Friday 11 November 2011

Why don't mobile browsers recognise a URL?

Shamed as I am to look at the last time I wrote a blog post, I thought I'd try and get back in the groove on a topic that's been bugging me for a while.

We often talk about how mobile is uniquely positioned as, not just a channel in it's own right, but also as an integrator of channels - able to connect an offline user to a digital destination.  I've blogged before about how too much activity that is talked of as "integrated" is often more like "parallel" activity with two activations running at the same time and no real integration.

However, using mobile you can engage with a consumer with a poster while they are walking down the high street; from a magazine ad they see when they are on the bus; or with a TV commercial they watch whilst sitting on their sofa, and drive them to a destination where they can get more information, register an interest or even complete a purchase.

That is a far more compelling capability than it seems to be based on the prevalence of such calls to action.

But there is an issue...  There is yet to be smooth and seamless way, a completely intuitive and simple call-to-action, that enables a mobile user to respond and interact.  So how do we get users to hit a URL, whether that be to visit a mobisite or download an app, for example?

Well, what have we got now?  In truth, there are four credible alternatives available right now:

1. Just show the URL and ask the user to enter it themselves.  One benefit of this is that the same CTA can work across desktop and mobile (assuming device redirection is in place).  In addition, there is no dilution of the branding on any marketing material - the URL is often included anyway.  The downside is that we are asking the user to manually type a URL, beyond the fact that this is not as easy as on a desktop (although not such a chore as it is often portrayed), it is a bit clunky and shouldn't it be easier with a smartphone?

2. Ask the user to "Search".  I actually quite like this as a CTA - it's simple and familiar for users and, as with manual entry, is a consistent across desktop and mobile.  That said, it forces you to ensure that your SEO is flawless and potentially require you to direct budget at search if you were not already.

3. Include an SMS shortcode/keyword CTA.  Familiar for users and requires little effort, with the URL returned via SMS this is clickable and so drives the user to the destination without much fuss.  That said, it's generally not liked amongst creatives for aesthetic purposes and, if a brand doesn't already run SMS activity, requires that they get this in place (that's not to say it's difficult or expensive, but it is still a barrier).

4. QR codes (or MS Tags, Shot codes etc. etc.). They have their place, and for some reason some people like them (I received an email with one in recently - ask me about it if you want a 30 min rant on the nonsensical things that some mobile companies get up to).  On the plus side, they are the quickest/smoothest way of driving online from ATL.  That said, this is only if you know what they are and have a reader app on your device.  Oh, and they are also ugly.

So the other day it struck me, why do I have to type a URL into my mobile browser?

My phone has a camera right?  Jeez, my phone can translate text so there's no reason that it couldn't recognise a URL and open the URL.  So why haven't Apple or Google added it as a feature to Safari or the Android default browser?  Surely they can add a button that activates the camera, recognises the text as a URL (think Google Goggles but within your browser, not a different app), and then opens the page, or even performs a search.

Am I missing something?

[Bear in mind that this is possible as it's not a webpage that accesses the camera but the browser itself, which as a native app, of course can do this.]

I may be being immensely naive but having this capability would mean that both of the routes 1 (URL) and 2 (search) above become much easier.  In fact, it means that anywhere a URL may appear, it becomes 'clickable' and a call to action.  Doesn't this make "integrated" activity even more feasible?

So come on Apple, get a move on Google and pull your finger out Microsoft/Nokia.  Why not do this...?

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Google+ doesn't want to take Facebook's current followers, it's their future ones it's after...

So Google+ is a couple of weeks old and having initially only let a few people into the circle (apologies for the in-joke so early in the post), it appears that the doors have been left a little further ajar and there is a steady trickle of users into the network that is far outpaced by the comments, blogs and articles about it.

Based on my first tentative steps into Google+, it does look like it is generally the tech-leader types that are heading onto it first - checking out how it compares to Facebook and the like.  How fast, or indeed, how far it will proliferate into the masses it to be seen.  Certainly early indications are that it is a bit of a slow burn - applying the Bedford Test, I posted a question on Facebook about it and didn't exactly get a resounding response.

So what are the chances that G+ will head into obscurity the way of Buzz and Wave?

Well, the challenge with any new social network is that unless it reaches a tipping point of users it is destined to fail...  I've recently been reading an anthology of mathematical curiosities written by one of my old Maths professors from the University of WarwickIan Stewart.  Amongst other things, he discusses Conway's Game of Life, in which, given an opening state, a series of rules define how a two dimensional grid of cells behaves over time and generations.  Some reach a steady state;  some grow, produce offshoots and even move;  whilst others simply fade and die.  Such as it is with social networks - and in this world, the odds are even further affected by one thing.  Facebook.

Both Wave and Buzz are potentially good ideas that struggled to achieve anything approaching a critical mass of users.  But if the figure that I saw recently of 750 million active users is accurate, you'd go a long way to compete with Facebook and as we've seen with Bebo and MySpace - if you don't compete, you fail.  But there are exceptions to that rule.  For example, Foursquare has reached 10 million users (I would love to see the active number mind) - but the differentiator here is the nature of the product.  Foursquare is specifically location based, it's very single-minded in its proposition.

So has G+ bitten off more than it can chew in trying to stand toe-to-toe with Facebook?

