Agencies keep missing the Mobile boat

photo-1454023989775-79520f04322cAt 2012's SXSW, my first, I ran into some old colleagues from my time in the world of advertising. Naturally, after reminiscing, the conversation moved onto what everyone was  working on. Mobile of course. I wanted to understand how agencies were making the transition from print, broadcasting, websites and banners to mobile and the intimate small screen which consumers carried with them everywhere. Sadly, two of my colleagues both carrying the hefty title of Chief Digital Officer did not have great things to report. It seems agencies are still trying to understand where mobile fits into the overall picture.

Most of my former agency colleagues readily admitted that despite huge adoption rates by consumers of all age groups and larger marketing budgets, that the big agencies were still being extremely cautious about mobile.  From what I could understand only one word could explain the issue: FEAR. That’s right, the agencies are afraid of Mobile. Turns, out, they actually have good reason. Most agencies haven’t had much luck with successful mobile campaigns. Here’s why:

Agencies approach Mobile like everything else.
Mobile is different. It’s not as simple as build the app and they will come. Like every other campaign, a mobile campaign needs the support of a larger, fully-integrated campaign.

Agencies don’t have mobile SME’s
With all the focus on Flash banners and micro sites that are still the bread and butter of most agency work, and given how fast the Mobile world is moving, they haven’t had a chance to hire proper mobile subject matter experts to lead strategy for mobile campaigns. This problem hurts them in two ways:

  1. Internally, there’s noone guiding the ship.
  2. Externally, there’s no client support to drive it forward

Agencies are ignoring the subtle nuances of mobile
Mobile is different. Mobile is being used in ways that are new to agencies and marketers alike. Consumers and users are innovating in their use of mobile. Take for instance these statistics:

  • While watching television users are now using their smartphones and tablets to enhance the experience.
  • While shopping, consumers now use their mobile devices to comparison shop and find their way through large stores

This means that mobile users are unlike the PC users of old. They are, well ---mobile.  They are rarely in the same place twice when using their devices. Mobile devices are personal devices. Gone are the days when a user would go home and sit at the computer to check email.  Nothing about Mobile subscribes to the old models of microsites, banners and Flash.

Mobile represents a huge paradigm shift to the existing agency structure and unless agencies adapt, they will be left behind. The time for simply considering Mobile as a part of any integrated, multichannel campaign is gone. Quite simply, mobile is a must. It must start with the strategy and continue through delivery.


Facebook revamps mobile app


Facebook recently launched new apps for both the iPhone and the iPad and while most people are singing its praises for being faster than the previous versions, a look under the hood shows real enhancements and might have further reaching repuercussions in the mobile space and on an argument that's been raging for years now and shows no signs of slowing. Facebook's old app was built in HTML5. You know, the browser-based markup language that's supposed to render native apps...well, obsolete. But wait. Not so fast. (Literally).

Anyone who has ever used the old Facebook apps understand the complaint and experienced the lag first hand. The apps (both for iPhone and iPad) were slow to load...well, anything including news and especially photos.  Facebook made the decision to rebuild the app from the ground up in Objective C. Now, the apps load faster and respond much quicker than they did before. What does this mean? It means that there are times when HTML5 simply won't cut it. While HTML5 did allow Facebook to user one codebase to manage the entire mobile experience, it gave up control over the performance and speed of the app by doing so.

Facebook embraced HTML5 big time and even encouraged developers to do so when integrating with their platform. They touted the benefits of cross platform and cross device development and even created an HTML5 Development Resource center for developers interested in embracing the emerging technology.

As someone who has at least on conversation about the pros of HTML5  vs. native app development at least once a week, this is a great conversation starter. And while it won't win the argument entirely for purists, it does put a positive check mark in the column of native app development for those who prefer it over the 'build once deploy everywhere' crowd.

Often, clients are drawn to cross-platform development for purely financial reasons.  But as Facebook has shown, while it might solve basic accessibility issues, some and arguably most users will desire an experience that is native to his or her device. No doubt, Apple is pleased that Facebook made the switch and integrated fully with iOS. But, does this mean a native Android app for Facebook is around the corner? I'm sure Android users are hoping so. Personally, I believe this is a step in the right direction. The debate, however will rage on.

And Facebook has larger mobile issues to address.  With 543 million users accessing the site via mobile, the company needs to understand now to market to this growing demographic.  How will the social networking giant address all of their needs and monetize the site for the growing mobile market?  Having already stated that mobile will be a priority for the company, analysts are waiting to see what other steps the company will take. This is clearly the first of many. But, its a step in the right direction.