Agency of the year

The mobile future’s here already

(Well, two thirds of it anyway)

One of our favourite quotes in the Proximity planning team is one we suspect you’ve heard before too. It’s from everyone’s favourite ‘noir clairvoyant of cyberpunk science fiction’, William Gibson. In 1993, he said “The future’s already here, it’s just not that widely distributed yet”.

We’ve been merrily over-re-quoting this curiously prophetic statement  over the last few years, but recently it seems that a small part of that ‘future that had yet to be widely distributed’ has suddenly actually arrived.

We’re talking about smart phones – and their impact on the equation governing the volume and nature of direct consumer interaction with brands i.e. that stuff that Proximity does brilliantly for our clients every day (and often even before breakfast, check out www.facebook.com/kenco ).

The hype around mobile marketing has been there for years but there has been one obvious flaw; simply not enough people owned the smart ones. Less than two years ago it was a disappointing 28%. But what with the iPhone 4 / 4S as well as proliferation of other contenders from technology brands you’ve heard of (and some you haven’t), growth really has been exponential of late. And there’s more to come, with the iPhone 5 this autumn and the 4G network reportedly launching in 2013. But it seems that the next stage, the really exciting one, is always just round the corner and whenever we get there, something else comes along with even greater promise. So what about right now? Is mobile really worth getting excited about or should we still be waiting?

Critical mass, simple maths

The back of our metaphorical fag packet (sorry data team!) says that if the typical mobile contract is two years or less, and most people upgrade their phone at the end of it (often for free), and that smart phones are pretty much the norm for upgrades…. then penetration of the latest high spec smart phones is potentially growing by up to a half every year. So it must be pretty near critical mass by now.  OK, it’s a fag packet. But have we actually reached the point where hype and our crude maths attest to reality? It seems the answer’s yes, and it’s not us that say so.  The other week, a spokesman from the Metropolitan Police seized the opportunity to announce on TV the latest penetration figure of smart phones, which (in London at least, if not everywhere) has reached a magic two thirds figure. And if a policeman says it, it must be true (more numbers for you to interrogate here). www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2012/3/Number_of_European_Smartphone_Users_Accessing_News_Surges_74_Percent_Over_Past_Year

The Met wants to harness critical mass of smart-phoned Londoners for the greater good, by encouraging crowd sourcing via smart phones to identify crime suspects.  Like many forward thinking organisations, The Met has recognised that most Londoners now have the communication power of NASA in their pocket offering  the alluring possibilities presented by ‘always-on connectivity for everyone’; ‘instant messaging for the masses’; ‘image and video capability for all’; ‘individual participation in mass conversation’ and ‘content creation by any consumer’. All those things in fact that we direct and digital types have always dreamed about are now in the hands of the consumer majority.  For The Met, smart phone penetration now represents nothing less than a strategic opportunity in the fight against crime, a kind of “crowd-sourced CCTV” to unify and empower the community.   So if the Met see the strategic possibilities of mobile, what of the other ‘usual suspects’ in the world of brands?

More than just an App

Undoubtedly mobile is brilliant way for brands to interact directly with consumers. Give them something that’s useful, entertaining or even of monetary value they can access wherever they are (maybe linked into a location based service) and they won’t be unhappy about it. Who knows, they might even make it a habit.  But the brands that will benefit most will be those that recognise the strategic potential of mobile at the heart of their very business model, not just in its tactical use at a campaign level.

This certainly involves more than simply sticking a mobile app on the app store.

The sad truth is that only a quarter of apps hit double figure use after download, another quarter gets used only once. And the rest? Let’s face it, we’ve already forgotten about them. What we shouldn’t forget however, is that brands that value relationships with consumers need to fully embrace the mobile channel – fast.  Because direct consumer interaction with digital and social content, accessed through channels that are quite literally in their own hands, will be fundamental in shaping the profitability of those relationships in future.

This is true for both big multi-national and small businesses. One additional possibility of a mobile dominated future is businesses at both ends of the scale working collaboratively together to create the necessary value for consumers to encourage their continued involvement.

Interaction beyond the transactional

A fantastic recent example of mobile collaboration comes from o2 who are opening up their well-established Priority Moments rewards platform to small businesses. Small businesses get a free listing, with specific location based marketing, in return for locally personalised offers for o2 customers.

The o2 example shows us how both business and consumer can mutually benefit from a smart phone app developed in a strategic context. The customer gets the benefit of the offer. The participating business gets a new customer. And o2 gets the benefit of increasing loyalty and of course the data usage fees. As o2 say, it’s nothing less than “B2B2C benefit, all the way along the chain”.

And it’s made possible by channels that are not so much new, as simply more widely distributed.

On the other hand, Starbucks may well be an example of a brand that has done well with mobile from an executional perspective, but hasn’t quite got it right strategically. Starbucks released an app with multiple purposes – location services, menu choices and an electronic version of their loyalty card giving free Wi-Fi and extras in store. While some of the functionality is indeed useful they have arguably overlooked the characteristics of their most loyal customers, who presumably already know where their nearest store is, what drink they want to have and who would rather take their coffee to go on their way to work. This app is essentially rewarding their least loyal and less profitable customers – those who want to drink in, use the free Wi-Fi, get a free itunes download and make their latte last two hours while they do it. A fundamental flaw when an app is the method for delivering a loyalty scheme. But in their defence, Starbucks clearly recognise the merits of driving direct customer interaction beyond the mere transactional.

The future’s here, now let’s make it happen

Now that smart phones are the norm (you heard it from a policeman first) the strategic possibilities for this kind of interaction have never been so great, especially when you think where we were just a few years ago before everyone started quoting William Gibson to destruction.

It’s exciting to know that the future is now widely distributed, in mobile form at least. But brands must adopt a strategic approach to the newly presented opportunities rather than “apps for apps’ sake”.  And in that context, we’re looking forward to making the mobile future really happen.

Adrian Hoole, Planning Partner, Proximity London, 22nd July 2012 with additional contribution from Ursula Marrow