How Evolving Mobile Behaviors are Raising the Stakes for Marketers

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

If anything, the division of the mobile smartphone space into iOS and Android, as well as demographic and usage patterns on these platforms, means that targeting and developing effective mobile experiences just got a whole lot harder. But this is translating into more options for mobile marketers in 2012.

When you look at actual user behavior on smartphones, you might wonder how the mobile web would effectively fit in at all. The focus for both iOS and mobile users is on app usage versus mobile web access. Apps have become so successful that they’re moving us away from the web in general. The reasons are rather straightforward:

1. Curated content apps have become primary experiences. Whether public or ad supported, curated content sources (e.g., NPR and The Wall Street Journal) have found the niche within application environments that move users away from the web and directly toward branded experiences they trust as either primary or authoritative sources of information.

2. Excerpted content typically satisfies curiosity. Even more popular apps don’t necessarily translate to more mobile web activity. This has always been the fear with content syndication in general, but combine it with a preference for a more focused and curated experience and you get a further erosion of mobile web traffic.

3. The ease of use and established reliance on app stores. The effectiveness of the app store model combined with mobile context to include desktop environments further reinforces the shift from the web search route as a first stop for function resources.

Websites are driving traffic to apps instead of presenting a mobile-optimized version of themselves. Many sites could take advantage of users visiting via mobile device to optimize their experience. Instead, you should drive them to download apps that provide a specific or focused subset of content and functionality. Focus on creating a controlled and curated environment for experiencing content.

Further complicating matters are the differences in demographics and behavior between iOS and Android users. Android users tend to be heavier app users than iOS users (by a significant percentage), according to recent Fiksu research.

According to a recent Hunch.com survey, gender balances, income levels, age ranges and other important segmenting criteria also differ significantly between audiences. Certainly there’s enough to merit taking a closer look at these considerations when designing mobile experiences for these platforms. Android adoption rates make it clear that supporting Android isn’t an option; it’s a requirement in order to reach as broad a mobile and tablet audience as possible.

Tablets are an important area where the mobile web, and the higher percentage of mobile web usage among iOS users, comes into play. Tablets offer a superior web browsing experience. In addition, differing usage patterns and behaviors mean that tablet-based experiences can be deeper and richer than mobile-optimized executions and will track close to desktop browsing.

What does all of this mean for mobile marketers and advertisers in 2012? Android’s broader audience and superior mobile ad performance will make it a focus for mobile display advertising efforts. Apple’s advertising formats are of primary interest within the context of specific applications where their inclusion and application usage merit the investment. In-app advertisement effectiveness becomes even more critical to understand and measure in this context, as those investments tend to be higher than broader mobile ad networks buys.

Social platform mobile integration efforts need to be watched closely. Emerging apps and potential ad integration capabilities are key focal points for marketers already heavily invested in social platforms or for those looking to leverage location-enabled social networks more heavily.

Tablet and touch-optimized experiences via the mobile web will be critical to support the heavier skew of browser usage among tablet owners. Give specific consideration to the ability to leverage touch-enabled HTML5 implementations and the superior browsers offered by these platforms.

2012 will certainly be the year when marketers’ attention will be firmly focused on mobile, but in reality that represents separate and to some extent distinct experiences — e.g., mobile apps, mobile websites and tablet-optimized versions of both.

Doubling Down on Google+?

When determining how to integrate Google+ brand pages into your planning for 2012, it’s important to understand what Google+ is and what it isn’t. By Google’s own admission, Google+ isn’t meant to be a social network. Or so it says.

When determining how to integrate Google+ brand pages into your planning for 2012, it’s important to understand what Google+ is and what it isn’t.

By Google’s own admission, Google+ isn’t meant to be a social network. Or so it says. Google+ Pages will help brands in terms of search position and relevance with more real-time content that’s prioritized above other search results. But it’s not designed to drive the type of deeper engagement true social networks allow. While Google+ should be part of your overall media strategy, it won’t replace other social efforts anytime in the near future.

For example, there are limitations placed on Google+ Pages right now regarding promotions and contests. Specifically, the inability to host any promotions or competitions directly on Google+ Pages may actually end up driving more promotional traffic to Facebook. This is further made likely by Facebook’s own policy requiring that contests running on its site be hosted there.

The threat to the existence of Google can’t be understated. How real is this threat? Google certainly feels confident that it owns the internet and mobile web based on current platform dominance. But it should remember that it’s benefited from disruptive shifts in technology and user behavior.

