The Device Is The Message

Last week, communication services firm Synchronoss Technologies hosted a conference on the question of whether it will be content brokers -- like Google or Viacom -- or device makers -- like Motorola or Samsung -- that will ultimately benefit most from the growth of digital media.

It's an interesting question, particularly as an avenue to explore whether it's hardware or content that will provide the greatest push into Media 2.0. (For a great analysis of the event, read Bambi Francisco's piece in MarketWatch.)

But in the end, what strikes me most about the device/content question is that it points to a false dichotomy. Because in fact, media content and the devices that content lives on are becoming more deeply intertwined every day. If you have any doubt about whether that's so, just look to last week's search industry news.

Yahoo's mobile expansion. As of last week, Yahoo's oneSearch mobile platform is now available to 85% of mobile-Web accessible devices.



Obviously, the entire mobile Web is a great example of the shrinking gap between content and device, if only because the size and portability of a phone makes its existence as a device so hard to ignore. But oneSearch in particular makes that content/device divide still smaller. OneSearch knows the location of a user's phone, and utilizes that information to provide geographically-targeted search results. In other words, the device tells the content what to say.

Of course, location-based search content is only the beginning of how the mobile device itself influences the content that it carries. Since mobile devices are brought right up to the point of sale, they provide whole new vistas of Web-to-offline tracking, passback data, and point-of-sale messaging. Again, the device generates new avenues for the content that lives on it. And as mobile technology and user-based really expands over the next five years, the phones themselves will become increasingly crucial to developing mobile content -- including search content.

But it's not just the technology that controls the content. As content producers fit content to specific devices, device producers will look to fit their devices to the content it holds, thereby driving more value. Device producers may even look to control both the content and the device in ways they never have before. Probably the best-known example of that synergy, of course, is Apple's i-Kingdom.

Google's Pay-Per-Action. Another major shift came last week from Google's new Pay-Per-Action program. Still in beta, Google's pay-per-action currently exists only within Google's publisher network. But there's speculation that Google's long-term hope is to expand that payment model into search. (Google is following the lead here from third-tier engines like Snap, which already offers pay-per-action search buys.)

Pay-per-action will ultimately impact the device/content divide, because it so strongly affects the search/business divide. In pay-per-click search, the engine's role ends once it delivers traffic to your door; the engine's role is only to provide leads. In pay-per-action search, on the other hand, the engine's role doesn't end until it provides an immediate value to your business (like a shopping cart checkout). The engine shifts roles from lead-provider to genuine partner.

Ultimately, that marketer-search engine synergy will impact the content-device synergy as well. That's because Google pay-per-action will inevitably expand to include complex offline actions. And to see how offline conversions can influence the relationship between device and content, see the mobile advertising discussion above.

The two examples above are just the tip of the iceberg of the device-content synergy that we'll see in the next five years. As I previously mentioned, Apple's iPods and iTunes are another example; as, in a sense, is software leader Microsoft's attempt to unseat Google. It's just not clear anymore where the hardware business ends and content begins.

Why it matters. The device/content discussion is more than just an exercise in classification. As the line between content and device begins to fade, marketing through content must increasingly incorporate the device that the content lives on.

By way of analogy, consider the transition from traditional creative to search creative. Agencies developing TV ads can ignore much of the technology that houses their Super Bowl ads. Search agencies don't have the luxury of ignoring backend technology -- as anyone who's needed to change ads on account of Panama can tell you. The more deeply content and technology are tied together, the more deeply the content needs to respond to the technology that gives rise to it. Taking the same example of Panama, it's also clear that such a technology/content relationship creates a real impact on the technology providers as well.

Similarly, as different devices offer new ways of interacting with content, success in advertising through those devices will need to take advantage of the targeting, metrics, and customer interaction capabilities that each device provides. That future need for content/device merger might not be so far away -- as Yahoo and Google both showed us this week.

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