And have I mixed too many metaphors in that question...?  On both, there are certainly good reasons to think so, a good proportion of the Facebook user base are habitual users and maintaining two social networks is more of a pain than most would be prepared to put up with.  Given a straight choice between the two, I suspect that G+ would struggle to lure over more that 10% of the active users of Facebook.  At a general level, whilst the reviews of G+ are pretty favourable (given it's early days at least), it is very similar to Facebook.  However, there are some nice features that are clearly learnings from some of the issues of Facebook, and it takes a more open (and Twitter-like) approach to building your network and "circles".  But are these enough to make a user stop using Facebook in order to move over to G+?  And of course, that is assuming that a sufficient number of their 'friends' do the same too!  For some that are increasingly tired of Facebook, maybe yes.  But en masse?  I'm not convinced - at least not initially...

And that, I think, is the key point.  Google+ may be more of a medium/long term play.  And I also think that Android will be Google's MVP.

Google recently announced that they are activating half a million Android devices each day.  That is a big number, and it's growing 4.4% each week.  Then there is the troubles that RIM is suffering, and the continued growth of smartphone penetration that is resulting in a significant emerging market - the teen and young adult audience, that are active social networkers and a ripe demographic for mid-range smartphones.

And that is where Android comes in.  

I am continually amazed when I consider that Google has gone so far as to develop a leading mobile operating system and other technologies such as Goggles and Translate based purely on driving advertising revenue.  It's all about data and platforms for delivering advertising (be that display or search).  It really does fascinate me.

But anyway... if RIM can achieve what it did in terms of gaining traction amongst a younger, non-corporate, audience as it did based purely on BBM then think what leverage Google+ could have amongst so fertile an audience.  These are the next generation of social networkers, those that may use Facebook, but whose usage of it is not ingrained, and equally use IM, SMS and BBM to communicate.  By pre-installing the Google+ app on all Android devices and prompting sign-up when the device is activated (for which I have been aware of seriously impressive opt-in figures for something similar previously) there is a ready-made user base.  

500k activations a day and rising?  Just 10%-20% of that would soon see the registered user count approaching something near critical mass wouldn't it?

And so Google+ does feel different to me.  It feels like it may be a little more thought through in terms of features and functionality;  it feels like there is a clearer route to achieving a critical mass of users and hitting that tipping point;  and it also feels like it may just be the right time.

We shall see of course - and we'll probably do so pretty soon - but I feel the runes are good.  

However, just a quick word of caution, Facebook has long had to face complaints about the way that they implement changes to the platform, their attitude towards user privacy and their ownership of "your" data.  I for one don't imagine that it will be any different for Google who have, of course, faced similar accusations in the past themselves.  Remember, pretty much anything Google does is about driving advertising revenue - and running your social network is a pretty good way of knowing just about all that they would need to...

Friday 24 June 2011

It's not about technology, it's about the idea

For those who don't know me, I'm the Technical Director of a Mobile Marketing agency, Movement.  I also used to be a C++ developer; was a Senior Project Manager at Nokia; have managed Data Warehouses and CRM systems for the Jigsaw Consortium, Rank Group and the NHS Dental Practice Board; and have run the support operations for the Nokia mobile advertising network (now Navteq Media Solutions).

The purpose of that self-aggrandisement was purely to add little bit of credence to the title of my post.  I'm a techy bloke.  I have always been on the techy end of the marketing stick and it's what I enjoy doing - especially as the last few years in Mobile have seen a swathe of technological advances.  Catalysed by (but not restricted to) the increase in smartphone penetration and the proliferation of apps, we've seen advances such as the following:
  • Better cameras and HD video capture
  • 3G networks providing faster browsing and (mostly) reliable data connectivity
  • Voice recognition
  • The embedding of accelerometers and compasses in mobile devices
  • Touchscreen and multi-touch support
  • Image recognition
  • Auto-translation (of both voice and images)
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Location Based Services (LBS), be they GPS, WiFi or cell based
  • Near Field Communications (NFC)
  • Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology
  • The advent of Cloud computing
And of course the next few years are going to see a shed-load more.  I've seen comments, rumour, speculation or prediction suggesting all the following could be in the market in the (relatively) near future:
  • Flexible screens
  • Nano-technology, allowing devices to morph in shape and dimension
  • Sensors that respond to eye movement, and possibly even thought
  • Self-cleaning hardware
  • Evolutions in power cells and energy technology that decrease the size of, or even do away with the need for, batteries
Of course, how are we to know?  Who would have predicted the evolution of technology and memes that has occurred over the last couple of years even, and I'll write a post about my thoughts on many predictions of the mobile market next.

But I digress, the point is that there is some pretty cool shit out there right now.

And that background provides the context of this post. Because however cool or exciting or innovative the technology is, it is how you use it that is important.  In an industry such as Mobile, that is very much technology-led, there are any number of interesting concepts and tweet-worthy innovations.  Which is great.  But for these to deliver a real benefit, they need to be applied in an appropriate way.

I'm considering this mainly from a Marketing perspective (it's what we do after all), but that is a little bit irrelevant - from any business or commercial perspective, the starting point needs to be the objective.  Once you understand this, and any key measures on this, you can look at how best to deliver that and more importantly, how to know if it is successful.  

