The mobile phone has crept ever so stealthily into my life and has increasingly taken hold of it, monopolized my attention, and made itself so indispensable that I have become an addict. Yes, I confess, I have become incurably dependent on this device, which was previously used sparingly and, if memory serves me, only to contact people. Today, my day depends on it. I look around and I realize that I live in a world of addicts, which probably explains why I have not been admitted to an institution, and I am not behind bars.
Or am I?
We are at a major crossroads on the way to the future of mobile communications, and the possibilities are endless. Success for marketers and advertisers means that they must capitalise on the changes taking place, and to do so they will have to make hard decisions that will be dictated by strategy and that will cost money.
Predicting the future is not an exact science. Who would have predicted that the VHS would be the market winner in the battle for home video viewing in the 70’s? After all, the Betamax had better technology, but it was the VHS that had a comprehensive product offering that was much more convincing for the consumer; it provided a bigger choice of hardware at a lower cost and the tapes were cheaper and more widely available. This example highlights the need to have an efficient solution that is supported by a favourable ecosystem.
And when such an ecosystem is available, it can trigger seismic changes that are far-reaching and that transcend people’s abilities to predict their outcomes. In his outstanding book “Masters of the Word: How Media Shaped History, from the Alphabet to the Internet,” William Bernstein has this to say:
“The use of the printing presses long predated Gutenberg, and he was not even the first to use movable type … it represents the final step in a technological and intellectual chain more than a thousand years in the making. This complex sequence of events wove together five separate but overlapping strands: the evolution and spread of word separation in written script; the founding of Europe’s first great universities; the industrialisation of paper manufacture; the invention of steel punches and counterpunches to manufacture the type moulds; and finally, the advances in mining technology and metallurgy that allowed the development of durable yet malleable alloys to fill those moulds. Without each of these, Gutenberg’s wondrous machine would have been either useless or impossible.
Gutenberg’s major impact on literacy, religion, culture, and politics, after all, was simply to make books and pamphlets cheaper.”
Cheaper books and pamphlets led to increased literacy, which built and spread knowledge, which in turn enabled people to challenge absolutes and led to the break of monopoly – in this case the Church’s greatest asset: its millennium-old guardianship of the gates of heaven. The ultimate outcome is that history took a major turn.
According to the UN, the number of mobile phones, at the end of 2012, exceeded 6 billion globally. Mobile is the most ubiquitous digital medium today. We have already seen what massive and radical change the smart phone, when combined with parts of the ecosystem such as social media, can bring about. We have not yet, though, fully appreciated the scale of the seismic change it will ultimately bring about. Marketers and advertisers have to take stock of that and understand the implications and ramifications.
Always on, always with me, personal, not shared is the biggest shift in mindset that needs to take place. This requires marketers and advertisers to start thinking differently. In an excellent research paper, Forrester provided a number of interesting thoughts.
No device captures context as the mobile phone does. Context includes the consumer’s situation, preferences, and attitude. The mobile device will know a lot more about the individual than any service or organization ever has, and this will enable marketers and advertisers to focus on utility and improve the experience by simplifying it.
Unlike the analog marketing era, where marketers could only get in touch with consumers once the latter raised their hands or initiated contact. In an increasingly mobile world marketers and advertisers will have the opportunity to engage with their customers throughout the relationship continuum.
As the physical world becomes more commerce-enabled, and as marketers add a digital layer to products, the opportunities for transaction and engagement will become everywhere. Places will be able to talk to devices, and physical products will have the ability to create experiences through sensors and connectivity. The result will be a logarithmic increase in transactions and the conversation between people and brands will be continuous.
Even when marketers are able to satisfy the above considerations, we will still need an enabling ecosystem that will promote mobile marketing and advertising evolution. In a white paper, Acision- a communications solutions provider- argues that this ecosystem will have four major components: technology, the operators, marketers and their agencies and people.
Networks need to quickly evolve from their current 2.5G to 4G and beyond. But, it will take an evolution to at least gigabit connectivity and speeds before marketers are able to harness the full potential of mobile advertising and real time customer engagement. This obviously assumes that the tipping point of speed is reached by then, and then it will not require a further evolution to terabit levels. At that time, we may be looking at a completely redefined landscape of connectivity and capability.
As for operators, three things will mark their contribution to this evolutionary ecosystem. Focus will be the first thing as they shift their attention from dealing with the basic network hygiene factor of connectivity and expansion to a mode where they recognize and fully engage with creating a revenue stream from advertising. Second, will be their move to creating and providing inventory of target audiences in the same way media providers do today. This is when they will play a major enabling role for the connectivity beyond the bits and bytes and when they will power this evolution. Third will be the choices they need to make regarding specialisation. At that point in the future, the operator is less likely to remain a jack-of-all-trades and will clearly need to specialize in particular sectors – some may specialize in IT structures, others in networks, some in services, and perhaps even in some cases there may be audience specialists.
Communication agencies’ biggest value will be added when they bring deep insight into habits, motivations and profiles of their target audiences. With the fragmentation of media and audiences, this task has become more challenging, and this is just the beginning. As mobile devices advance and become more ubiquitous, this task will become phenomenally challenging. Brands will reach a point where unless they truly represent a desirable purpose with which people can relate; they will disregard them and deny them access. This is where agencies have a major role to play.
Mass manufacturing must have sealed the transition to consumerism and created the term “consumer.” However, the mobile phone with so much personalization seems to be, if not reversing this trend, ushering in a new phase. So begins the age of the individual. Mobile advertising in the future will be selected and directed by individuals themselves. The power of choice and selection will be fully in the hands of individuals, who unlike consumers that are groups or types of individuals that conform to pre-defined brand segments, are highly independent, and who may let you know them or a part of them, but they will never let you own them. They will have the power, and they will use that power, to allow brands in or tune them out.
Despite all the progress mobile has made and its obvious ubiquity, the year of the mobile has yet to dawn. That will be the year when everyone will do more with, or through, their mobile phone than with any other device. This behavioural shift needs to apply to the entire population and not just the tech-savvy few with higher-end devices.
For this to happen, integration of payment mechanisms has to become pervasive; credit card integration and payment systems need to have become the norm. This will be the year when the mobile phone will evolve from a telecommunications device to one through which life is controlled, and telephony becomes only one part of what it does. Perhaps at that time the physical shape and form of the mobile handset as we know it will change beyond our ability to envisage it today.
At that time, the line between marketing and advertising over mobile devices will certainly blur, and newer forms of engagement with customers and individuals will emerge. Whatever it is going to be will certainly need to go through the motions of Darwinian evolution and a function of the ecosystems that will support it.
Just like Guttenberg’s printing rearranged the order of life and the course of history, the evolution of the mobile will prove to be an equally, if not more, powerful leveler for humanity. Expect the order of the world to be rearranged. Expect more mobile addicts.