Mobile Is Huge — But Two Key Elements Could Slow Its Growth

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Mobile-Apps-iphone-androidMobile and local seem destined for a long love affair. After all, geo-fencing and other forms of location-based marketing have all kinds of potential — or at least that’s what the innovators would have us believe.

And what about the ultimate in that thinking — in-store marketing directly to your phone — which, as these same marketers would remind us, is also increasingly becoming our wallet. The mind boggles at the potential, right?

Mary Meeker added fuel to the fire with her Internet report this year, raising the prospect of a $20 billion California gold rush:

The upside for mobile

I think the potential for mobile commerce may be actually understated here, but this potential in our increasingly mobile world has to clear a couple of significant hurdles in order to be realized. Meanwhile, everybody is throwing tons of money at the problem, thinking that perhaps we can force a worn-out old advertising hegemony upon the new platform. The evidence suggests a banner advertising outcome is much more likely for these efforts, rather than gold for everybody.

One of the hurdles is a structural barrier: we’ve yet to find a user interface that satisfies both user and marketer. The screen is simply too small. Google’s ads try to fool the senses, but it’s like fishing for tarpon with a worm. Interstitials seem the saveur du jour, which brings me to my love/hate relationship with ESPN.

I love everything that ESPN stands for, but their greed is tainting my love. I used to beat the drum for ESPN, back in the day when they refused third-party ads and limited any online video ad to 15 seconds. That’s long gone now, with the company even using 60 seconds of ads before a user can access one of their “Gamecasts,” regardless of the sport. I get it, but think about that for a minute. When do I need Gamecast? When something’s about to happen, and that means I need it now, not 60 seconds from now. And their mobile site? It’s one interstitial car ad interruption after the other. Sorry, I’ll go without the score or find it elsewhere. ESPN, if you’re reading, beware of believing you’re too big to fail.

The second is an inertia barrier: mobile devices — smartphones — are simply too personal to turn them into just another platform for advertising. That’s YOUR newspaper. Do with it as you wish. Likewise, that’s YOUR TV station. I have to “tune in” to watch. But the phone is MINE! It sits in MY pocket or MY purse, and I do NOT give you permission to use it like that. It’s way too personal.

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually written this, but it needs to be stated here. We’re in the midst of a cultural change of eon-ic proportions. Our world is shifting from modernism (or colonialism) to postmodernism, and the two ages couldn’t be any more different. Technology is the tool of this cultural shift, not the cause. Think about that for a second. The status quo would have us believe technology is their tool in advancing their brands and serving their needs. They cannot see that the shift is from that which is top-down to that which is collaborative or horizontal. The tentacles of this culture change are many, and where they especially are in conflict with the status quo is where power, in the form of resources, connects with the people. It is not ironic that the middle class has disappeared and that the rich are getting richer; it’s fuel to the fire in a revolution of, by and for the people. This will not go away.

What was, for example, the idealism of the 60s counterculture movement is manifest today in the tools of Silicon Valley, especially the personal computer. Nowhere is this clash of ideals and culture more obvious than in the speculation about the future of an even more personal device — the smartphone, be it Google’s, Samsung’s, or Apple’s. Before anybody jumps on anybody’s bandwagon, they would do well to first consider what’s happening in our culture and see if it “fits” rather than whether it’s good for maintaining the status quo. In my view, that’s already gone and left us, although most would disagree.

Media in the postmodern world is impacted, because we think we’re in the information business, when the reality is that we’re very much in the advertising business, and advertising is in disruption right now. The industry is in disruption because it deserves disruption. In their effort to influence and produce results, marketers are simply unable to demonstrate even a modicum of restraint when it comes to the line between useful and nuisance.

Operating within the soul of every marketer is the ridiculous assumption that people want or need to be bombarded by advertising, and that any invasion of their time or experience to “pass along” an attempt to influence is justified. If this were true, there would be no looming fight over DVRs, which allow viewers to skip ads. You have no inherent right to my eyeballs, and it is precisely this axiom that makes today’s instruments and gadgets so powerfully disruptive to the culture.

How so? We’re weary of running a relentless gauntlet of jumping, screaming, frantic warnings, hands grabbing, voices shouting, noise-making, disjointed movements, and the almost demonic reaching for our wallets coming from advertising. This is Madison Avenue’s idea of perfection, and the only way you can get there is to completely ignore the effect of advertising on the very people you’re trying to influence. The Web is, at core, a pull mechanism, not one that pushes. It’s why all those big projections of advertising “potential” have turned into a commodified “pennies for dollars” reality.

Doc Searls is onto something with his “Vendor Relationship Management (Project VRM)” concept at Harvard, for it fits the postmodern cultural shift like a glove. VRM is all about empowered consumers who send advertising messages back to the market, where they are bid on by service and goods providers, and you can bet that it will be primarily a local experience (although let’s not underestimate companies like Amazon). In the VRM model, there are “fourth parties” who work on behalf of consumers to send the messages to third parties representing the manufacturers, retailers, or whatever.

This is the kind of thing that inspires me and is worthy of my recommendation, primarily because it fits the growing world of empowered people. This may be years downstream, but now is the time to investigate and get involved. We are never going back to the way it was.

TerryNaplesTerry Heaton is President of Reinvent21, a consulting company specializing in business reinvention for the 21st Century. He’s an internationally-recognized creative expert on all things web-related, especially as they relate to local media.