Let's look at the tiresome mobile app vs. mobile web debate. I get bored of the same arguments being trotted out time and time again, with various industry stats being used to support the argument on either side. Surely there is no real answer - for example in a case where broad reach is relevant (e.g. providing additional information off ATL) a mobisite is likely to be the best option. Whereas, if the objective is to provide a rich experience, utilising device features such as the camera and GPS, for brand advocates then an app is bound to be the appropriate route to take.

Again, you need to understand what you want to achieve before looking at how to do it, and even when looking at how to meet a given objective, you should think in technology agnostic terms first.

Far too often I see examples of a technology-led solution. The mobile tail, very frequently, wags the mobile dog.

The advances in mobile technology and device capabilities have provided marketeers with a tool kit that they would never have imagined 10 years ago. But that does not mean that they need to use them (unless the objective is a headline in the NMA of course). The beauty of mobile, and why I will never tire of working in the sector, is that is can serve so many purposes. It can be used to inform, to engage, to interact, to respond, to promote and importantly to support and augment other channels. And used in the right way, with an objective and idea led approach, it can be the most effective medium at our disposal.

I just wish that I saw more stand-out examples of its use...

Thursday 16 June 2011

Was IAB Engage for Mobile evidence that Mobile getting there?

Anyone following my Twitter feed may have noted that I was at the IAB Engage for mobile event on Tuesday. There was a pretty impressive line up with representation from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Orange, M&S, Sky, Telegraph Media Group, Navteq, P&G, Unilever and the COI on the stage, in addition to the impressively intelligent Brian Cox.

The day took the usual form, albeit nicely presented with a "Mastermind" theme, with plenty of stats and brand case studies on show.

What was particularly significant was the scale of the event - the largest mobile event in the UK I understand - and commanding the attention of c.500 delegates in the room and more via the live stream, for the entire day (last year was a half-day affair).  Typically, mobile industry events tend to be a bit of a circle-jerk, with the usual names and faces, talking about much the same things,  to the rest of the mobile industry.  This has been a frustration for a while because it is often very much a case of preaching to the converted, we (Mobile industry insiders) all know just how effective Mobile can be - it is the brands and agencies outside of Mobile that we need to get in the ears of.  Now I don't know how many of the audience were indeed "outsiders" who were new to mobile, but I hope it was a fair few (that would at least make up for the "formulaic" nature of some of the content).

In the order that I noted them down, some of the big/interesting stats that I came out with were (no warranties will be made as to the voracity of any of these!):

- By 2014, mobile devices will be the primary channel for accessing the internet
- 10% of all Bing searches are made via Mobile
- The typical "purchase funnel" (from search to purchase) is 1 hour on mobile vs. 1 month online
- 50% of mobile internet users start with a search
- 79% of Google's advertisers do not have a mobile optimised site
- Between Orange Shots and O2 More there are 4m opted-in users
- 65% of CEOs say that mobile is on their agenda
- Android tablets, whilst making up 14% of the market consisting of over 100 devices
- 97% of all purchases are made in a physical retail location

You'll also be able to see a shed-load more comment and stats by searching for the hashtag #iabmobile on Twitter.

Now you can pick the bones out of all of that - and I am sure that many people will be for a while to come - but it all adds up to one thing for me.

You see, I consider myself lucky that I am involved in a market that is on the up.  Mobile is receiving the kind of attention that would have been unimaginable back in the early 1990s and there are many factors that are converging to make that the case - be it device penetration, technologies such as NFC, HTML5/CSS3, cloud-computing, LBS, changing user behaviour or the support of digital behemoths such as Apple, Microsoft and Google.

But a word of warning.  There still exist barriers to brands fully exploiting the market...  There is still a lack of understanding across brands and agencies (be that traditional or digital) which can often foster a reluctance to engage with the medium and internal issues, such as the recognised challenges with measurement and a lack of skills, can hinder growth and investment.  These will be addressed, but they should not be ignored.

But overall, if IAB Engage for Mobile did nothing else, it demonstrated how far Mobile has come in only the last 12 months.

Maybe we'll be at the Wembley Exhibition Centre in 2012.

Monday 6 June 2011

Nomophobia? No fear...

Hello again!  It's been a while... well... over two months since I last posted a new blog.  So apologies to my regular readers: "Sorry mum, dad - I'll try to be better in the future".

My slackness on the blogging front has been testament to nothing more than being busy both on the work and personal front - indicative of both the traction that Mobile (and more particularly Movement) appears to be gaining with brands, and the perennial swathe of weekend commitments that come from being of a certain age and with a family come the onset of Summer.

There are two occasions that come to mind as I think about my absence from the blogosphere (having typed it, I realise that I hate that word and as such will never use it again).  Both of these involved me being without the kind of mobile connectivity to which many of us have become used and, dare I say, have taken for granted.  More recently I was on holiday with the Bod-brood in Spain but is is the first of these occasions that felt more significant.

I work in Mobile.  Indeed I am one of those people who are rarely further than 5 feet away from their phone - I talk, message, browse, chat and generally while away hours each day using my phone.  So I can tell you that I wasn't expecting to be without any kind of connectivity, mobile or WiFi, at a wedding in Shropshire... And I can also tell you that I had (slight) palpitations when I pulled up in the family minibus and did my customary check of the phone for messages/notifications:

What do you mean no signal?  This is England.  Just.  Barely.  But it is definitely still England.  How dare there be no signal!

Was I suffering from a case of nomophobia?  Well, if I was, it soon passed...

