There used to be a manic pop-up band at DisneyWorld in Orlando that sang an endless, high-voltage loop of an anthem called “Mickey Mania!” that could haunt a man’s daydreams for weeks. Substitute “Mobile” for the beloved rodent and you have the modern marketers’ state of mind.
The world has never seen any technology go from zero to 50%+ population penetration as rapidly as the smartphone — that is, until the tablet did the same thing in half the time. Amazingly, smartphones are only six years old; tablets, three. Yet an Adobe study showed tablets overtook smartphones as a source of web traffic this year. And mobile web traffic itself has already surpassed desktop in some markets, notably China.
And then there are apps, those rascally time-wasters, um, brilliant time-savers. Apple says 15 billion copies of more than 400,000 different apps have been downloaded from its App Store. That’s two for every person on the planet. (Although I think I might have half of them.) People engage more with apps, spending 4X longer than the typical one-minute desktop browser website session, according to app analytics firm Flurry.
Smart marketers study the crowds, of course, and thus begins the “Mobile Mania!” It has become painfully obvious that mobile users are refusing to respond to tactics that worked just fine on their desktop. Prices and click-through rates on mobile banners are “depressing,” as one exec from a prominent publisher told me recently. Google just admitted mobile ads can cost half as much as desktop ads and lead to purchase one-quarter as often. And retailers are almost afraid to attract customers into stores because of “showrooming.”
True, some publishers are making money on mobile advertising. Twitter recently announced that its Q3 revenue was approximately 70% mobile-driven, and Facebook’s mobile ad revenue should be about 60% of its total next year, according to J.P. Morgan. But these sanguine numbers mask a deeper malaise. Facebook and Google alone capture an estimated 65% of all mobile ad spend. Such concentration reveals a lopsided ecosystem and marketers who crave options beyond the most obvious (“Get me a Facebook ad, stat!”)
How are marketers responding? Gartner’s upcoming survey of mobile marketers shows they are taking healthy steps to ratchet in on results, analytics and accountability, while keeping a lid on costs, partly through developing their shop’s in-house skills. On the other hand, the survey revealed a slipstream of failed projects, blown budgets and dubious rigor.
As usual, the answers will come from the users — the people we’re desperately trying to reach. Five years ago, I was part of a team engaged to develop a mobile strategy for a major airline. To the airline’s board, this meant figuring out a way to sell tickets on the BlackBerry. (Most of their high-value business travelers at that time used BlackBerry’s.) When we talked to customers, however, it turned out they had absolutely no interest in buying tickets with their thumbs. In fact, the prioritized list of user wants was almost an inverse of the airline’s assumptions.
Turns out consumers wanted to be able to do things on their smartphone that they couldn’t do on the big browser — like change seats, check in, scour the upgrade list, and learn about delays while they were in transit. In other words, they wanted the phone to improve their life, not the airline’s. Five years and a mobile marketing eternity later, the song remains the same.