It's Not the Phone or the App, It's the Shift in Behavior

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Did you check in today? Doubtful, unless you're one of the 4% of American adults who've played Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown or other mobile location-based games.

As the numbers indicate, most people just aren't into them. But look beyond these particular technologies or services and focus on their power to change people's behavior. Our obsession with mobile shouldn't be about technology or tactics; rather it's the ability to change the way we work, plan, communicate and buy.

"Mobile is not about location," said John Hadl, who's guided Best Buy and Procter & Gamble's mobile practices, among others, in a story in our Mobile Marketing Guide. "It affords us the chance to reach a new set of need states -- in an emergency room, looking for a hotel, on the way to a store. With mobile, the best 'tool' is to know your customer. ...Mobile is not as much a technology rethink as a consumer rethink."

It's Marketing 101, really: Know your consumer and understand how her behavior is shifting. Now try to be in the right place with the right offering to take advantage of that shift. So why does that elementary rule seem all-too-often forgotten when it comes to the next shiny new (mobile) object?

Here's just a few of the behavior-shifting changes that mobile and location-based technology have spawned:

Instant information gratification. Gone are the days of mulling over whether it was Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth who hit the longest home run; with Google and Wikipedia at our fingers, we're addicted to answers anywhere, anytime. (It was Babe Ruth, per Wikipedia.)

Increasing spontaneity. You not only don't have to pick a preset time to meet ("just call when you're ready"), you also don't have to plan a place to meet -- simply stand on any street corner and shake your Urbanspoon to find the nearest coffee shop, pub or deli.

Never lost. When was the last time you had to ask someone for directions? With Google Maps and turn-by-turn directions available on many smartphones, people are rarely, if ever, lost.

Perpetual family reunion. More than 150 million of Facebook's users access the site through mobile devices and they're twice as active on it than non-mobile users -- uploading photos, launching status updates. Wherever you are, family and friends are not so far away.

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