As it turned out, being without the use of my mobile for the best part of two days did not result in anything other than a mild sense of liberation.  I did not lose track of what was going on in the world because I was unable to check the BBC mobile website; I did not suffer from a sense of alienation because I could not re-tweet jokes mid-ceremony; there were no repercussions from me not being able to text my mates that weren't at the wedding; and I did not lose any sleep about the inability to post pictures of me wearing a chefs hat and apron with a cock drawn on it to Facebook during the reception.

I survived.  And moreover, I did so handsomely.  So I have let that be a lesson to myself and I am trying to be a little less reliant on my mobile; to be comfortable with leaving it on the table whilst I play with my kids in the garden; and to not think to check my emails as soon as I wake up in the morning.

And I certainly feel better for it.  Go on, try it.  I dare you...

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Mobile is the key to truly effective through-the-line marketing

I've blogged before about how marketing that does not use mobile will struggle to be truly integrated.  How can you effectively drive a consumer from seeing a poster to visiting an online destination without something in between?  That "something" can most effectively be Mobile.

Similarly, guiding consumers into the funnel via exposure to above-the-line marketing and through the other end at direct below-the-line communication, necessarily needs that consumer to have interacted with the ATL, either directly or otherwise.  And there is the marketers challenge.

And that is where mobile can play a fundamental role.

Yesterday I sat for 5 minutes looking out of my office window, onto Garrick Street:

And in that 5 minutes, I saw a total of 138 people.  26 of those, just under 20%, were holding their phone in their hand - some on calls and some just looking at it.  You can be pretty certain that the vast majority (if not all) of the remaining 80% of people had their phone within easy reach (many clearly had Apple headphones in so are likely to have been listening to music on their iPhones).  Now I know that a 5 minute snapshot of a Central London street is in no way representative of the wider population, but it does hint at the great thing about Mobile...

If you can produce a poster, ad or piece of guerilla activity compelling enough that people want to respond or react to it, and if you include an appropriate and intuitive mobile call-to-action, then you can drive consumers to interact and initiate a dialogue with you there and then - in the moment - when their interest is piqued and they are most responsive.  Confirm and acknowledge their contact and maintain the dialogue, or if more appropriate, do so later that day or the next.  

Either way, you have in the space of a minute or two, moved the consumer from being an anonymous viewer of your ATL to being a real prospect that you can have a direct, and one-to-one dialogue with.

That's pretty impressive isn't it...?

Wednesday 16 March 2011


I've written about O2 More previously and, to be fair, have had both good and bad experiences - from being sent a Maternity wear offer and then receiving an apology, only to get then get the same message again, twice;  to receiving an MMS, with a uniquely discount voucher and the address of the nearest store to me that I could redeem it at.

Unfortunately, the day after it is announced that O2 More have hit 2 million users, this post is about one of the poor ones...

We all know what is going on over on the other side of the world right now - it feels like Armageddon over in Japan and I think we can all see that the scale of the devastation and destruction.  Given this, there are of course a number of efforts being made to raise support and money to aid the relief efforts - which should of course be applauded.  So my following criticism isn't in the act itself but, as we see way too often and from those who should know and do better, the execution of such.

So... I received an SMS from O2 More, asking me to donate.

All good there?  Well, not really.  This is from a mobile network.  A carrier, who owns the network and is responsible for all the data, voice and (relevantly in this case) messaging.  So why is the call to action not "reply" or "send a message to"?  Why have O2 not set up a premium SMS route (and waived all their fees on it)?  Surely a message such as "If you want to donate £5 to the Japan Tsunami appeal text DONATE to 20502" would allow them to to hit a broader base and illicit a greater response?

I know that this message has been delivered to by a different part of the O2 behemoth than that which would be responsible for setting up such a route but surely this is an obvious conversation to have...

Ok, so I am one of the minority of people likely to click on the link in order to donate.  What do I see?

Yeah.  I know.  And it isn't much better in landscape:

I am trying to avoid sounding churlish and criticising something that is, inherently commendable.  But I can't help thinking that it could have been so much more effective were the site that you click through to be mobile optimised and ideally allow on-bill donation.

But ultimately, it should have been an SMS mechanic - we've seen with previous appeals how effective these can be and if anyone should be doing it, O2 should.

Shouldn't they...?

Monday 14 February 2011

I'm falling in love with Ocado

It may be that I'm getting caught up in the general romantic atmosphere that prevails today (and I thought that I was past all that!) but I think that I am falling in love with Ocado.

Can you fall in love with an online grocer you may ask?  Well... maybe not, but they are certainly ticking as many of my boxes as it is possible for an online grocer to do, and my wife is becoming increasingly jealous of the way I talk about them so maybe we can have a future together...

Ok, so maybe I've over-played it slightly but I've just seen another great example of why Ocado seems to "get" mobile and is integrating it into their activity so nicely.  I've already talked about their use of SMS notifications, to remind their customers about a delivery and advise them of the details of the delivery (including the driver's name and the van they'll be driving).  They were also one of the first retailers off the mark in releasing transactional apps for the iPhone (store) and Android (store) devices.  In fact, considering the general service and quality of the food (I'm sure covered in blogs/articles elsewhere) the one blemish that I can note is their lack of a mobile optimised site - they have retired their 'lite' site, stating that because of "huge improvements in mobile technology" most customers shop with Ocado "via our main Ocado website".  

