The IPhone Runneth Over

The sheer volume and relentlessness of commentary on the iPhone 3G is enough to swear me off of the topic for a few weeks. Most well-hyped hardware and software releases fill the voracious blogospere channel for a day or two and then deservedly fall off the front page. But the iPhone just keeps on giving. Gadget blogs and tech news outlets can't get enough of every vaporware announcement, bug reports, and Steve Jobs rumors. You would think this device were a pregnant celebrity.

Apart from the VC press and gadget fanboys, there actually are some interesting things still to be said about this device once the gushing subsides. Mobile marketers are starting to think hard about what this platform means for them. After pinging some of my favorite industry contacts a couple of weeks ago for their thoughts on the iPhone 3G's implications for the marketplace, my inbox flowed over with lengthy responses from guys who clearly have been pondering this one. Sometimes it is better for a columnist like me to shut up and curate the thoughts of others, so here is a sample.

Frank Barbieri, CEO, Transpera. Transpera enables Web video providers to move their online wares to mobile, and the company already has "iPhone Platform Service" that can run campaigns and video across apps and Safari: "For marketers the future is still a little murky. Effective advertising campaigns depend on reach, targeting and volume. We're not there yet with apps, but should soon be. We need to make campaigns easy for marketers to understand and buy, and create as much commonality with other channels as possible. I think you will see branded apps that leverage the app capabilities, for instance a branded Trip Advisor app with location built in. But the marketers who can create compelling, sticky mobile apps that are mirrors of their brands are a very few. So we're likely to see the larger marketing opportunity around more intelligent advertising, for instance adding location aware ads and referral ads that integrate with the phone's address book. Those will be powerful ways to reach people."

Jeff Litvack, global product development director, AP. AP News Network was among the first news applications to launch in the App Store, so I asked Jeff to reflect on downloadable apps as a platform both for content and ads: "We are working with ad agencies and local newspapers (AP members) to sell advertising on the client app. Based on current conversations, we hope to start delivering ads in the third quarter. For most brands, these buys are still experimental, and there's a need to educate buyers and agencies on how to leverage this new medium, especially around targeted messages on a local level. With regards to 3G phones, this is our target audience, and it is about having this powerful resource in your back pocket. The way in which news is read on these smart devices is fundamentally better. It is not only faster delivery, but more visual, more customizable and feature-rich. These same benefits exist for advertisers as well. Moving from low res ads (or even text ads) to highly visual advertisements and microsites that include breathtaking pictures of products, cool video and audio displays and customization features will drive conversion and product adoption." Dan Flanegan, CEO, Brand Anywhere. Dan, also the co-founder of Soapbox Mobile, was like me disappointed that Apple retreated to a traditional carrier-centric pricing model and carrier-like retail experience with silly activation woes. Regardless, he says, "With the iPhone 3G and 2.0 software marketers can now engage in persistent marketing with consumers. A user has made a commitment to install your application on their most personal electronic device... . We are going to see both branded applications and ad supported ones. My preference, as a consumer and a marketer, would be to create unique brand experiences that drive adoption and use. Mobile ads must be highly relevant to be effective, and they have to drive consumers off a rich application to an equally rich brand experience. The first ads to effectively do this in the iPhone 2.0 app environment will be the ones to watch and eventually model future campaigns after. I'm still waiting for one!"

Gene Keenan, vice president of mobile services, Isobar, has always been high on the iPhone, but the location awareness of the new version really stokes his imagination. After manually pulling down contextually relevant information during his visit to Greece, Gene, riffs, "Imagine an application that is location aware so when I fire it up it tells me I am at the Acropolis and would you like to read about it? Tying together disparate information into one app will be the killer app for a brand to do. In reviewing all of the apps available now at the App Store they are focused on doing one thing. But stuff should be linked together like it is on the Internet. For instance, if I am a traveler and I am using an application put together by my hotel, I will want to know more than just my confirmation number, address etc. I will want rotten tomatoes like data on restaurants, transportation maps, taxi numbers, WiFi hot spots, etc. All done in a location-aware manner. That is true utility."

In fact, being of real use is one of the challenges the App Store poses to brands who want to play here. At first blush, dedicated applications seem like a great platform. As Barbieri points out, only a narrow range of brands will be able to map that well against true usefulness. A single purpose mobile app could play well as a CRM and marketing tool to brand loyalists. If Borders told me they had an app that contained the latest coupons, events at my nearby location, and personalized recommendations, I would download it. How about a Victoria's Secret app that knew when you were in the store itself so it could reward you with special offers on the spot? A Papa Johns's pizze fan would likely want an app that is narrowly focused on ordering a pie quickly. Otherwise, however, I think Keenan has it right that an apps platform raises the bar on brands to provide consumers with truly valuable or entertaining experiences that are not necessarily always serving a specific marketing goal. To further riff on the hotel application, one of the advantages of a relatively open mobile content platform is that the apps are fairly disposable. This can be a good thing. I don't always want to have my current hotel's local guide on my phone. An open mobile content eco-system would let me load a localized app just for the few days I am there and delete it later. Disposability could be a virtue of mobile.

But the iPhone and all smart phone platforms also raise the bar on advertising. The screen is large and lush enough to merit richer display advertising and landing page experiences, but it also demands them. The screen is too small and the device too personal to endure clutter or irrelevance. Just because a smart phone screen behaves more like a familiar Web browser doesn't mean it can mimic the NASCAR aesthetic of most Web sites. The expansion of screen real estate on mobile will help blur the line between advertising and content in a number of ways, not the least of which is forcing marketers to make the ad experiences more worthwhile. The iPhone and its many progeny open up the canvas for marketers and also hand them a set of expert paints and brushes. As a result, I think users expect something more than the usual scrawling and finger painting.

Tags: mobile
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