Commentary

It's Show Time: Learning to Listen At OMMA Mobile West

It's fitting that next week’s OMMA Mobile event in San Francisco (Oct. 25) comes just a week after the record-breaking release of the iPhone 4S. Our first OMMA Mobile was held on the day the first iPhone launched, in late June 2007. Our kick-off panel that day assembled some of the leading agency executives already specializing in mobile. I recall that as they left the stage to make way for the next panel, I asked them back for an impromptu survey on what effect they thought Apple’s new entry would have on the market.

Remember, there was considerable skepticism about Apple’s plan to move us to touch interfaces and pricey data plans, all on the most maligned network in the industry.  In fact, full disclosure, my Mobile Insider column for the day prior to the iPhone’s release insisted I would not be getting one. I was doubtful about touch interfaces (wrong), was thoroughly unconvinced that full-screen browsing on a phone was feasible (correct), and that the AT&T Edge network was even remotely capable of satisfying us (kinda, sorta right).

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In part, the agency execs I polled that day at OMMA Mobile moved me to relent and buy into a relationship with the iPhone I have never regretted.  To a person, the panel saw the iPhone as an important turning point. In an anecdote I know I have repeated several times before, Nihal Mehta, then head of mobile agency Ipsh, was the most prescient when he said, “Put a stake in the ground; everything from here on will be different.”

One of the advantages of such a long-running series as the OMMA Mobile shows, and now the Mobile Insider Summits, is that they become an ongoing conversation, where issues and concerns from one show inform the programming and shape of the next. To wit, next week’s West Coast iteration is subtitled “The Listening Tour,” directly inspired by the presentations and conversations we had at the Lake Tahoe Summit this summer. That’s when we reflected on how consumer-driven mobile has become, how user behaviors are so far ahead of media and marketing’s ability to catch up and find ways of capturing consumers as their own shopping and media consumption habits evolve into personal rituals. Executives from Century 21, OfficeMax, Travelocity, GGP malls all reiterated the same need to build mobile systems that learned from users, that better understood how the consumer really wanted to engage with their brands on mobile platforms.

And so the marching order next week, both in the design of the panels and the discussion agendas, is for our speakers to share as much as they can about what they are hearing and learning from consumers. How is mobile becoming a listening post? Listening is the theme of our opening block of content. Intel’s U.S. Media Director David Veneski will discuss how mobile can (if we let it) give brands tremendous new insight into how consumers touch the brand at different points in the day and the purchase cycle.

 We follow this opening with a panel of brand marketers from Intuit, BeachBody, Autotrader and the American Cancer Society directly addressing what they are learning from mobile about their own customers. Likewise, our panel engaging the increasingly popular rich-media ad models comes at it from the perspective both of ROI and feedback –- whether rich media pays back.

We round out the morning by engaging the place where consumers have taken over entirely: retail. Everyone is playing catch-up, and so our second keynote is from Walgreens’ Rich Lesperance, who explores how he is using mobile media to drive people to 8.000 store locations. And our panel on mobile and retail picks up on this theme to better understand how the phone is reshaping the purchase funnel at least as dramatically as the Internet did before it.

We also turn to the consumer in the afternoon to find out if tablet owners really want their brands on the precious iPad. What are the use cases involving the new screen that seems to be more “portable” than it is “mobile?” Executives from one of the prominent advertisers on the platform, Coldwell Banker, and one of the most popular tablet apps, Realtor.com, will tell us why their brands are there. We pick up on that use case scenario theme at the end of the day with our special panel on the “second screen” effect: smartphone and tablet interactions with TV viewing. CBS and BET will share what they’ve learned, as will two of the main app intermediaries for TV viewing, GetGlue and IntoNow.

So we are learning to listen to users via mobile, but are mobile solutions providers also learning to listen to their clients? We will find out. In what may prove to be a highlight of the day, an afternoon RPF Challenge will let three mobile companies, Pandora, Hipcricket and appsavvy, pitch their responses to a detailed RFP from Quaker Oats’ own director of digital engagement, Barbara Liss. Barbara and her team have fashioned a rich profile of an upcoming product launch for which they want a mobile approach. The RFP outlines the product, brand positioning and thorough portrait of targeted consumers and their media habits. Each provider has five minutes to lay out their plan and then get grilled on the particulars by a client who wants strategies, not fluff.

The object here is not just competition, but illumination. What range of mobile solutions in what creative combinations are now available for a modestly budgeted product launch?

So as we make our way through the fourth year of the OMMA Mobile series we stop, look and listen -- both at consumers and their leadership role in the platform, and to brands and the ways in which their needs map against the available options. 

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