I think that this is a bit of a missed trick as a mobile site would better, and more appropriately, support the mid and lower range smartphones.  Certainly, they realistically have the majority of their potential mobile traffic (and indeed revenue) tied up with the iPhone/Android apps and yes, other phones can use the main website, but it would be good to see a mobile optimised site nonetheless.

Anyway, the latest tick in one of my boxes came along this afternoon:

An Ocado delivery truck, with an SMS call-to-action, whereby new users can get £15 off their first shop.

Sure enough I gave it a go and received an SMS back with a unique code that can be redeemed online.  A simple mechanic to set up, executed nicely, and driving new users from ATL to online and with tracking of unique codes to prevent mal-redemption and ongoing analysis.

Doesn't it make you wonder why more companies don’t do the same...? 

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Nokia played the fiddle while their platform burned

Ok, so I'm mixing metaphors (or something like that) but in light of Nokia CEO Stephen Elop's leaked memo to his staff (which is looking increasingly plausible by the minute) it feels very appropriate.

You can read the full memo, and the Engadget take on it, here.  To save you some time, the key points that I have taken from it are:

  1. If you're in unavoidable trouble (the "burning platform") then you need to take drastic action (jump off the platform) to avoid the inevitable peril.
  2. Nokia have lost the top end of the device market (mainly to Apple).
  3. Nokia are starting to lose the mid-range market (mainly to Google).
  4. Nokia are starting to be squeezed in the low end of the market too (by Eastern manufacturers).
  5. Nokia have historically been crap at executing.
  6. Nokia have ignored the way the market has evolved.
  7. Nokia are at "crisis point" and need to catch up and catch up very quickly.
  8. To catch up, Nokia need to do something 'different'. 
For me to cover off all of my thoughts about Nokia, what I think of the memo and and why I think they are where they are would take an awfully long time.  So I'll try not to ramble on too far - I know from reading a couple of Tomi's blogs that once you see how far down the scroll-bar on the right goes, you soon start skim reading.  I'd also like to state the context of my position early on - I used to work for a Mobile Marketing and technology company, that was acquired by Nokia as part of their shift into the services space in 2007, and then worked for them for two years.  So I am no Nokia expert but I certainly have an understanding of how the business works and, more importantly, how they were executing in a digital ecosystem.  However, I also have no "agenda" against Nokia (as I know some ex-Nokians do).  Indeed, I would much rather they succeed than  fail as the market needs a credible alternative to the fast-becoming Apple/Google duopoly.

To be honest, the content of the memo is pretty damning stuff - especially considering that this is from the CEO of one of the largest, most respected, most trusted and most successful multi-national businesses out there.  That it is the most read story on the BBC News website also says something about it's significance.

Unsurprisingly, ex-Nokia executive turned author, public speaker and (way too verbose - which coming from me, says something), blogger, Tomi Ahonen has had his say in a blog post that both suggests the memo is a fake and then provides a range of, primarily semantic, rebuttals to the points in Elop's memo.  Ahonen's position is nothing less than symptomatic of the internal issues that Nokia has faced for a number of years.  Nokia became a victim of their own success - I have talked previously about how Symbian (their proprietary operating system) was the Woolly Mammoth of operating systems, unable to adapt to the changing ecosystem.  Well, for "Symbian" read "Nokia"...  So I won't dwell on Ahonen's points here because, to be frank, I don't see that they are that relevant. 

Nokia was the undisputed king of mobile devices with the largest market share and foothold in pretty much every market and device category.  As many Nokia-philes will go to great pains to tell you, they pioneered many of the features that other manufacturers have subsequently emulated and bettered, such as mobile browsing, mobile applications and touchscreens.  

And this, in itself, tells the story... 

Nokia did things well, and they did them efficiently and on a large scale (they are ultimately a very good manufacturing company after all).  But then they seemed to be content (dare I say arrogant?) with this position and the market evolved around them, not least catalysed by the growth of the digital channel in general and the emergence of the iPhone.  Nokia's response was to try and move with the market, but to do so in a way that was poorly judged and poorly executed - their higher-end devices were roundly criticised and their ecosystem (Ovi and services) was a hotch-potch of acquisitions and (often duplicated or competing) internal development projects all shoved together with (apparently) little strategic thought.  But that was just the top-end of the market, Nokia could still rely on the mid and lower end (such as emerging markets) couldn't they?  

Uh oh...

They could... but of course those markets changed too.  And Nokia (apparently) still refused to see what most people outside of the business have seen for a while.  Nokia became like King Canute, convinced that they could hold back the inevitable tide.  Until they did away with their previous CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, and brought in ex-Microsoft man Stephen Elop.  The significance of this is that they recruited from the outside rather than, as was usually the case previously, internally.  Now it seems that the fresh pair of eyes, directed internally, is starting to realise that significant action is needed in order to get Nokia back into it's stride.

And so what should they do and how can they address this?

