If there is a pet peeve of the year in the mobile media and marketing realm, it involves our growing impatience with brands making the consumer jump through hoops for no significant pay-off. The simple act of downloading a branded app that has no apparent function or raison d'etre other than the greater glory of the brand is, in fact, an imposition on the mobile user. Making me key in an SMS code and click through ensuing links just to get the same movie trailer I can see five times an hour on cable? That is a "value add"? Are you kidding me?
You want to meet the mobile consumer? Take a look at this sample from a set of videos ARC Worldwide recruited from mobile shoppers.
Our iPhoner may not be the sharpest Flip cameraman out there, but his frustration with accessing sites and shopping tools on his phone is palpable. Why, oh why, must he register before using something he may not even need, he asks? Why aren't the brands he navigates to streamlining the process for him? Best line: "I just want to live in my hovel online and have things delivered to me by UPS." OK, this cave-dweller may not be fully representative of consumers, but he is one of many who captured their frustration about mobile media for Arc's novel study.
The subtext of this consumer's rant is really the message that comes out of 2010 mobile media loud and clear: We really don't love your brands as much as you imagine we do. The app stores are cluttered with branded media that have no particular appeal to end users -- or force the user through so many clicks, scans and forms that the user starts to feel like a lab rat, a subject in some Pavlovian test. Sure, the mobile agency could check off the mobile box and show the client that now they "have their app," but on the other end, there are consumers wondering "What was up with that?"
The importance of immediacy on mobile is as obvious as it is undervalued in executions. In a new Harris Interactive survey done for Ask.com, 81% of 1,500 respondents said that when they look for information on their phones, they expect it immediately. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it really underscores how much the mobile use case is about either urgent need-to-know or impulsive want-to-have data. How many app interfaces really are designed around that understanding? The survey also showed that 66% of respondents will tend to ask urgent questions of the Web when away from their desktop.
Ask.com of course is leveraging that data around a new mobile-leaning overall strategy that relies more on real-time answers to specific questions. The new Ask.com app for iPhone was not intended as a search engine, the company tells me, but as a Q&A device. Ask.com is actually leading the next of its many transformations online with this mobile app. According to Jason Rupp, director of product management for Ask, the first version was pushed out a few weeks ago to see how people used it, and 250,000 downloaded it in short order. The top categories people are asking about are computers and networking, health and beauty, business and finance and travel and places. The app has many answers to direct questions like "What is the cheapest gas in my area?" baked into the engine, and allows users to answer other queries.
The Ask.com crew interprets the immediacy imperative to mean that people want the freshest information in a localized way. In a future iteration, they plan to engage that community to offer fresher information about specific places. If someone uses an LBS app to find user reviews of a local eatery, don't they also really want to know if there is a wait for tables right now?
The Harris data showed that 40% of users felt they would be more influenced by user opinions about a location that had been made in the last 24 hours. As the Ask.com community gains scale both on the Web and on mobile, the company is hoping to have this kind of near-real-time, foursquare-style, info as part of a Q&A-oriented search.
One of the things Ask is finding is that mobile is itself one of the best sources for its engine. The Q&A version of Ask is being rolled out in beta to select groups for now, but it is the main interface of the iPhone app. The company is already finding that mobile users are producing two to three times the amount of community content as Web users. In other words the immediacy imperative of mobile is a two-way street. Done well, a mobile app or site might get a lot more back from the user in real time than it would from a Web site.
Whether Ask.com's answer to user impatience is on target remains to be seen. The company's data may underscore the obvious, but the immediacy imperative is not so obvious that enough brands recognize it in their designs.
By the way, the video clip linked to above is part of a much larger study that Leo Burnett and ARC worldwide have done of mobile shoppers, their behaviors and frustrations that will be presented at the upcoming Mobile Insider Summit at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla.