Form, Function, And My Thingie

"Sorry, I forgot to bring my coupon," I tell the checkout lady at Borders Books.

"Use your thingie," my fiancée blurts. The Borders gal and I both look at her quizzically and with some concern. "The Thing -- your Thing!" my crazed betrothed squeals, worsening her situation by pointing at my pants. Her voice hits a painful pitch when she gets frustrated, so now even the parents in the kids' section at the back of the store are wondering (along with me), "What the hell?'

It takes a few minutes to unwind this one, but it turns out that "thingie" meant my phone, and she was referring to the SMS Borders coupons I had been using for months last year. Just as she doesn't like referring to my ex-wife by name ("that one" usually), my partner has some kind of block against saying "iPhone," and so we get into weird constructions like this in-store embarrassment.

Well, Borders stopped sending me coupons by text months ago, I tell her. "You probably were the only one who used them," the sales clerk quips. "They told us they ended the program." Nobody told me. But I surely miss them. The offers arrived in tandem with the email coupons, so I never had to bother making and bringing a printout to the store. It was always on my... thingie.

The form of the promotion actually followed one of my device's functions. In one of my columns last week I urged marketers to think harder about the basic functionality of the device and try to design campaigns that map against its conversational quality. JWT Media Supervisor Sabrina Galati later reminded me that functionality. even on a basic phone, is wider than conversation. As the Borders program demonstrates, my thingie is also basic, portable data storage that a marketer can leverage.

Galati recalls working for a high-tech client over a year ago who wanted to target tech-savvy males with its HDTV brand. Mobile was a natural part of that mix. But while this audience was advanced and gadgety enough to have Web-enabled phones, that wasn't where consumers were actively researching the TV category. They were at CNet, where the client sponsored a shopping aisle. What mobile extension makes sense here? "We took a step back," Galati says. "Many people throw banners and other things up there, and I don't see the value in that yet. We can run WAP banners, but what good would that do? We know they are researching at CNet. Are they really going to the WAP version of CNet? We don't know."

So instead the client created a rich-media ad on CNet that prompted interested users to text in a short code to get model details and specs for that TV. Consumers could bring the information into a showroom. The program produced a good response of clearly interested users. At the time, the client did not deploy back-end metrics to measure sales conversions -- but obviously anyone engaged enough to have specs sent to his phone was narrowing down his consideration set. The phone simply makes a bit more convenient something the user probably would do anyway, print the specs and bring them to the store. The tactile quality of the interaction engages the user in a different way from other media, and the program recognizes that even the most basic phone is a portable printer.

This simple, early test of function-based mobile promotion is a good reminder to marketers as we move into an iPhone, or thingie-fueled, mobile Web world where we are tempted to replicate Internet tactics. As Galati points out, one of the things marketers need to know more about through research is how their audiences engage the devices. "There needs to be a study to see how specific targets are interacting with their phones. They interact very differently," she says.

This is a point well taken. At some point we have to evolve beyond thinking of mobile as some kind of unified experience or platform. This device is so personal, it is hard to imagine that even a few use cases and patterns of interaction account for it.

In other words, we aren't just targeting eyeballs on this device. We are targeting a range of behaviors . And even now, most of us haven't decided how much we want the technology to be a phone, a browser, a note-passer, or an image-maker. The consumer is a moving target because the desired functionality is evolving, and even usage is likely to fragment into a number of different styles that demand different marketing techniques. My fiancée is right after all. It is still a thingie.

7 comments about "Form, Function, And My Thingie".
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  1. Donna Eaton from Search for Next Adventure!, January 15, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    Thank you Steve for pointing us in the right direction when it comes to thingie marketing!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 15, 2009 at 12:04 p.m.

    2 extras points for your fiancee this week on both. However, your behavior by going to Borders did not change because you had or did not have coupons and you still bought what you would have bought. All which brings it back to marketing outside of devise. Many, many moons ago, even before my ad age experience, the rule of thumb was that any coupon worth less than 20% wasn't worth its weight in paper. You won't sell more product. (Yes, even on a 100% commission basis, many times I have told the account to take his wife out to dinner if he wasn't going to spend to his expectations.) So the small value coupons provided by Borders probably didn't bring in the extra mass profit it cost them to run the promotion. And you know, the more complex the promotion and tech integration, etc.........PS: Check out your Borders receipt.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, January 15, 2009 at 2:15 p.m.

    Paula -- My fiancee is always right. I am 50 years old. that is something I learned a long time ago.

    But I am not so sure my buying habits are unchanged as a result of their change. The coupons were reminding me that I enjoy browsing Borders as well. Knowing I could get 30% off an impulse buy I think motivates me even more.

  4. Fiona Thwaites, January 15, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    John Winsor picked up a discussion of the human interaction in marketing today. Or, the distinct lack of it. For a brand, company or person trying to get some kind of interaction using mobile you have to understand how that individual interacts with their devices, on a personal level depending on the environment and who you might be with (gf, bf or otherwise). It is this understanding of that behaviour which will allow us to be more intelligent in creating a human interaction through a mobile device. I don't see a quick fix from a segmentation approach unlike direct mail and email where the settings for interacting with these mediums are more finite and potentially more predictable. For humans their mobile usage changes based on the moment - literally.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 15, 2009 at 7:12 p.m.

    Steve, thank you for taking the time. Seeing an ad in any form anywhere can remind you about Borders without a coupon. However, 30% can provide some motivation especially if you are already there to buy another item. As a shopper, 30% does not constitute a sale to motivate me to buy something else. 30% off the 50% off can. Ask your fiancee. As for the right stuff, check out on line or on mobile where there is a great short with 2 men talking about who is right when. By the way, don't you wonder what the net profit margin and such was from their campaign? If you are ever in Wynnewood, PA (sure), see you all in my closest Borders.

  6. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, January 16, 2009 at 1:08 p.m.

    Hilarious! Loved it. This article reinforces to people in the mobile buying side that sometimes doing something 'out of the box' or 'cool' isn't always necessary. Sometimes the BEHAVIOR of their target is very just sending a SMS text.

  7. Michael Myers from CRUCES, January 17, 2009 at 10:01 p.m.

    This is a great example of how this industry is in serious need of being redefined. AND they have much larger problems than this:

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