Well, there have been persistent rumours that Nokia will buddy up with Microsoft (Elop is ex-Microsoft after all) and run Windows Phone 7 in some of its devices.  Whether that is instead of, or alongside, Maemo and Symbian remains to be seen (indeed, the WP7 thing is still only a rumour of course).  There has also been talk about Nokia partnering with Google to run Android in their devices instead but I don't even see this as a starter to be honest - there are too many areas in which Nokia and Android compete, not least with mapping (i.e. Nokia Maps vs. Google Maps), that there would be undoubted friction in such a relationship.  After all, services, and the advertising running on them, is where the money is.  That is not so say that there isn't overlap with WP7, it's just that Microsoft also seems prepared to compromise given its need to re-gain a foothold in the market (witness the partnership with Yahoo for search).  Perhaps the two, much-maligned, former-behemoths would form a formidable partnership, capable of competing with Apple, Google and the plethora of mid/lower-range competitors in the mobile space.  Only time will tell if it even happens and whether, if it does, it will be a success, although Google's VP of Engineering seems relatively unconcerned with the prospect, tweeting "Two turkeys do not make an eagle", as reported by Ewan at MIR.

One thing is for sure, the entire market seems to be waiting with baited breath for an announcement that is reportedly due on Friday and whatever other news comes out at Mobile World Congress next week.  

And we thought 2010 was an exciting year, jeez 2011 is getting interesting already...

Monday 7 February 2011

One man can't lift half a piano, but two men...

As I start writing this, I haven't made my mind up about the title of this post.

This is mainly because I'm not 100% certain where this post will lead itself (a slightly damning enditement on my writing, I accept).  I opened up my thinking by wanting to talk about the affective use of multiple channels, something that we've talked about quite a bit to existing and potential clients, and is a pet peeve of our Client Services Director, Sarah Cantillon.  However any piece talking about the use of different channel needs to not just reference how channels can co-operate, but also how they should integrate.

But that said, I've written a few times before about how mobile can act as the "integration-glue" between offline and online and also how we in the digital industry, need to understand that whilst we recognise the differences between mobile and online, consumers don't, meaning that we should be taking a more holistic view and so, cater for the user who mainly reads his email on an iPhone; or who uses their mobile device for messaging but doesn't have a data bundle and so will only use their home PC for browsing.  So I'll try my best to not drag myself off on a tangent and focus on the point in hand - using different channels for each others mutual benefit and the use of appropriate comms that support and compliment each other.

Basically... channel sequencing.

Unfortunately, too many comms programs are black and white - there is a preferred channel and underneath that a hierarchy of alternatives.  This may be that Direct Mail is used if they hold your address and you have opted-in, or if not, will contact you using email, or then outbound call, and then maybe mobile if nothing else is possible.  However this plays out, the last choice channel will most likely get the poorer "quality" consumers and so suffer from a lower response rate and be seen as less effective (note that this isn't a pop at the lack of use of mobile, just the lack of using multiple channels effectively).

This could be symptomatic of a number of things - one being a company using different agencies, each responsible for a different channel and so with vested interests in pushing their own at the cost of others; or maybe lazy thinking on behalf of the brand and their planners; or maybe both of these.  In any event, what seems clear to me is that, to effectively use multiple channels is to do so by using each in a coordinated, consistent and (a word we use a lot here) appropriate manner.

Why not prompt the consumer, who's given you the email address of the account that he checks once a fortnight, that you've just sent him an email with some exclusive offers by sending him an SMS, or even an MMS (which can compliment the email content and design) and so improving open and possibly click-through rates?

How about sending an email to a customer, letting them know that they'll be receiving a DM piece in the next week with details about changes and new feature to their account, so that they are less likely to file it in the bin without opening it?

And why the devil not send a text to a customer, asking them when they would be able to receive an outbound call and so reduce hang-ups and non-answers?

Channel sequencing is an evolution and extension of using each channel in the right way - where I would always advocate using the right channel, to say the right thing, at the right time.  For example, don't use SMS to introduce or demonstrate a new product - use a richer channel such as email or MMS;  don't use an email to send important information that the consumer needs to retain - use DM;  and don't send a discount voucher that they user needs to take into a store by email - use DM or, even better, SMS or MMS.

Of course, it's not as straight-forward as just saying it.  Putting in place the capability to manage your customer communication in this way is not an overnight job - particularly as most businesses, both technically and in terms of their comms rules, are not set up to support talking to their customers in this way.

But thinking about it, why not use all of the channels available to you to support each other, making them work harder together, and generate a higher response rate, RoI or opt-in* than they would otherwise do independently and so, together, enabling them to carry the proverbial piano.

* insert relevant KPI here

Friday 28 January 2011

Why aren't more companies using SMS notifications?

My wife is what I would regard as a digital housewife.

She is an eBay veteran (on more than one occasion I have asked where something is only to find that it was sold a month ago) and does a large proportion of her shopping online.  She also has an iPhone and when not sat on the sofa with the laptop on her lap, she uses any one of the number of apps she's got to shop or browse retailer apps.  With two kids, she's on the go most of the time so this fits nicely with her lifestyle.

Which helps to explain why I am so impressed with what is, on the face of it a really simple thing - the Ocado SMS notifications.

So... we've got a food delivery on order and the day before, she gets an SMS reminder her that the delivery is due the next day and confirms the deadline to change it (so the reminder can act as a prompt if you now need more goods).  Then on the day of delivery, another SMS that includes the 1hr time slot; the name of the delivery driver; the type (i.e. livery) and registration plate of the delivery van; and details of any missing items.

So with a couple of simple text messages, including some relevant information, it makes an online and remote transaction into a more comfortable, reassuring and personal process.

Ocado aren't the only guys that do this - my wife has had similar notifications from Sainsbury's and the Home Delivery Network.

