are a lot of new criteria in terms of thinking about the user experience in addition to the mobile strategy," says Cunningham. "Putting apps aside, there is probably more of a gap in brands' understanding of mobile usage than there is in any other area of digital strategy right now," she says. "I think it presents a huge opportunity for those who want to get serious about mobile because, from my perspective, very few brands are doing it well."
While interest is strong, effective execution is lagging. In October, Forrester Research released the report "Digital Technology: The Organizational Quandary," commissioned by Qubit, a U.K.-based technology firm. The study suggests that, while marketing technology is well-supported, it is not being implemented effectively to achieve organizational goals.
Content providers need to think carefully about how consumers are interacting with their devices, says Danner. "When they're on a smartphone, they have a small display, they're usually walking around, they're out in public doing things and so they need their experiences to be actionable." So, for instance, if they're at the airport and they're looking at the airline's website, "They don't care about marketing stuff," he says. "What they care about is, ‘Can I check into my flight?' or ‘Can I see the status of the flight of the person I'm supposed to pick up?'" The smartphone experience, he stresses, needs to be actionable.
"I don't know that most marketers or even C-suite executives have really engaged with the opportunities that mobile commerce represents," says Cunningham. "There's a lot of interest and yet there's a gap between the interest level and the implementation."
A LOOK AHEAD
It is safe to predict that the mobile environment will see continued growth in 2014. In fact, Forrester's October 2013 research shows that 53% of those responding indicate that they will build out their mobile channels within the next 12 months. What remains to be seen, though, is how.
Faced with an ongoing proliferation of tools, platforms, and delivery methods, the future is really anyone's guess when it comes to the mobile environment. One thing, though, remains certain: There is a lot of opportunity for continued disruptive innovation in this space.
The digital experience is absolutely going to continue to be more and more mobile-dominant, says Danner. Apps, he says, will continue to be important because they can be used to create "really unique experiences with rich data applications and they can take advantage of every feature on the device."
In addition, says Danner, a big thing to watch for in 2014 is the emergence of wearable devices such as smart watches and Google Glass. "It's not just the visual stuff," he says, "it's Jawbone that tracks your calories and stuff built into your clothing to sort of monitor your activity. I just think that if you really look at the next 3 years there's going to be a lot of investment in trying to take advantage of the fact that there's internet everywhere."
Cunningham agrees. "I think there is [an] opportunity for disrupters to come in and gain market share in a lot of areas," she says.
"We believe that brands are sort of stuck on producing too much content and there is a lack of strategy and a lack of thinking about the reach that they experience and the engagement. Think/make/reach is really around taking content marketing to the next level and in 2014 I think mobile is going to be at the forefront of that," Cunningham says.
For content providers, the challenge will be finding relevant ways to connect with consumers who are inundated with inputs from multiple sources. "People are almost constantly online, but [their] attention span is tiny and so you have all these voices vying for your attention," says Danner. "The only way to initiate and maintain an interesting or meaningful conversation with the consumer is to get targeted and relevant to them, because you've got to cut through the noise and you've got to figure out a way to get really relevant, really quick-and you've got to do that in a way that doesn't violate privacy issues or cross a line."
Not easy to do, but it's a must do, says Danner. "If you don't try to target your message, you're just not going to stand out and somebody else is going to get that conversation going."