The panel discussion was meant to deal with the use of geolocation technology in out-of-home advertising, but the experts took a detour at the end of the panel. When the moderator asked for a lightning-round response to the term “mobile-first,” the first panelist didn’t hesitate: “mobile-only,” he shot back.
“That’s what we’re trying to advise some clients at the moment—where most of their audience is,” said Mark Power, managing director, USA of Ansible Worldwide, a global mobile agency within IPG MediaBrands. Many marketers’ contact with consumers now comes mainly via mobile channels; for example, he noted that among some car manufacturers, aout 70% of consumers’ research is done on mobile channels.
“Why just focus on a dual strategy? Go all-in,” said Power.
Mike Isabella, director of consumer engagement at Timberland, agreed. Mobile is “the glue,” he said. “Right now, it’s keeping everything together.” The clothing retailer is among many well-known brands, including Doritos, Krispy Kreme and Ikea, to have recently done mobile-only efforts.
The panel, held during the recent Advertising Week New York, is only one forum where marketers and agencies are debating whether marketing should go all-in on mobile and evolve past the desktop. Phone screens are getting bigger, and in combination with new technologies — such as digital assistants, geolocation and augmented reality — they give marketers tools to do much more than serve up videos and coupons.
As more businesses are born and develop within the app economy—from ride sharing services to booking and e-commerce engines—marketers are evolving their thinking, as well. Design and media planning are have already changed from mobile-friendly, or responsive, to mobile-first, where the user experience on mobile is the starting point of strategy. Pinterest and Facebook are among the social media platforms that now offer mobile-only ad options.
Now, some marketers are beginning to entertain a mobile-only future, where strategy assumes all touch points will be on mobile devices, with the desktop an add-on at best. A report last year by the Altimeter Group encouraged marketers to envisision the “mobile-only” future, calling it a game changer that should become a new standard.
Doubters say the ephemeral nature of on-the-go communication make it hard to form an authentic connection and build a brand long-term by focusing only on mobile channels. The medium is better suited for convenience and transactions, not for deep engagement and brand-building. They advice marketers to think about a unified strategy across devices.
“From a brand perspective, it’s important to think about it all as brand communication and how you want to keep a common message. But the thought of people not using their computers? I don’t think so. I think they will, it’s just a different moment,” said Meg Asaro, managing director of strategy at consultancy The Future Laboratory.
She acknowledged that in developing markets, a majority of users are mobile-only, and the smart phone is now a key factor in consumers’ increasingly mobile lives, but “everything has a place and a time.”
Studies show consumers are increasingly connected via their phones and in areas where broadband is still scarce, it is the only digital channel for most consumers. Mobile-only users outpolled desktop-only consumers for the first time in 2015, according ComScore’s data, and the trend continues to accelerate as consumers rely ever more on their apps for daily tasks. ComScore’s report noted the number of smartphone owners will beat PC owners in the U.S. by next year at the latest. Observers point out the trend can only accelerate, given the media habits of Millennials and Generation Z.
Power noted he’s seen a shift among marketers towards looking at mobile as a medium on its own, not just another digital channel. Opportunities to start a conversation with consumers are expanding, thanks to new technologies such as chatbots, VR and AR, but they are all taking place out of home on mobile, not the desktop, Power explained. Brands need to embrace them and pursue them aggressively, he said.
“Now we are able to do things that a few years ago we were not able to achieve,” he said.
The statistics would seem to back the mobile-only crowd. According to ZenithOptimedia’s latest ad spending forecast, mobile ad spending worldwide will pass the halfway point of all digital spending in 2017, with 52 percent of the global media spend going to mobile, and the split widening to 60 percent in 2018. Zenith is forecasting that 75 percent of global Internet use will be on phones or tablets in 2017.
But doubts arise when engagement gets factored in, with some observers arguing that interaction with mobile messages is shorter and more superficial that through the desktop and other media. They point out that by its nature, the smartphone doesn’t lend itself to the deep engagement needed to build brands over time. An Adobe survey found multitaskers use an average of 2.4 screens at a time and 40 percent of those multitaskers claimed to be “distracted.” Building long-term engagement with a consumer under those circumstances is a tall order, as seen in the recent demise of Twitter’s mobile-only Vine app.
Even the panelists at the Advertising Week event were cautious. Most were only willing to commit to a “mobile-and” strategy, using the phone as a way to channel data from consumers and connect all communications to them. The quality of data produced by phones is the most personal and immediate, said Michael Provenzano, CEO of technology company Vistar Media. People go to sleep with their phones next to them, and keep them on at all times. That can’t be matched by any media, he said.
“I think mobile’s long-term destiny is as a data channel, not a media channel,” he said. “Long-term, we will look at mobile and say it was a connection point that connected many data sets more than it ever was a quality channel of advertising.”