And one of my local taxi firms also does the same thing - I called to order a cab and then received one message straight away to confirm the booking and then another a bit later to tell me the car was a couple of minutes away; that would pick me up; and the name of the driver.  Great if you're a single female.

It is such an easy thing - there are any number of Mobile Technology providers that offer these kind of capabilities, and of course the more retail moves digital (note that I don't say "online" as mobile retail is growing too) and the more suppliers doing this, the more comoditised and cheaper it will become.

And as I mention above, a simple SMS like this (bear in mind that as a more personal channel than email, SMS can provide a more emotive reaction), can provide both a differentiation in terms of service and build a degree of consumer interaction and brand affiliation than would otherwise not be possible.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Is MMS neglected by mobile marketers?

Before I go on too far, let me state my hand.  The answer to the (almost) rhetorical question is "Yes, it is neglected".  But I should probably explain why I believe so...

To set the context, I think that we can (probably) all agree that Mobile Marketing is increasingly becoming recognised as an effective comms channel.  The use of mobile is, generally speaking, evolving in a couple of areas.  Firstly, there is that which is targeted at top-end devices, smartphones.  Be it QR codes, Augmented Reality, Social Network integration, NFC or rich mobile internet sites, the speed of pace of change in this channel; the degree of richness that it provides; and the levels of engagement it can encourage produce a compelling case for its inclusion in the marketing mix.

And then alongside and, in many ways, complementing this area is the activity at the lower-end of the "cool-spectrum".  This is the activity which is broader and enables mass reach but, because of its nature, is typically SMS based - the beauty of which being that it can be driven through traditional and above-the-line marketing and is supported by any/all mobile devices.

And then there is MMS.

MMS is not a new technology.  It provides a similar degree of reach as SMS as only old legacy devices do not support MMS at all (although there is a reliance on the device carrying the right settings).  However, it can also carry the degree of richness that you would ordinarily associate with a newer, smartphone-led technology.  Built correctly an MMS message can include video, static images, animated or slideshow/ frame-managed images and audio content alongside as much text content as you can throw a stick at.  iMMS, which is supported on some devices, can include internal links - like a mini-mobisite on your phone.  And even better, in this smartphone age, you can also utilise location-aware content that provides an additional degree of relevance.

MMS content is, by definition, rich and visual and accordingly can generate amazing cut-through - particularly in comparison to SMS.  An often quoted example is of an MMS campaign run by BMW in Germany.  I won't go into too much detail but there were many good things about this campaign including the timing and contextual nature of the messaging. The MMS was personalised to the recipient and the richness of the content was backed up by the brands positioning as a luxury marque.  The results speak for themselves - c.$45m of revenue off the back of a c.$60k spend.

Myself and the team at Movement have probably been involved in more MMS campaigns than anyone else and so have a deep understanding of the medium (NB: vested interest admitted) and have some great example of effective campaigns.  Probably the most recent was run as part of a multi-channel campaign that drove users online to claim a gift.  Although the MMS needed to drive users to a different medium (mobile to online), it outperformed both email and SMS for response rates!

So why is hardly anyone doing it?

The mainstay of our clients over the 6-7 years that we have been involved in MMS campaigns have been carriers.  And herein lies part of the answer - the carriers have a couple of significant advantages over brands when it comes to delivering MMS.  Firstly, MMS is an 'owned' channel.  It's their network and so any costs borne for the delivery of the messages are internal, or opportunity costs.  Carriers are not subject to their own and the messaging aggregator's mark-up and so delivery is less expensive than it would be for a brand (I'll come  back to that point later...).  And secondly, they 'know' the consumer.  They know whether they are a data user, or sends MMS and they know the device that the user owns (another important point I'll come back to).

So on the flip-side, the problem for brands is this lack of knowledge and ownership of the channel.  Firstly, the cost of MMS has typically been prohibitive.  Carriers have often been accused of not given the channel the chance to succeed because of their pricing.  At a typical cost of 20p per outbound message (in comparison to c.4p for SMS) for message delivery, and with production costs being higher than the copywriting of a 160 character message, it is easy to see why SMS is the default.

Then there is the knowledge of the user and their device.  This is relevant in a number of ways - if you know the consumer's device then you can optimise the creative to it.  There are technologies that do this on-the-fly, but managing it at the production phase means that you can tailor-fit the creative, assets and SMIL (basically, the MMS mark-up language) rather than just re-size and or/transcode the entire message.  And then there is the understanding of the consumer - MMS typically achieves a 60%-70% delivery rate, compared to the 95%-99% of SMS, and sending MMS requires the user to not just have a phone but also the right MMS settings and, in some cases, to have actively used MMS.  

But even given the advantages, carriers can still do it poorly themselves - the quality of the MMS creative that I receive from O2, even though it has the real benefit of being location aware and is generally a good offer, is typically poor.  And they should know better.

So why should anyone do it?

I guess I've done a fairly good job of explaining this issues with MMS...  It certainly needs to be recognised that there are barriers or issues with the use of MMS.  But the same applies to any channel - the trick is in understanding the issues and mitigating against or eliminating them.

Because MMS has proved itself to be an effective channel.  Produced correctly, the result is an engaging, effective and surprisingly (given its age) novel message which can surprise, delight and achieve real cut through with consumers - and of course this means results.

