In the ongoing discussion about the "year of mobile," most of the industry has come to realize that we are now talking about something much bigger. The question and the answer have both changed.
We're far more tied to wireless and the mobile web than many of us expected, even a few short years ago. I recently brought down the Wi-Fi in my apartment by accident, and was essentially brought back to living in pre-internet times. Not quite the stone age, but very disconnected from what we've grown to expect. Phone, iPad, laptop, security alarms, and music were all inaccessible, showing exactly how chained we are to fluid connectivity. "Mobile" today is not a singular device, but a galaxy of connected systems.
Is the problem real?
To channel a riff by Louis C.K., it seems "everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy." The cell phone has jumped from making calls, to supporting email, to a touchscreen pocket computer in less than a decade, which is an incredible pace. Louis couldn't be more right -- we live in a world where everything is connected, but the second Wi-Fi goes down, we curse it all.
You could look at mobile marketing in the same light. Even with growing smartphone sales, increased mobile internet usage, and all the ways internet-connected mobile devices have changed our lives, marketers still have further expectations about mobile becoming a dominant ad channel in the mythic "year of mobile." If mobile is a disappointment right now, then the industry is taking a painfully short view of history. It takes time for technology to mature. For example, GPS was developed in the 1970s and became fully operational in the 1990s. Today it's a standard feature on every smartphone.
Consumers are no longer restricting their smartphones to mobile-only activities -- think of all the localized searches, maps, and applications. They're using their devices to fill their downtime by reading the news, playing games, etc. As traffic from mobile devices increases, and mobile engagement rises, display has to prepare itself to serve these audiences. Sure, as marketers who love audience targeting and have grown accustomed to having it on hand, we have questions:
- What needs to be done for cutting edge science (like RTB and audience targeting) to fully take root in mobile?
- What are the current drawbacks, and what questions need to be answered before mobile RTB is part of every media buy?
But no matter where we sit in this world, and no matter how close we are to the technology, you would be surprised to find that everyone is still trying to figure it out. And when it comes to the state of audience targeting, without naming names, many white-board sessions with "mobile experts" have yielded just as many questions as answers. No one knows. But, you know what? That's OK.
Drop the problem
Why not focus on what we can do?
Location-based targeting is incredibly meaningful, when well-executed. Geo-fencing has come a long way and will continue to become more precise and dexterous. Providers now offer an array of tools for helping national brands get more aggressive and thoughtful about localized marketing.
Mobile web still has a long way to go. Why regard that as a limitation? It's an opportunity for us all to contribute to that progress in any number of areas: campaign management utility, creative options, user interface, and user experience. Targeting itself will be even more effective when we can be sure that consumers are afforded the ultimate mobile web environment.
And finally, we should be exploring the potential of interconnectivity. Consumers operate in an entirely interconnected environment all day long. Even if our ability to target and profile all their behaviors is not quite there, we must explore what this state of interconnection means and how we can use this system of detailed data to better align with consumer interests.
This is not quite a glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty situation. But why constantly belabor mobile's status, when this familiar journey is something we already understand as an industry anyway? Mobile is already redefining our business and our day-to-day lives. Consumers are well aware of the mobile web, and the more time they spend on it, the better it is for the industry. As Louis C.K. says, things are great right now -- let's try to be happy with what we have, before hammering on mobile's supposed shortcomings.
Christopher Hansen is the president of Netmining.
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