It's a mad, mad, mad mobile world.

April 15th, 2011

Mobile devices and tablet computers are changing the way we consume digital content. The boundaries of the television, desktop computer and laptop have been shattered by a whole new category of powerful devices. It should come as no surprise that most companies and even some pundits have been taken off guard by this monumental change.

While mobile phones have existed in one form or another since the ’80s, the past five years have transformed these devices. No longer is making calls the primary used function of these devices. Users are checking email, browsing the web, consuming news, reading books, listening to music and watching video programming all from their ultra portable smartphones. Morgan Stanley’s investment banking analysts predict that mobile Internet traffic will exceed computer Internet traffic by 2015.

Smartphone devices, coupled with the exploding category of tablet computers led by Apple’s iPad, is causing a huge shift in the way consumers access digital content. So much so that Apple’s competitors are playing catch-up. And the application of these devices goes beyond personal use. Forrester Research reported that 26 percent of iPad owners regularly use their devices for business-related activities.

Over the years, more desktop applications have been moving to web-based solutions. Applications such as Google Docs allow people to access and edit their documents from any computer with a web browser and an Internet connection. This is a monumental step forward for users, since they are no longer dependent on installed applications or local servers to access their information.

So it is interesting to note that in the mobile environment we are seeing a trend: These devices are application-centric as opposed to web-centric. Much of this comes from the current limitations of the devices and application developers’ abilities to create a strong user interface. The use of these devices and specialized applications has actually changed the way people access information. For example, the use of web-based email clients such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail have actually decreased over the past year. People are now regularly checking their email through their mobile device and not relying on their computer for all email communication.

Up to this point, the application-centric model has worked well. App stores have brought in millions of dollars for companies like Apple, Research in Motion and Google, while allowing developers to make a profit as well. This trend will most likely hold for the foreseeable future.

How does this affect you as a marketer? Depending on your industry, your customers may already be looking for a marketing experience that has been optimized for their mobile devices. Here are some options:

Test your primary marketing website across various mobile devices and correct any obvious issues such as large uses of Flash animations or other images.

 

Consider your offerings and how a mobile-specific experience would be created to best navigate users through the content. With this type of experience, it is important to focus on the most important elements of your brand and potentially not include those more ancillary topics. This will greatly enhance the usability of the experience and avoid confusing users with unwanted content.

Determine if an application would benefit your organization or customers. You will need to identify the most likely platform, such as the iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices, and determine which you would like to develop for. It is important to understand that each is a different animal with a different structure and code base. You can’t just create an application for one platform and automatically publish it on another.

Do you have an online location where a lot of great information can be consumed? You can leverage simple QR codes and add them to your printed materials and other marketing pieces. This gives the user a convenient way to access online video and other content types without the need to manually type the web address into the mobile browser.

The types of marketing solutions that can be developed are only limited by your ability to solve user problems in the mobile environment. Obviously, there are basic rules that will need to be followed based on the platform you are developing and the types of devices and technologies your customer base is engaged with, but there is also tremendous opportunity. Don’t fear getting your feet wet, since your customers may very well have their toes in the water while watching your promotional video from their mobile device.

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