From Why To How

A firewall in my thinking about mobile has been breached recently. For years, my default question regarding new forms of mobile media, from video to Web access to social networking to cyber-dating was, why? Why would someone want to do this on their phone? The device was so thoroughly hobbled with usability issues, a hopelessly poor interface, and overall sluggishness compared to any other platform. Theoretically, there just seemed to be no reason that comfort-driven, 300-thread-count, padded-toilet-seat, swivel-car-seat Americans would put up with this as a real data channel.

As the women in my life have trained me to understand, there are countless reasons why I am so consistently wrong about most things.

Daughter: "Dad, you're old, get over it."

Ex-Wife: "Honey, you were born wrong."

Girlfriend: "Oh, my God, how can I be dating a guy this old and this wrong?"  

I have given up trying to pinpoint the real source of my error. Now I simply try to correct them and move on to the next mistake.

And so with mobile, it has been fascinating and humbling to see so many niche audiences for all these unlikely formats embrace the world's worst media device. Instead of asking why, now I just ask how? How will social networking migrate to mobile? How will banking, video, social networking, blogging, etc.? I think now it is clear that most of us value immediacy and mobility over usability. If a generation will embrace SMS as a fundamental conversation platform, then I think it is safe to say that just about any digital media format is going to find some place on phones. The question now is just how?

M-commerce is one of those last categories that still left me scratching my head. It doesn't seem clear to me why someone needs to hit the buy button on their phone for a chunk of electronics or a book. Isn't online commerce generally something that can wait until you get to a PC screen to fulfill? You aren't getting the goods any faster, so instant gratification isn't the compelling reason to buy, is it?

But apparently mobile retail enabler mporia had a pretty good Christmas servicing companies like GameStop and SecondAct electronics. "Those with a marketing plan tend to do very well," says CEO Dan Wright. Video games and electronics sold well via their mobile storefronts not only because they hit the prime 18-to-30-year-old demo that is using phones for everything, but because the companies are integrating the mobile option into their marketing. A successful plan usually involves giving users a special discount for trying the mobile store or a cash-back offer.

Curiously, the urge to shop by phone is not necessarily tied to mobility but to what we might call second-screen behaviors. This isn't being driven by people on the go who decide that they must order that new "Pirates" DVD by phone. "They are sitting at home watching TV, and they casually browse the mobile Web, and part of that experience is to shop." Some of the better mobile shops in the mporia stable, like or, have a kind of hot-or-not experience. They let you quickly browse items visually, a casual filtering activity that has proven very popular for mobile dating (i.e. Crush or Flush). And with the youthful embrace of all things digital and mobile, this target market is much less averse to entering their credit card information over a cell phone.

Wright says mporia is putting together an initial case study for an electronics retailer that used an email blast of 20,000 messages to customers promoting the mobile store over the holiday. That essentially no-cost initiative produced $70,000 in sales, in large part because 15% of the users who came to the site converted to buyers.

Some of the behaviors Wright is describing are in line with Deloitte's recent "Media Democracy" survey that suggested mobile is acting as more of a first or second screen for many young users, rather than a third screen. It also jibes with anecdotal evidence I hear from companies offering college campus services that users are looking to bypass the Web altogether and have more functionality available directly on their phones. I would add that part of the experience of m-commerce browsing is very visual. Just as large, full frame images and galleries are tremendously attractive at mobile media sites, flipping through a good mobile catalog of product shots has an addictive quality.

Perhaps in 2008 we will move beyond the "third screen" moniker for mobile and start thinking about it first and second screen role more seriously.

Because I have to be right about something sometime, right?

"Why?" my ladies reply in unison "And how exactly would that happen?"    



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