Brands On Mobile: In the Form Of A Question, Please

Why can't I pop most brand names into my mobile browser and get a decent interactive experience yet? To hell with all of the hype about brands and agencies finally getting serious about mobile. Yadda, yadda. Most of them seem to be leap-frogging the basics.


Before you brand managers start pestering your agencies to "get me an iPhone app," how about making sure that you think through a mobile-friendly destination for Web browsers? And I don't mean that you should just have a mobile site out there somewhere (which you should), but that you make sure that the redirects are in place so that most mobile browsers will end up there.

The New York Times has one of the most ambitious mobile Web sites of any newspaper I have seen, but good luck finding it casually from the iPhone's Safari browser or the Palm and Android browsers. On all three I get the full Web experience and I am back to the days when Apple really thought we wanted to tap-tap-tap in and out of sections of the expansive page. There is a superb page, but unless you make a specific request of Yahoo "mobile nytimes" you will have to remember the special URL.

Google doesn't even list the mobile destination when you do that search. It just finds content on the NYTimes site promoting mobile. Yeesh. I am up to my eyeballs in mobile media and culture and even I have to try the "m.", "mobile." Prefixes or ".mobi" and "/mobile" prefixes are on too many brands before I actually find their mobile Web site. What hope is there for ordinary mobile users?


When we awarded Publicis Groupe's Phonevalley the OMMA Mobile Agency of the Year Award recently, I got to talk with CEO Alexandre Mars. He said he's spending a lot of time this coming year convincing brands to get their "m-dot" strategy in order. He said that 2010 will be the year of the m-dot and this means that more of the mobile marketing strategy has to move beyond marketing and media buying and into the creative wing. "All big brands need a mobile site," he told me. "It is more and more around concepts, ideas, creative."


But it is going to have to be creativity with a purpose. I did a quick review of brands' mobile sites the other day and found that there is a substantial difference between merely having a mobile "presence" and having a mobile purpose. 


For instance, Sony is smart -- but not smart enough on my mobile browser. "" does kick me over to a nicely formatted mobile presence. The site promotes the new e-reader and has sections pushing the key Sony product lines of games, movies, and music. I'm heartened that one of the largest consumer electronic brands makes the mobile effort, but I'll be damned if I can figure out why they think I would come there. What is the use case they have in mind? Oh, I am out and about,  and I want to see what Sony is up to in the marketplace? Most of the items offer to send a more substantial "link" to me via email. Even the main promo for the eReader kicks me over to the full Web site.

Isn't anyone over there considering why a consumer would type in on a mobile browser? Perhaps they are standing in front of a Bravia at BestBuy and wondering about its real specs? Wouldn't you want to put a search box in there that leads to product details? The ironic subtext of the Sony mobile site is that you can't possibly do anything of real use on mobile. Get your ass over to the real Web, buddy.

I am not picking on Sony, by the way. Samsung is worse. Type in the brand as a URL and you land on the main Web site, which requires Flash to get much of anything. Sorry, iPhone.

The brands that have credible mobile purpose rather than presence are the ones that follow the basic "Jeopardy" principle. They pose their mobile answer in the form of a question. Why would someone be coming to us via a mobile browser?

All of the major pizza chains get this. At, and, you are a click away from ordering. Some but not all of the auto makers get this. The clean and sensible has its latest sales promotion but follows it with a link to local offers and a dealer search box. That's it; you can scroll down to links into the car catalog, but the basic design feels like a concierge anticipating your next question. Nope. Perhaps each of these brands does have mobile sites, but not to the likely mobile users who simply try to type in their brands in the address box.

Personally, I think that as a group some of the fast-food restaurants are doing the best job of answering the mobile question: What are you doing here? With the exception of (a standard Web site that requires Flash),,,, and all know that most people want to find a store but also want to know the nutritional content of the menu. The use case is obvious. You are thinking of where to go to lunch or someone is going to McD's and ordering for the office. What do they have? Or how much fat is there in those small fries? (It's 11 grams, by the way).

Wendy's and KFC are straightforward links to locators and nutrition that are feature-phone friendly. The two burger rivals take it up a notch and wisely turn their mobile presence into a mobile place. McDonald's "Mobile McState" is an attractive small collection of nutrition and location information that adds some content about events. The next step, I think, would be to make it into an in-store companion. How about games for the kids?

