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...