In Post-PC World, It's Time To Make Good On Deferred Personalization Promises

I have to admit getting tired of the mobile metrics machine. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the migration to devices is massive, tectonic, revolutionary -- yadda, yadda, yadda. We all know the first five slides of every start-up pitch by heart now: a Nielsen curve chart, the obligatory Mary Meeker mobile spending gap reference, tipping point of mobile-vs-Web use, how many apps people have on their phones, share of search that is now mobile, etc. Huge opportunity. Just HUGE! We all know the warm-up.

But the metrics that are becoming genuinely impressive regarding mobile are the measures of its impact on everyday behavior. Devices not only occupy more and more of our mindshare; they are capturing our heartshare as well. It probably comes as no surprise that we are now officially compulsive smartphone checkers. According to a new Harris survey made with Loookout, 58% of smartphone users admit they can’t go an hour without checking their device. Among the 18- to 34-year-old segment, that checking habit leaps to 68%.

But it is the sheer emotional attachment to devices that may be most impressive. In this survey of over 2,000 users, 73% say they feel “panicked” when they misplace their phone, while 14% say they feel “desperate” and 7% feel “sick.” A contrarian 6% say they are “relieved,” however.  Interestingly in this lost-phone scenario, women tend to panic more, but men cop much more often to all of the more extreme feelings.

The other piece is that our relationship with our phones is so codependent it lures us across etiquette lines. The TV spot joking about the husband secretly checking video of a game at a restaurant is no joke, since 30% admitted that they check phones while eating with others. And, yes, almost a quarter say they check their phones while driving.

Be afraid.

Of course Lookout, a security firm, is focusing on our anxieties about cell phones, but the deeper point about our intimate relationship with devices cannot be lost. Emotionally, we treat our phones like a lover with whom we have such passion that excessive and even rude public shows of affection seem acceptable.

But we have always known that users have a level of intimacy with devices they just don’t have with other technology and media platforms. That's why ringtones were such a hit in the mid-early days of data phones. We were willing to use technology as a platform for branding and self-expression.

It's important we also think through the intimacy factor. To what degree is that relationship projected onto the media we consume or with which we interact on a phone? That is not entirely clear yet. After all, just five or six years ago, carriers were terrified of putting ads on phones because they thought it would break trust with users. Guess what, now that billions of mobile ads are served daily, the issue is moot. On some level we do accept broadcasting on the most personal of devices.

On the other hand, I suspect that we still reward the brands and media companies that conform to the intimacy factor. The Flipboards and Pulses on the Tablet, and the Evernotes and  social media that make the mass media of the Web feel more like the me-media of mobile, will be rewarded in the long run.

The years of promises about personalization on the Web (and I covered them all) rarely came to fruition. From MyYahoo to customizable sections of news and service sites, the personalized experience never seemed worth the time setting it up -- at least for most users. An entire subset of behavioral targeting was geared toward the personalized approach, which on most sites amounted to a little bug at the upper right of a site saying “Welcome back, Steve.”

The metrics surrounding mobile and the behaviors these devices engender, even the lines they let us transgress, should be a powerful lesson to media companies especially. Personalization really does matter here. Users may not reject you because the content isn’t customized to their interests and needs. But there will always be the provider who will succeeded in engendering loyalty and deepening use by making the experience of media access feel more like the user’s own.      

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1 comment about "In Post-PC World, It's Time To Make Good On Deferred Personalization Promises ".
  1. David Lawson from Knotice , June 25, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.
    Thanks for pointing this out Steve- couldn't agree more. An interesting survey from Aberdeen recently asked 54 retailers of all sizes about the current state of their personalization efforts. The results are disappointing and, as you point out, not surprising. The realities are that while 70%+ claim to aspire to develop their businesses around a proven approach like this, less than 25% consistently personalize marketing campaigns and achieve real-time tracking and even more shocking, less than 10% can automatically update a customer profile based on their online interaction with them (something that if you can do this, makes tracking and personalization much easier). Much of this is due to the ways that marketers today aren’t set-up to coalesce the vast array of data silos they have. In most cases (while this should be pretty automatic with technology today), they can't take what they know about you from your account/site/email/search/social/ad exposure/sms/mobile web/in-app/in-store/loyalty/etc activity and wrap it around a meaningful "I know you" experience. Those that can are winning AND they have a better understanding of the true health of their business and where it can go. Those that can't are generally either unable to make unilateral decisions across these channels to unify (likely due to organization structure-induced inertia) OR they are content to remain focused on building monolithic channel silos because its safe and generally accepted. Unfortunately, that will keep them from delivering on the promise that mobility can truly deliver upon with access to this customer-centric data. While I understand that the flying cars and jet pack promises of my youth may be delayed, I am genuinely annoyed that the "available now" opportunity to deliver better experiences across my PC and especially mobile experiences is not valued enough by brands to explore the new options that would deliver these goods.