What Is Mobile? Thinking Beyond Channel

A Collection of Buzzwords Isn't a Good Strategy

Colleen Jones Posted by

Feb 09 2012

Recently, I shared my perspective on why mobile is not a channel. That begs the question, “What is it?”

I see mobile as a collection of touchpoints.

MOBILE IS AN ECOSYSTEM OF TOUCHPOINTS

Mobile surrounds each of your users with many ways of connecting to digital—or touchpoints. Smartphone touchpoints allow each user to monitor, be alerted, and react in the moment. Tablet touchpoints allow users to immerse themselves for a while—alone or with friends and family. If you plan these touchpoints well, as a system, then you can be ready to meet your users’ needs in diverse mobile situations.

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The interesting thing is that the uniquely mobile touchpoints aren’t simply websites or applications. They are SMS (short messaging service) messages, ads, and location-based service campaigns, too. And, those touchpoints are much more integrated in a mobile experience than their counterparts in a traditional web experience.

For example, ads are successful on tablets, partly because they can be deeper and richer than ads for traditional interactive. On tablets, ads are becoming more like content themselves and flow more seamlessly into your tablet-optimized site or application than a normal banner ad.

As another example, an SMS trigger, such as an alert from Target that new coupons are available, will lead me immediately to the coupons on the smartphone-optimized website. A traditional email is likely to cover more topics, have more links, and compete with all the other emails in my in box for attention. In other words, to the user, there’s more distinction between the email and the normal website than there is between the SMS trigger and the mobile website.

WHY A TOUCHPOINT VIEW IS MORE USEFUL THAN A CHANNEL VIEW

I find this view handy because it…

Allows for the right variety among mobile touchpoints.
The touchpoints share much in common, but they’re not exactly the same. For example, Zappos decided to create a lifestyle magazine application for tablets but not the smartphone.  That was the right decision. Why? Because people are more likely to immerse themselves in a magazine with a tablet than with a smartphone.

Sets the right planning and process expectations with executives and stakeholders.
Mobile is multifaceted. Mobile is complex. Mobile is integrated. And, mobile has high potential to boost your reach, reputation, and results. So, you’ll get more value out of mobile if you take time to assess your strategy. Also, it’s not a single channel, so trying to manage it in the same way as your calls or your website, for example, won’t work.

Accommodates future change.
One thing we can be sure about mobile? Change. As technology advances and new types of devices proliferate, we don’t know exactly what the future holds. Heck, pretty soon your car will be a mobile touchpoint. So, viewing mobile as a system of touchpoints now will make it easier to include new touchpoints later.

WHAT MOBILE TOUCHPOINTS MEAN FOR STRATEGIC PLANNING

To make the most of your mobile ecosystem, you’ll likely need a different approach to planning for it. Over the past several months, we’ve thought about the implications and started a repository of things to consider. To give you a sense of the implications, I’m sharing a few here.

Pay Attention to Your Own Industry and Your Own Metrics

The potential of the smartphone experience for retail is much different than it is for higher education, for example. The potential of tablet experience for media is much different than it is for finance.  It’s worth taking time to consider the realistic opportunities for your industry so you don’t overinvest or underinvest in mobile.

In the same way, I see organizations struggling to accommodate mobile as well as social and content into their way of doing interactive. How to prioritize? One way is to look at your metrics to determine whether your users really are seeking you on mobile. If they are, then make a basic mobile presence a priority. If not, then get social and content in order first.

Start Identifying Opportune Moments

To plan a great experience for the smartphone side of mobile, you have to identify the right moments you want to support. And, in many cases, you have to figure out how you’re going to detect those moments. You have to figure out the user context. GigaOm analystDr. Phil Hendrix calls this “tuning in” to users’ “digital signals.” What data about the user or the user’s phone will trigger an alert or a message, for example? Walmart has invested $300 million and counting in WalmartLabs to figure out exactly that and more for their retail business. That investment makes sense for retail and other industries with a lot at stake in mobile. For other industries, location-based services such as foursquare and Facebook Places can help you detect a user’s location and social connections.

Don’t Necessarily COPE  (Create Once Publish Everywhere)

You might have heard of COPE. NPR (National Public Radio) helped coin this phrase in describing its API and its overall approach to publishing content to their channels and touchpoints. Here’s the thing. NPR is a media property with one core type of content, the story, and one main user scenario, consuming the story. If you are not a media company, you have many more content types and customer scenarios to consider. You don’t necessarily want to publish the same content everywhere. It’s okay to have content in one mobile touchpoint and not another. Instead, you want the capability to create content once and publish to multiple channels and touchpoints—the touchpoints that you decide are appropriate for your users.

Avoid Ownership + Process Headaches

Mobile is so integrated that it wreaks havoc on how large organizations manage channels and even interactive roles. When you pursue mobile, be ready to work through the ownership and process maturation as much as the user experience issues. Who owns mobile search? Who will oversee editorial for your tablet application?

Those considerations are only a few…I could go on and on. My point is that this ecosystem view of mobile will change how you plan for mobile.

BEYOND CHANNEL, BEYOND SOUND BITES

Right now, perhaps the biggest impact of seeing mobile as an ecosystem of touchpoints is this:

Cobbling together industry sound bites about mobile won’t work as your mobile strategy.

So, if you’re given a regurgitation of buzzwords as a strategy, then think twice before accepting it. If you see mobile as an ecosystem of touchpoints, then you or your team can think beyond the cacophony of catchphrases and plan a strategy for your unique mobile situation—a strategy that will really work.