Culture is context. That is, culture is that loose and vague collection of values, symbols, rituals, habits, style and attitudes that characterize and distinguish a group of people. The amorphous and hard-to-finger qualities that differentiate the U.S. context from, say, the Japanese or Eastern Europe or Malaysian contexts all become key in how new platforms find a place within people’s lives.
Despite the hubris of gadget geeks and the techno-industry, new technologies don’t in and of themselves change cultures. The interaction is much more complex than that. Every new and important media gadget, from the motion picture to radio to TV to Internet to mobile phones, ultimately is given a place within our culture in ways that the inventors may not have foreseen, because the technology has to negotiate its way into our lives and all our preexisting needs and values.
This interplay between gadgetry and culture is especially apparent in the mobile world. As any global mobile marketer will tell you, the mobile phone has evolved as a gadget in significantly different ways around the globe. In some places, the mobile phone is the first and only contact many people have had with the Internet itself. While we in the U.S. now juggle PC, laptop, smartphone and even tablet, for much of the globe the feature phone is still both the first and the only screen in their interactive media cosmos.
The mobile payment model has been very slow to gain traction in the U.S., but in some other contexts we are already seeing phones being used as payment systems. Even here in the U.S., while many in the industry would have liked to see near-field communications (NFC) and m-payments take hold, shoppers had their own ideas. Last year they started bringing their smartphones into store aisles -- an unexpected move that left many retailers scrambling for a solution.
In a recent survey of multiple device usage in the U.S. and Japan, Dentsu found that cultures matter in the way that people perceive gadgets. For instance, in Japan 51.3% felt that a tablet was closer to a PC and only 39.7% felt that it was closer to a smartphone. In the U.S. the attitude is remarkably different, with only 33.3% saying a tablet is closer to a PC and 57.3% feeling it is closer to a smartphone.
Usage patterns were also quite apart. For U.S. tablet owners, the device has become a persistent mainstay, with most of them using the tablet multiple times a day. In Japan, however, the primary daily uses appear to be social, with 26% using it for social media and 21% for video sharing. In short, the Japanese are not seeing the tablet (yet perhaps) as a media consumption device. Only 6% of Japanese tablet owners are even using tablets daily as ebook readers, compared to 35% in the U.S. For U.S. tablet owners who also own smartphones, 70% to 80% are ebook readers.
Japanese tablet owners are themselves having trouble seeing these devices becoming mainstays. Only 18% of respondents felt that the platform would become a mainstream gadget. For tablet owners here, 38% are already convinced that tablets will be mainstream. Americans are seeing the device evolve as a piece of the media consumption continuum. The connection between tablet and TV is especially pronounced here, where 36% of owners say they use the device to comment on Tv shows over social networks, compared to the 24% who use smartphones to do so.
Dentsu rightly points out that over time the availability of more media options on tablets in Japan could shift attitudes about the device closer to U.S. users'. But the place that the Japanese tablet user is already assigning to tablets, as more of a social than a media tool, suggests a different path for its future, with physical sharing of the tablet playing a bigger role. “While the tablet will no doubt become more of a personal device even in Japan, it may still evolve as a medium where people close to each other communicate, share the same space, and enjoy sharing abundant information.” In other words, the tablet will conform to the social patterns and priorities within that context.
How we allocate the multiple screens now available in our lives will in many ways determine how media and marketers construct strategies for leveraging these screens. We need to think beyond the “always-on” paradigm. Spewing the same old ad crap across all of these displays at once will miss 90% of the opportunity and just make advertising seem even more irrelevant to our needs than it already does. This is not just the Web everywhere. Users will ascribe roles to each screen that aligns with different modes, mindsets, perhaps even moods.
Tracking mere “behaviors” we once identified with someone accessing an auto article in the last six weeks (flag and follow as “auto intender”), will seem like small potatoes in this world. “Contextual targeting” used to mean aligning an ad with the content on a given page. In a multiscreen world, targeting “context” is actually close to targeting real world behaviors –- where someone is, what she is doing and even perhaps what mood she is in or level of receptivity the current screen implies about her. Good luck with this.