If you’ve snooped around the site, you probably know that mobility is coming along a lot more slowly than I feel like it should. For every business out there doing a good job ramping up mobile marketing there’s probably a few thousand doing nothing. Why is a little hard for me to fathom – mobile is a preferred medium for Millennial-aged consumers, who control more disposable income than any generation in history. Why you’d refuse to communicate with these customers on their own terms is beyond me.
Well, maybe not. Mobile is comparatively new for most corporate decision-makers, most of who fail to understand the real extent of its capabilities. Sure, new technologies and practices often take longer to get traction in the marketplace than we’d expect – I remember the result of a poll from about 1996 or so that said less than half the US population had even heard of the Internet, and at that point in time the Net was being dramatically underused, as well.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that concerns me – even when dealing with corporate managers who are clearly very excited about integrating mobile into their activities, it’s extremely hard to have a strategic conversation and migrate up the organizational ladder. Instead, there’s a tendency to lock the discussion up at the mid-management/tactical execution level. Rather than pursuing a coherent mobile strategy, far too many organizations seem to want to dip their toes into the stream by “doing a project.” In our current environment, where extreme caution rules the day, it’s understandable that people don’t want to over-commit, but at the same time diving in without a strategic plan or a sufficient grounding in the mobile landscape doesn’t mitigate risk, it creates it. I find myself wondering how many mobile pilots out there have failed for just this reason, and how often those failures concluded that “mobile doesn’t work” instead of the actual reason – “we did it all wrong because we refused to invest in doing it right.”
I’m afraid of the answer.
From my perspective, we need to be having strategic conversations with the C Suite instead of making timid tactical plans with the manager level. Not that managers have nothing to offer, obviously, but it’s not their job to consider these kinds of initiatives at the levels they need to be addressed.
Perhaps mobile’s relegation to tactical status is partly a result of “new” factor noted above. But based on some recent discussions I’m beginning to suspect that I may be seeing an enduring reality instead of the normal uncertainty that surrounds innovation. For one thing, mobility isn’t a stand-alone – it integrates with just about everything else you do, but unless you have other channels driving attention to it you’re not going to realize any results at all. (Not yet, anyway. When the day comes where every organization has a WAP site and mobile search allows any user to find it quickly, sure. But that’s a few years off.) When we pitch mobile we talk about integrating it into existing organizational strategic initiatives – which is just good sense – but at some level you can’t help feeling like you’re trying to sneak into the meeting. I imagine some smart executives, once they begin to understand mobile, are going to see it in the same way.
The second factor is that mobile is currently being overshadowed by our exploding awareness of social media. Want to know what a tipping point feels like? Stick your head out the window. A number of factors have really caused the Web 2.0 wave to crest in recent weeks – big deals involving players like Google and Facebook’s decision to open its network up to users and developers have played major roles in putting a larger, more ambitious context around things like MySpace, Second Life, LinkedIn, etc.
Mobility’s profile is going to continue rising, and the pace is going to quicken dramatically. But I suspect that this time next year we’re going to see it as an enabler of social media applications – that is, social media will be the big strategic project and mobile will be one of the tools in the tactics box, along with 2L, Facebook, blogging, podcasting, and who knows what else.
Lest anybody out there reads this as somehow downgrading the importance of mobile, let me be clear. If your social media play doesn’t take full advantage of mobile you can go ahead and pack up shop now (unless you’re lucky enough to have competitors who also really don’t get it). A social media ecology that draws people together and provides ways for them to interact, share information and build community is fantastic, but in the absence of mobile it requires them to sit down at the computer and log in. The same ecology plus mobile takes all those things and puts them in the customer’s pocket, no matter where he or she may be.
If I’m out on Saturday night and looking to connect, it is of precisely zero value to have your social media ecology on my laptop back at the house.
If I can flip out my mobile and access you, however…