To-Do: Fewer Predictions, More Resolutions

Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned New Year’s resolution? In this season of editorial filler, the digital ether is filled with increasingly meaningless op-ed predictions lists that read more like start-up business plans. The formula: lay the groundwork with a few uncontroversial points about a "tipping point" in mobile media spend and the migration of usage from desktop to devices. Some mention should be made about personalization, cross-device targeting and wearable media. And then don’t forget to conclude with the startling revelation that whatever business model is at the core of your start-up will be the next big thing. Most of these predictions lists really just extend one of the worst trends of 2013: "content marketing" posing as thought leadership.

If this industry is really at such a damned "tipping point," it seems to me it needs fewer self-interested "predictions," and more principled "resolutions."  More leading, less hyping.

How about a to-do list of the things advertisers, tech platforms and publishers should be striving to achieve this year -- both to improve the mobile experience for users and ensure we don’t screw up this amazing evolution in media interactivity?

Here, I will start and everyone feel free to amend in the comments list.

Apps 2.0: Five years into the age of the app, and the walled garden structure is creaking. Apps generally don’t talk to each other, link to one another or even show awareness of any other app’s existence on the deck. In one of the under-reported stories of 2013, Google made some inroads here by radically revising its Android search functionality to extend your query into installed apps.

We need more of this in 2014. Apple and Google need to lead here and innovate more aggressively. Apps need to be more than dead icons on a deck. We need more of the "live tile" structure from Windows Phone that surfaces the latest updates and the widget-like functions in some Android apps. We need more deep-linking that helps apps detect what is already installed on a deck and make best use of it.

If you must go "native," then go native: Barely a year into this trend, and native ads are perilously close to jumping the shark. Most Facebook promotions are poorly targeted game ads that have no business in my feed. The sponsored articles from recommendation engines are looking more like the ad network crap they are. The color-coding and clear labeling that are supposed to demarcate sponsored from editorially driven content have faded -- and along with it. any pretense of integrity. Even worse, there is nothing "native" about much of the creative.

If this trend had any real promise, it was in forcing advertisers to tone down the pitchy drone of creative and genuinely entertain and engage potential customers. Three items down my Yahoo mobile site this morning is a “story” from Verizon Fios inviting me to go to their “official site” and view the available bundles. The only good thing about this sorry excuse for a native ad is that the silliness of it looking like a story is too risible to be deceptive. If publishers really are willing to put user trust at risk in order to ride the next wave of ad trends, then they at least should be setting the price of their soul higher than this, and pressing advertisers to use the space more creatively.

Use the damned data: One of the best mobile app experiences I have had this year comes from Walgreens. With little upfront effort on my part, the company has my loyalty card, my prescription history, my permissions, my local outlet, my mobile phone number all knit together into a genuine service. They tell me when my prescription is likely running low and let me refill with a simple reply. In fact, they didn’t even reveal the name of the prescribed drug in these messages until I gave them specific permission to do so. They alert me when there is a hold-up in the prescription process, and they tell me when the automated system has reached its limit and it is time to call the pharmacy. Whatever data I have shared with them is being put to good and obvious use in serving me better. They have taken something off my plate of conscious concerns. That is the definition of genuine service that start-ups should be chasing, instead of tossing around empty, gratuitous claims of "adding value."

Engagement, loyalty, longevity vs. reach and frequency: Enough with the app MAUs and comparisons of mobile media with TV scale. This medium stands at the end of a long and necessary erosion of 20th Century mass media. Are we really pining for a mobile equivalent of the Super Bowl? The examples we should be looking at (and we need more of them) should be making the case for mobile’s ability to engage deeply and over time with a user’s everyday life.

Interruptive advertising is a format grounded in ritualized, mass consumption of standardized broadcast content. In its most native form, mobile media is situational, contextually aware, localized, personalized. I don’t think we have even invented the forms of marketing that embody this change in media type and mode of use. I am sure that banners, pre-rolls and so-called "native" ad units (see above) are not it. If mobile marketing positions itself as the next great mass medium, it will have squandered its historic role. It should be defining what a post-mass media environment should look like.

Your turn. 

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