For mobile specifically, this threat is embodied not only in Siri, which we know Google fears, but also potentially in Windows Phone. From a user experience perspective, Windows Phone represents a paradigm shift. Flameouts show how a dominant position can be compromised by complacency and failure to shift product strategy to reflect evolving tastes.

What further increases this risk for Google is that TV online advertising rates are on track to return to prerecession levels, while the overall ad industry is still below 2007 spending levels. While 2012 will see the growth of online ad spending surpass TV (11 percent growth versus 7 percent growth), brand advertisers are still spending more on TV. With more and more ads driving traffic directly to Facebook in search of deeper engagement, we see yet another strong channel that bypasses search-driven web use, even websites, entirely.

While I’ll be the first to admit that speculation on Google’s ultimate demise may be a bit premature, it does lead to some questions about what this all means in the short term. While Google+ will most likely have to be part of your overall search marketing consideration set, it’s a nonstarter from a social platform or deeper engagement perspective. Plans should reflect that. Google’s impulsive product strategy should also pause brands when considering how much effort to expend on Google+ as a whole. What it’s already shown us with the recent product cancellations and refocusing is that on Larry Page’s watch, anything is possible.

There’s an Ad for That

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

According to eMarketer, mobile ad spending in messaging, display, video and search is expected for the first time to top $1 billion in the U.S. this year, showing the highly fractured nature of the mobile ad market. Research from several mobile ad network providers shows the difference in performance between approaches and resulting user behaviors, with expanding ads performing extremely poorly in terms of clickthroughs versus simple animated banner or video ads. Adding to the challenge of choosing the right approach and setting expectations of performance is the sheer number of ad formats and networks available.

Consider Context
Don’t just think about how and when users are exposed to ads on their phones, but also where they are and what they’re doing at the time. This establishes a complete picture of the context for the ad. Some formats don’t make sense in a broad variety of contexts, therefore a critical consideration would be to ensure that whatever network you’re using offers this type of contextual placement in addition to other targeting options.

There are real differences when considering advertising in apps vs. mobile websites. While casual web surfing on a mobile or tablet device would support the use of display ads to reach an audience, in-app behavior is distinctly different from surfing. This means that even if in-app advertising is available, you need to carefully consider its effectiveness during real-world app usage and the overall impression it would give users encountering it in a particular context.

Consider the following: Do mobile users really need or want a banner ad consuming valuable screen space in the apps they frequent most? It’s this total picture of context that should be the driving consideration for design, placement and expectations of performance. Even if ads aren’t currently available in that location, the ability to leverage background application processing or emerging geo-fencing options allows marketers to take advantage of what would normally be a missed messaging opportunity.

Let’s consider in-ad gaming for mobile, specifically ads during active gameplay. Even at a load screen, would you really expect an ad to drive a clickthrough? Would it do anything but generate an ad impression? As a gamer, I’m not likely to click if I’m stealing a few minutes during the day for a casual gaming session to relax before resuming my day. However, seeing that ad still works for branding purposes as past data suggests.

Mobile is Actually Local
The reality is that the mobile device is inherently local, which needs to factor prominently into planning a mobile campaign. While mobile users are unlikely to be surfing and clicking on banners while walking within the proximity of a nearby coffee shop, you can use technologies such as geo-fencing and background application processing on mobile devices to offer them $1 off an oh-so-satisfying latte. This example makes a strong case for carefully considering branding versus direct response versus promotional programs. It definitely reinforces the importance of context.

Where this gets even more interesting for advertisers is in the ability to exchange data and share interaction points for local, geo-targeted ad or promotional models. If a loyalty or transaction app is already installed on a consumer’s phone, and it enables proximity notifications through access to the device’s location, a retailer can let five other retailers within walking distance leverage this trusted channel to provide truly localized messaging opportunities at a premium.

They can even support a performance-based model, which could accurately determine if the consumer subsequently walked into the establishment. This is all no more complex than any self-service ad model in place today, with legal and privacy concerns addressed via proper disclosures and notifications during installation and/or activation of the app.

Display advertising on mobile obviously isn’t going away. The sooner you realize that it’s not the web as you know it today, stop trying to force current ad models into current mobile platforms, and that context is key, the sooner you’ll be able to generate not only results you can brag about, but returns clients can truly appreciate.