Mobile Marketing Isn't About Screens or Devices, It's About Behavior

Too Many Brands Treat Mobile as a Giant Monolith, Yet There's Huge Variety

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Marketers can't remember this often enough: Mobile is not one screen or two screens. Or three screens (smartphone, tablet, and e-reader). Or four (ultrabook). Or five (phablet). Or six (fill in the blank with whatever connected device consumers will be flocking to next.) Google Glass? The Apple iWatch? Mobile is a behavior. The only common thread uniting the vast and diverse mobile arena is that consumers are taking a connected device with them on the go. 

Consumers move fluidly across devices and platforms, and brands must do the same with their messages  -- not just by making sure that a banner ad is on both Android and iOS operating systems, but by being present across a variety of devices and taking advantage of the powerful features each has to offer. When brands don’t seize mobile media in this way, they create confusion or disappointment, as users discover a gap  between how they expect to interact with a brand and what the brand actually can do. 

This mobile reality is very challenging to act upon. Until now, media have been defined largely by constraints of functionality and environment. Television is in the home. People sit back and watch its channels.  All channels have programs, and programs have commercial pods. The PC web brings together sight, sound, motion and interactivity, but people largely interact with it sitting still at a table, moving just a mouse. When it comes to mobile, on the other hand, functionalities are varied and the environment unconfined.  

This complexity disrupts paradigms that marketers and agencies have relied on for decades. What does it mean to create  campaigns that canot be designed for a specific screen and viewing environment, but for users on the go? How does this circumstance change the creative process and the final product? What’s the right balance between reach and device-centric innovations? How does this varied and shifting landscape complicate measurement?  

Some of the most forward-thinking creatives and mobile leaders have begun to answer these questions, creating campaigns and products that demonstrate “liquid creativity,” mobile creative that flows like a liquid across devices and fits flexibly into the distinct opportunities each has available. IAB is featuring these people and their accomplishments  at our June 18 session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity entitled “Liquid Creativity: Secrets of the Mobile Superstars.” 

But instances of “liquid creativity” are rare. Too many brands are treating the mobile marketplace as a unified whole, relying on lowest-common-denominator creative execution, the 300x250 banner. It’s an often useful classic IAB Standard Ad Unit, but in this situation the temptation is to just re-use PC-web creative on phones and tablets, thus discarding powerful attributes of mobile, such as  environmental awareness and intimate interactivity. This oversimplification is understandable: It saves money and increases audience size. But it compromises consumer engagement, brand-building potential and the value of mobile marketing itself. This practice begs the question: How much standardization is needed to make liquid creativity the norm, rather than the exception? What best practices can we define without stifling the creation of mobile marketing experiences that wow consumers? 

Responsive design often comes up as an answer to liquid creativity. This is the idea that a web server can recognize the device in which it is supposed to render content, and make adjustments for qualities like screen size. But do we trust computers to make decisions about ad content? Do marketers still want to approve each permutation of an ad? Responsive design can disrupt long-held norms of digital advertising. 

Another challenge posed by the liquidity of the mobile landscape and user behavior is measurement. In the PC world, attribution is already a challenge. Marketers grapple with figuring out, for example, if the search, video or display component was the catalyst for conversion. When you add in the many different types of mobile ads, the questions become even more complicated. Marketers would be best served with metrics that can cross platforms and apps. While we are making strides toward more measurability, this is a long-term goal. 

Vast challenges face marketers who want to provide consumers with an array of robust experiences that capitalize on the capabilities of their most closely-held devices.  Budget is often a barrier, but we need more marketers testing these waters. Flexibility is an pportunity. Marketers need to approach mobile not by device, but by their individual objectives. Select the ideal combination of right time, right environment and right consumer, and then incorporate whichever device or devices best serve the intention. Let your goals lead your mobile campaigns. 

Anna Bager is Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau).


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