The Real Battle Between Facebook and Google Is for Your Phone

The Amount of Time Spent on Mobile Phones Is Growing Much Faster Than PCs or TVs

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Noah Elkin
Noah Elkin
The rivalry between Google and Facebook is breaking out all across the desktop, from competition over display ad dollars to data portability to perhaps even email. But where this war of attrition will really play out is on the mobile web -- specifically for dominance of the growing intersection of mobile, location, advertising and commerce.

The reason is simple: The amount of time consumers spend with their mobile devices is growing at a far quicker pace than the time they spend with either PCs or TVs.

According to a Yankee Group study, U.S. consumers increased their time spent per day with mobile by nearly 40% in 2009, while online activities saw a 17% drop and TV and video experienced a 32% decrease. Mobile advertising spending is likewise increasing at a faster rate: a projected 48% in 2011 vs. 8.4% growth for online, according to eMarketer. Marketers that want to keep up with their audience will have to focus more attention on mobile.

Google has made no secret of its "mobile first" strategy and it already has a strong position in the space. Starting with Android and its outright dominance of mobile search (a more than 95% share in the U.S. market, according to StatCounter), Google has assembled an impressive set of mobile assets, including mobile network AdMob, location-based recommendations, product search and arguably the world's most popular app: Google Maps.

But as popular as search and maps are among mobile users, Google is still missing a key weapon it needs to assert dominance with the growing trend toward social search, location-based marketing, and social commerce: a compelling product for socializing location.

According to ComScore, social networking was the fastest-growing mobile activity, up 240% year-over-year among application users and 90% among those accessing the internet from a mobile browser. It is here that Google finds itself at a considerable disadvantage relative to Facebook.

Google's Latitude and Buzz have never really struck a chord as social-networking platforms, and if anything, privacy concerns have made consumers approach these services with a degree of caution. Facebook, by contrast, can boast 200 million mobile users on its platform and the new combination of Places and Deals to further engage them.

When Facebook launched Deals, the big question in the echo chamber was whether it would kill foursquare. The real question is: how will Google counteract it?

Whether through acquisition of a location-based network (e.g., Foursquare or Gowalla) or evolution of its existing services, Google needs a way to deepen its trove of personalized data.

As fixated as marketers may be about the popularity of Foursquare and others of its ilk, location will ultimately evolve to be about much more than the check-in and earning badges. Rather, checking in to take advantage of an offer will be the direct-response end-point of a longer and larger campaign that starts with branding and awareness-building.

Location data will help guide marketer messaging at each stage of the purchase funnel, with success turning on the combined power of reach, relevancy and the ability to drive offer redemption. The company with the richest social graph and the most extensive geo-location information has the upper hand in providing a better value proposition to advertisers and consumers alike. And the company that can achieve the upper hand through such small, but valuable features that add up to a dominant and more popular whole will defeat its competition.

Noah Elkin is a Principal Analyst at eMarketer.
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