by Ross Rubin

As smartphone time dominates, branding imperatives shift

May 01, 2017
MarketingMobile AppsMobile Development

More consumers are turning to their smartphones first for research and purchases. That's changing the development mindset for digital branding in mobile

Brand marketers have long debated the merits of TV, with its massive reach and engaging video, versus the combination of email and the web, which offers interactivity and increasing degrees of personalization. But a third leg of the cross-media table is emerging, and that’s smartphones, where tech development is evolving from user-driven to agent-led initiatives.

Buoyed by speedy 4G networks and larger screens that make them a more natural platform for video, smartphones offer a level of access intimacy far beyond that of the web with further potential for location-specific mentioning. The latter, of course, ties into the potential for a wave of indoor positioning systems, beacons and 5G networks with its femtocell infrastructure.

A recent Relevancy Group study on the evolving role of mobile in marketing drove home many of these points. For example, one in five U.S. consumers now say they can’t live without their smartphones, some going so far to even sleep with them.

Consumers are also open to an array of brand interactions on their mobile phones, with 43 percent visiting a brand’s website, 28 percent downloading a retailer or brand app, and 22 percent opting in to SMS text marketing, among other notable activities. Indeed, the study found that about one in five U.S. consumers are phone-firsters, that is, they use their smartphones as their primary device for activities such as online media and shopping.

That said, there are still limits to mobile branding. About a quarter of women say they have not interacted with a brand via mobile and the percentage total is slightly higher for men. In addition, those over 60 see a drop off in terms of mobile engagement.

The mobile branding experience is poised for significant changes. While apps remain popular, U.S. consumers report that they use fewer than ten of them a week on average. One issue inhibiting the downloading of additional apps is tithe installation barrier, which Google is seeking to tackle with its Android Instant Apps initiative. However, the first target for those are situational apps, for example, a municipal parking app for a city one is visiting.

Because of this, retailers and other consumer brands are looking increasingly toward chatbots that can enable “conversational commerce.”  Facebook, for example, has seen more than 30,000 bots developed for its Messenger platform. However, these agents may not be a perfect substitute for apps, which can offer a relatively broad range of functions. That said, agents have more of an ability to built rapport with consumers over time. They offer an additional advantage, as well — the chance to be leveraged in other platforms via voice-centric devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Google recently rolled out the ability for its Assistant to differentiate between voices, a particularly handy talent for a shared device in the home.

With such shifts, it seems clear that branding in the mobile age is increasingly less around making a big bang and more about keeping up a constant dialogue, continuing to evolve the conversation to take into account both the expressed and unmet needs of customers.