The surprising growth cycle of mobile

This year, I started describing mobile media as having entered a sort of adolescence. Just a couple of years ago, mobile was the apple-cheeked darling -- the do-anything, go-anywhere medium -- and brands and agencies couldn't say enough good things about how adorable it was. Now, when talking to people from that side of the media landscape, I often hear that it's difficult, challenging, hard to manage, and hard to understand. So, it looks as if this medium is entering its temperamental teenage years.

Despite mobile hitting its surly teen phase in 2012, some key achievements have been made. Early in 2012, the U.S. hit a critical threshold when smartphone penetration crossed 50 percent of all U.S. mobile consumers. Soon, half of all American adults will have a smartphone. Combine that with the fact that more than 20 percent of American adults own a tablet, and you have a huge audience for content, apps, and services.

The surprising growth cycle of mobile

While mobile continues to be a highly fragmented medium (think of the diversity of screen sizes and resolutions, operating systems, device types, networks and connection speeds, and user interfaces), 2012 also saw technical and industry solutions that aim to reduce the impact of that diversity and fragmentation. For example, IAB efforts on the creative front include the standard for mobile rich media advertising (MRAID) and "Mobile Rising Stars" ad formats that aim to enable dynamic, immersive, exciting creative that can achieve reach across publishers, sites, and devices.

Last year also saw growing interest in the adoption of an array of solutions that go by the name "responsive web design." These solutions promise to enable marketers to transform content size, layout, and composition to best suit whatever screen requests it. Responsive design is a very young technology that is possibly overhyped relative to what it's capable of doing today. However, I'm encouraged by its potential to help counter the costs and complexities of mobile fragmentation. Tools to simplify building HTML5-based and responsive design-capable ad creative started gaining some traction this year as well -- and ad designers are beginning to gain expertise in using them.

If that's a brief look back at some of the positive things our teenage medium accomplished last year, what will 2013 look like? I have a few ideas:

Of all the things that make mobile a difficult medium, absence of (or confusion over) metrics is perhaps first on the list. Just as in the early days of the PC-based web, difficulty measuring whether an ad campaign is effective is a widely cited reason why mobile advertising revenue isn't growing at its full potential. This is a place where industry standards and best practices can have a significant and positive impact, and so it is definitely an IAB priority. The IAB has a number of projects underway now that will help bring greater clarity and consistency to mobile measurement. These initiatives will also benefit from the digital industry-wide work going on in the "Making Measurement Make Sense" (3MS) project.

I also expect that we'll see video on mobile devices really take off in 2013. Usage is already exploding -- the IAB released some new consumer mobile video research just last week that helps confirm this assertion. In the coming year, we'll see the industry wrestle with identifying the most effective video advertising models and making sure the existing IAB V-SUITE digital video standards work well and serve the needs of mobile devices.

Finally, this year media companies, brands, and agencies will begin to think more seriously about being tactically driven in cross-screen terms. Brand marketers are realizing that mobile works best integrated with other media as part of a cohesive ad campaign. But marketers need help understanding just how -- and how much -- mobile contributes to cross-media advertising. Marketers also need experience in designing and building those types of campaigns.

In summation, 2013 will continue to see the fast growth of mobile. Mobile marketing will become creative in new and exciting ways -- yes, mobile marketing will remain scattered and fragmented, but it will also continue to be pushed to live up to benchmarks and standards just like any other medium. Mobile marketing will also be embraced (willingly nor not) back into the family of other media that advertisers leverage to deliver messages. Teenage years are never easy, but mobile's promise is still amazing. I'm excited by it, and -- as digital's metaphorical guidance counselor -- I'm looking forward to the IAB's continuing drive to help the mobile industry realize and achieve its full potential.

Joe Laszlo is senior director of the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence.

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"Mobile phone in the hand" image via Shutterstock.

 

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