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Friday, September 30, 2011

Marketing on smartphones

Before smartphones arrived, much of mobile advertising was limited to small text links on WAP sites, opt-in mobile messaging, or ad banners too small for the mobile user to read and much less be impressed by. Standardization was difficult or impossible becauce of the many different devices, and mobile advertising was subject to a scale problem much worse than the one experienced by web advertising in its early days. Not only because ad units couldn't be effectively standardized, but also because the technology used by each carrier was different -- further compounded by the notion that two handsets might have the same carrier, but might also have a completely different set of capabilities and enabling technologies fueling how they worked. On top of this, many people looked to their mobile phones primarily as interpersonal communication devices, not as content consumption devices.
So it's no wonder the mobile web wasn't the huge game-changer we thought it might be.

Smartphones arrived. Apple has half the market. I've had my iPhone 3G for several months now and still love it, even though it can't handle email as well as my BlackBerry did. With Apple holding 50 percent share in the smartphone market, we might see a scalable solution coming our way. The problem is that mass marketers won't likely understand that people still see phones largely as an interpersonal communication device, less so as a content consumption device.

Many iPhone apps are free. I do occasionally check the weather, the stock market, and use the Safari web browser to access content. More often, though, I'm using Twitterific to tweet from the road, using Facebook's mobile app to approve friend requests and upload mobile photos, or making use of location-based services like Loopt.

Many mass marketers would like to think that mobile devices will simply replace desktops and notebooks for web browsing, but that's not what is going to happen. If we are going to figure out a way to use smartphones as a marketing channel, we can't think it's just web advertising on a small screen. While it is true that mobile web browsing is on the rise, and that the iPhone can surf the web more elegantly than any mobile device that came before it, the truth of the matter is that mobile applications are increasingly being used to enable interpersonal communications rather than to provide brand platforms in the vein of mass media.

There's always room for mobile apps that provide content, but the ones that will scale quickly and will integrate more closely into the lives of people who download them will be the ones that provide utility and community, not straight content. So, if you're looking to make smartphones a viable channel for your brand, you need to branch out beyond content distribution and into mobile utility and community.
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