And so given all that, yes, it is woefully underused!

Thursday 6 January 2011

2010: The Year (in Mobile) That Was Part 2 – When Mobile grew up

In my last post I talked about the moving-and-shaking in the smartphone market in 2010.  I lead with this topic because, although smartphones still account for the minority of devices (vs. feature phones) in the UK and global market, it is (basically speaking) the space where all the interesting stuff happens.  In this post, I want to take a slightly wider look at a few of the things that I’ve picked out as being of interest or relevance in 2010.  As this is my personal look and given the year that has passed, I will no doubt have omitted any number of other comment-worthy happenings, please feel free to add comment if any of these omissions are too glaring...

An SMS mechanic was awarded a D&AD Yellow Pencil
Produced by Isobar agency Farfar of Sweden for Nokia Maps, and not massively trumpeted (at least in the mobile space) at the time, this may seem pretty innocuous but I think it’s fantastic.  This is the ultimate demonstration that doing something innovative in mobile isn’t about using the latest technology, it’s about doing something new – and that could just as easily be using something as simple and basic as SMS.

Near Field Communications (NFC) started to take a peek around the corner
NFC will be the technology that brings mobile payment into retail stores (as opposed to being via an mCommerce site).  The carriers want it; the device manufacturers want it; the financial institutions want it; and the retailers want it.  The key question in my mind is who will “own” it, because I suspect that there may be a little bit of a jostling for position going on right now to establish the value-chain behind mobile payments as none of the groups I’ve mentioned want to be left out.
However that aside, think about what else you can do once NFC is fully integrated into devices and peripherals – TopUp by swiping your phone across an operators poster; unlock your car, house, computer etc.; gain entry to member-only locations, such as gyms or football grounds.  The list goes on and NFC will eventually be massive. 
But what will happen when you lose your phone or change it...?

Location based services (LBS) become de rigueur 
So Foursquare, Gowalla and, latterly, Facebook Places have been the media and (to a lesser extent) consumer darlings of the LBS space but, as with NFC, there is so much more to it than that. 
One of the principle differentiators that mobile holds over other channels is its ability to tell you, and allow you to share, where you are.  Location takes contextual to a new level – be that in search, social networking or other applications.  And it was in 2010 that location, with the advent of GPS-enabled smartphones, became mainstream.  And it is in 2011 that the questions around privacy relating to location will need to be answered...

Twitter started to find its niche
Of course Twitter has been around for a few years now (launched in 2006), but although the number of active users and tweets has increased significantly over the last few years, and whilst its users have been pretty happy following and tweeting away, it’s not really been that clear what the point of it was for brands and businesses.  I’m not saying that the answer in necessarily clear right now, but what we have seen in 2010 is brands gaining a greater understanding of Twitter and stating to utilise it for their own purposes – this post from Murat is a great example. 
Word-of-mouth has always been regarded as important by businesses given its impact on brand reputation and subsequently repeat and new business.  It is also often quoted that is a consumer has a good experience they will tell 2 friends, but if they have a bad experience they will tell 10 (or something like that).
Given the speed with which news spreads on Twitter it is not surprising that brands have their feelers pointed at the Twitterverse.
But, with some high profile #fails already, can Twitter be widely and effectively used as a marketing tool.  For me, the question is still out on that...

Brands still (mostly) failed to crack how to use Facebook
Not really a specific event, more the lack of one but given the recent $50 billion valuation of Facebook, I’ve been thinking about how that can be justified by the Social Networks revenue stream.  Obviously advertisers are a significant (more likely the significant) part of that revenue for Facebook.  But as an advertiser, how do you make Facebook work?  Currently the options available are pretty simple – bought or earned. 
Bought, is currently display ads on the site – which is pretty uninspiring so will certainly need some evolution for the sake of the brands and Facebook’s valuation. 
Earned, is the ground the brands are still trying to crack effectively.  There have been some good examples of the use of Facebook in brand activity but for the most part, do users follow or interact with brands on Facebook for a reason other than possibly getting free stuff? 

mCommerce started to become a meaningful retail option
In the back-end of 2010, there was an undeniable movement, highlighting the opportunities that exist within mobile commerce.  There is a slew of stats demonstrating the opportunity and an increasing number of examples of retailers (both digital and traditional and in some cases high-profile) that are either dipping their toes in the water or, in some cases, diving into the deep end with transactional mobisites and/or applications.
This is all pretty sensible - consumers are using their phones more and more, phones are getting ‘smarter’ and digital in general is becoming a significant retail channel.  I fully expect to see this run and run through 2011 and beyond.

Tablets hit the ground running
The iPad was released at the start of the year and not long after I blogged about how it has, in many ways, both created and started to fill a new gap in the market.  2010 saw a number of other tablet devices released, announced or rumoured as Apple’s competitors try and avoid being left in the wake of the iPad as they were for the iPhone.  Retail volumes for the year have shown that tablet devices are being purchased by consumers and although the way that the market will shape itself over the coming months and years – in terms of users, services, capability and price – is still for anyone to predict, what is clear is that they will only become more prevalent.

Having been in mobile for coming on 6 years now (which feels like longer than it sounds), 2010 really has been the most interesting in terms of the way the market has evolved, the technological advances that were made and the way that consumers and brands have engaged with the medium. 

And I’ll be mighty disappointed if 2011 isn’t better.