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12 mobile marketing secrets you need to know

12 mobile marketing secrets you need to know Joseph Carrabis

You have a mobile phone, correct? So does your partner, your kids, your co-workers, your neighbors, your neighbors' kids, and most of the neighborhood pets, yes? Nexius estimates that 93 percent of the U.S. population is using mobiles, and Pew reported more than half with smartphones. Fully one-quarter of the U.S. population was on an Android, iPhone, or a similar mobile device in 2013.

12 mobile marketing secrets you need to know

With that kind of buying power out there, you better get it right.

NextStage researched mobile marketing conversion drivers in the U.S. and Canada and published "Want to Be Loved? Go Mobile!" in the Winter 2013 International Journal of Mobile Marketing. There's no better way to say it: If you want consumers to brand-identify, create a branded mobile experience for them.

Is there a catch? Of course there is. This is marketing. Fortunately those catches can be eliminated by good science. NextStage's research used self-selecting (voluntary) visitors to sites in NextStage's client inventory and covered devices from web TV to desktop to laptop to notebook to netbook to tablet to mobile. OSs covered Windows, Android, iOS, and a variety of web TV platforms.

This article summarizes the top 12 research findings.

Consumers are branded faster on mobiles than any other device

The length of time between a brand message being received on a mobile device and being acted upon by the consumer is recognizably shorter than that same brand message being received on other personal communication devices.

Psycho-cognitive and psycho-emotive factors are more strongly in play when individuals have a device in their hands -- literally -- than when they're sitting at it or controlling it via remote from across a room. The psycho-haptic ("what I can touch is real") immediacy of the interaction gives it far greater psychological meaning and power than being branded on any other device.

Consumers' responses to mobile brand messages are polarized with no middle ground

Consumers will respond with a yes or no with no middle ground (polarized emotional responses) to a brand message received on a mobile device more often than on other personal communication devices.

This polarized response is again due to the immediacy of the interaction. Your brand message has intruded or asked for the consumer's attention. It has to deliver immediately. Take too long, and you're a nuisance regardless of the ultimate benefit. All your competitors are promising ultimate benefits, too. In the end, the question is speed of delivery, not content delivered.

Consumers believe a mobile brand message is more reliable/trustworthy than a branded message on other devices

Consumers believe brand messages are more trustworthy when received on mobile devices than on other personal communication devices because mobile users self-identify with their mobile device. They are "vested" in them ("skins" are an affect of this). This vesting translates into trust because people need to trust themselves, and whatever someone self-identified with must also be trusted. 

Consumers are more likely to respond positively to a mobile brand message than branding messages on other devices

Consumers responded positively to brand messages on mobile devices more often than they did to similar brand messages delivered on other personal communication devices. The tendency to brand positive is an aftereffect of polarization and vesting.

Branded content that would elicit neutral responses on any other platform leaned positive because the content is on my mobile (hence trusted and vested), therefore the content must be useful, and I don't know it yet.

But don't push it. Too many neutral-to-positive leanings, and brand betrayal sneaks in. The nuisance factor takes control, and you've lost your mobile audience.

Mobile specific sites offer poor user experiences

The majority of mobile owners don't visit mobile sites unless they have to. You may have great mobile traffic numbers and check them carefully against hard money outcomes. In the U.S. and Canada, well over 90 percent of responses could be summed up by one NYC based attorney's: "Mobile sites? I visit sites, I prefer the non-mobile versions. The mobile versions seem to offer limited or harder to disseminate content."

Mobile users set their mobile browsers to download desktop sites if they needed to get something done.

Mobile sites require ternary logic designs to direct users toward outcomes

Most people are familiar with binary logic -- yes/no, up/down, on/off, 1/0. Binary logic trees are simple to design and intuitive to use because they offer a simple to understand pattern. This becomes the traditional menu system of "Click here, get this information/page." It works wonderfully for large systems (desktops and such), but not at all for small systems (mobiles and tablets).

The reasons are purely psychological. More correctly, the reasons are purely psycho-haptic.

Placing increasing power into people's hands implies increased responsibilities. Nobody's worried about launching missiles from their mobile, and the increased focus and attention required to use mobile interfaces translates into a psycho-haptic need to navigate a middle ground.

This is where ternary logic -- -1, 0, +1 -- comes in. Provide users with a middle ground in the decision tree, and they'll take it almost every time. Just make sure the middle option is the option you want them to take. Survey designers have known about this quirk for years and are only now using its power in mobile interface design.