BK has the cleverest destination of all. The King's Phone has the locator and nutritional info you expect but it also has something most brands lack on mobile: fun. The King's phone directory includes mock chat messages and a directory that includes his stunt double and a scepter repairman. In addition to answering the practical questions of where and what to eat, it also anticipates the next query. I am sitting here alone chomping a burger and fries. What is there to do? How about goofing with the King?

Apart from these and some other exceptions, most brands are only trying to get onto mobile without asking what they are doing there. I have a pile of bookmarks to uninspired branded mobile destinations that seem almost as amazed as Sony that I bothered to go there on a mobile phone. 

I agree with Alexandre Mars that this should be the year of the m-dot. But in the process, brands need to figure out what questions bring a user to their site, what voice and spirit they want to use when talking to them.

7 comments about "Brands On Mobile: In the Form Of A Question, Please".
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  1. Kim Dushinski from Mobile Marketing Profits, January 19, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.

    Can I get an AMEN?!? Yes, Steve. You are so right about this. Think about the consumer being mobile and what they would want from you.

    One thing I want to see when I am mobile is the store hours. I know where it is, I just want to know if it will be open when I get there.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, January 19, 2010 at 9 p.m.

    Thanks Kim. Put it this way. This is one of those columns that garners a lot of comment in the safe, confidential channel of my in-box and not necessarily out here where in the light of day.

    But if anyone wants to grab a pitchfork and add his or her request of mobile Web sites, pitch away. I would add to Kim a simple request of keeping the damn store hours updated during holidays.

  3. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, January 20, 2010 at 12:56 a.m.

    As Kim points out, mobile users want to know store hours. In Las Vegas, the hotel will comp a guest $50 if a concierge sends a guest to a business that is not open. It's a top peeve of customers of hotels and malls. Yet it's amazing that so many companies manage to screw this up. And this is just one example.

    Here's another. I love Hootsuite. Yet when you use the short link, did you know that it can't be read by most Palm handhelds? The last time I checked, Palm accounted for just under 10% of the smartphone market. I've been nagging Hootsuite since the launch of v2.0 to fix this.

    Given your observations about the relative inaccessibility of mobile phone landing pages, it is no wonder that most marketers remain blissfully ignorant of the lousy implementation that prevents consumers from being able to access web pages on their mobile phone.

    If 2010 truly ends up being the year mobile finally breaks out, it will only happen because marketers take a more proactive approach to ensuring the reliable delivery of answers to consumers.

  4. Richard Austin from 1973 Ltd, January 20, 2010 at 6:26 a.m.

    I agree with the article wholeheartedly, however I beleive there are two main influencers at work here, firstly that alot of marketers believe that the quick evolution smart phones will make 'mobile friendly' sites a thing of the past and secondly that a lack of common standards (OS, Browser, screen size) make people wary of developing a 'lowest common denominator' site.

  5. David Thurman from Aussie Rescue of Illinois, January 20, 2010 at 9:48 a.m.

    Excellent points Steve. I am one of those extreme mobile users, Palm Pre, and I to find the tap-tap idea a pain in the but, give me the basic mobile look if anything.

    Thanks, hope this is the year of mobile.

  6. Kim Dudra, January 20, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.

    It's an old axiom of product development "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." A successful web project, mobile or not, has to begin with questions like "What do myr visitors want to do on my site?", "Why would someone visit my site?", and "What would I like my visitors to do once they get there?" Start with a strong content strategy, objectives, a means to measure, a target audience, and THEN begin building. In writing, we will refer to "occasion" which answers how, where, and when will a reader use a medium, be it a brochure, website, instruction manual, etc. Think about mobile users' habits, where they might be using their phone, and even if they are horribly near-sighted (like me).

  7. Adam Day, January 20, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    I read the NYT through their IPhone APP three to four times a day. Mobile websites are great for those that don't have an app. The advantage of the app is that the consumer cared enough to download it and carry it around with them. I am not saying choose one over the other web, mobile web or app. Make sure it is integrated well with the marketing mix, focus on functionality easy navigation for the consumer and drives sales. Make sure its free don't try to transfer cost of development to the consumer. Remember its your ad in their pocket.

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