Lesson From The Summit: Putting the App Before The Horse
Google's Jason Spero started us off by showing the staggering growth in mobile searches the company has seen in just the last year. Mobile discoverability is job one. As the networks and devices improve, people are bringing a decade of Web learnings to their handsets, so a mobile Web site is fundamental.
In his Day 3 keynote, Digitas' President Colin Kinsella underscored this need for brands to ensure a smooth mobile experience for customers when they naturally look for you on their phones. The challenge here will be significant, however. As I recall, Kinsella said that about 90% of mobile Web searches are clicking on the first result.
I was amazed at how little discussion there was overall about apps, at least relative to recent mobile events. In fact, in her notes to me about the Day 1 Roundtable on branded apps, InsightExpress' Joy Liuzzo, the discussion leader, reports many brands thinking deeper. Instead of having executives asking where their iPhone app is, the larger question is, what kind of strategy is behind the app and where is the data going? Perhaps most interesting is that even in a roundtable focusing on branded apps, the consensus was that brands should have their mobile Web sites in order before investing in an app.
On Day 2, Coca-Cola's Tom Daly brought that idea to a fine point in his very clear declaration of how this mobile pioneer prioritizes mobile efforts. Text is first and foremost -- because for a global brand, it is all about reach, Daly reminded everyone. The company's versatility is still impressive. Daly recounted one European example of how enabling text-based mobile payments for a Coca-cola vending machine lifted sales 13%. Is there an app for that? After SMS comes the mobile Web - and, only after that, comes an app. In fact, Daly set a very high bar for app developers when he invoked the most beloved Super Bowl ad of them all, Mean Joe Green tossing his towel to a young fan. App makers should be aiming to produce mobile experiences with that kind of story and impact for brands, he suggested. So I gather that Coke's own customizable spin-the-bottle app is not quite what the brand is aiming to achieve on this platform.
None of which is to suggest a growing anti-app sentiment. Throughout the three days of the Summit, I still heard my fair share of CEO app-envy stories. Apparently the worst thing that can happen in first class nowadays is to have a fellow CEO show off his bright shiny new app when you have nothing to show in return. I understand that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been dumped into these vanity apps as a result. One mobile agency CEO admitted they had made a lot of money over the past few years just from companies blindly asking for apps for no particular reason.
One of the most telling bits of app-related data from the Summit came from a custom report Joy Liuzzo did for us about mobile user attitudes and usage patterns. It seems that 25% of smartphone users don't even regard their handset as a smartphone. They either don't know they have the extra features or never bought the thing with these enhanced capabilities in mind. But this rather large segment of the supposed smartphone surge acts like feature phone users and rarely engages with apps at all (16%) or even plays games (8%). These less-than-smartphoners do, however, use the mobile Internet at a higher rate (21%) than feature phoners -- and they do use mobile email (29%).
I was also struck by how much more down-to-earth mobile marketing discussions had become in just the last year. The focus has moved from technology to real-world use cases, integration of mobile with other marketing plans, getting the user experience right and leveraging the data. Mobile is starting to sound like a platform that is less "emerging" than one already here.