Mobile menu systems must be iconographic to communicate purpose and goal as rapidly as possible

Users are becoming increasingly aware that mobile devices are also time-sinks and that their best multi-tasking abilities aren't up to mobile-in-the-environment exchanges. The resulting requirement is that objectives (what do I get if I do this?) be as efficiently communicated as possible. The evolution of all language systems is to communicate the greatest amount of information in the least possible time (hence the rise of jargon and cultural idiom).

Mobile interface "jargon and cultural idiom" become an obvious visual-to-objective menu system so that users know before acting that this option is the correct option for what they want to do.

Misunderstood icons mean lost time and wasted movements. The level of frustration demonstrated by pressing an incorrect icon was far greater than the frustration of having to go back a link in a desktop browser, again due to the concept of my device betraying me (not doing what I wanted). But my device can't betray me because it's part of my identity. Therefore you, the brand, betrayed me. Not good.

In a world where having information seconds before someone else does, the obvious clicks -- positive and negative, desired and undesired outcomes -- will always sell the brand and device.

The best mobile interfaces cause a rebranding every time the user has the mobile devices in their hands regardless of whether the user is visiting branded content

Mobile users keep physical contact with their mobiles for long periods of times, far longer than any other device, save medieval weaponry. What medieval weaponry and mobiles have in common is ego-identification (are you an iPhone person, an Android, ...?). People used to believe their weapons had power of their own, and the psych profiles of habitual mobile users show similar attitudes toward their mobile devices.

Mobile users who had a positive branding experience will relive or "savor" that experience to some degree just by carrying their mobile devices in their hands. They won't necessarily be aware of it, but that mobile branding will be burying itself deep in their non-conscious minds.

Remember what we explained above, however: A negative experience will be directly attributed to the brand, not the device. That negative experience will be carried in their hands and will be distinctly remembered as the brand's failure, not the mobile users', which is another big ouch.

Users who are negative to a brand can be redeemed via improved mobile experiences

Consumers who have negative, non-mobile branding experiences can be brought back into the brand family via good mobile experiences.

Consumers may have a strong negative emotional relationship to a given brand, based on non-mobile interactions, and they are more willing to become completely positive rather than completely negative about a brand if they have a rewarding mobile branding experience.

Simpler interfaces with easier to identify targets and rewards will dominate future mobile properties

Easily identifiable targets and rewards demonstrate polarity values -- good/bad, yes/no, success/failure). This is currently seen in available mobile games' lowest difficulty play levels.

These low-difficulty levels provide training and hooks for consumers; the easy wins are encouragement to buy more advanced games with higher difficulty levels.

Brands need to make use of mobile gaming user psychology studies when designing apps and sites.

Think "microsites"

Businesses must determine the spending potential of their mobile audience sector and let that determine the sophistication of their mobile property spend. The best mobile properties will resemble microsites -- single purpose and visitors either converted or moved on. In either case, the consumer's time-cost is minimal.

Create branded apps with social factors rather than mobile sites

Mobile users hand their device to others to demonstrate and validate a fact or datum. Imagine doing that with your desktop.

This "let me show you" behavior gives branded mobile users greater social influencer value due to the immediacy of sharing mobile-based results. The response and reaction times to shared mobile content averaged 75 percent less than similar content shared via other platforms.

This greater social influencer value also carried into offline social settings. The trusted mobile user is trusted in person, regardless of having their mobile devices in their hands, far more easily (with some exceptions) than a person who shared through other media.

Branded apps, with social factors, cause branding decisions to be made at the fastest cognitive-decision speeds.

But beware; increase in social cognition comes at a savorability price. Anticipation is a far stronger driver than having in many age groups. Once something is obtained it's essentially ticked-off the mental "must have" checklist and out of mind and experience.

The good side to this is that mobile branded networks, perhaps an extension of social shopping, could create stronger and more active branded communities offline.


NextStage expanded its mobile research and studied mobile drivers and patterns in more than 100 countries, and the results are an alert to online anthropologists; the device is driving the experience regardless of culture, language, and ethnic boundaries. What works here truly does work there.

In all countries, best mobile marketing practices come down to psycho- and neuro-economic attention cost considerations. Want your brand to be loved on the mobile marketplace? Be prepared to meet users' attention costs with highly functional, objective oriented interfaces.

Joesph Carrabis is the founder and chief research officer for NextStage Evolution.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Blond happy girl with her Chihuahua doggy" image via Shutterstock.


Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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