Technology promises to be even more exciting as we are now living in a world where our sneakers can interface with our phones (Nike) and our treadmill can Tweet our workouts (Netpulse). Mobile technology such as networks and handsets will continue to improve, as it always has, but what is more interesting for marketers is how the heightened level of mobility will affect the way our customers think and the way they make decisions.
Mobile connectivity will continue to change how we access information and make human connections in the same way that the traditional Internet did a generation ago. This change will give marketers an unprecedented opportunity to reach and understand their target market. To embrace the future of mobile marketing, you must understand how mobile technology addresses basic human needs, especially in terms of the mobility of human connection and the mobility of information.
Human Connection is becoming Mobile
The capability to connect people in a convenient and seamless way is one of the most powerful functions mobile technology provides. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, safety and human connection or love are identified as foundational needs that humans have (just after physical needs such as air, food, and water), and mobile technology will continue to improve our ability to meet these needs.
Calling, texting, sending picture messages and emails, and participating in social networks are all activities that help us stay connected with the people we care about. These kinds of social activities are sure to grow as mobility continues to become more deeply integrated into our society.
Mobile technology has changed the way people use social networks, causing the social networks to adapt to meet the needs of an ever-present, real-time audience rather than interaction based on a user’s willingness to participate on the social networking site in a more limited way. Although it went largely unnoticed, the addition of “What are you doing now?” prompts on social networks signaled this transition – and this is exactly what Twitter capitalized on to make its mark in the world of social networking.
Making specific predictions on how social interaction and human connection will evolve in the mobile space is difficult, but it is clear that integration with input mechanisms will be crucial. The mobility of social interaction has actually changed some people’s self-perceptions to include the desire or even need to “live-report” their lives. The ability to upload a picture to Facebook or a video to YouTube using only a mobile phone is quite revolutionary, but it has become so simple that many people, especially those who consider themselves live reporters, do it daily or more. Interestingly, their posts are not ignored, but they actually help others feel more connected to them, no matter how mundane the updates or information appears to be.
On the other hand, the real-time access to social interaction via mobile devices has changed some people’s self-perception to include more of a “perpetual voyeur” mentality. Mobile connectivity allows them to keep up-to-date on their friends, family, and community without active involvement. In some cases, these people are constantly reviewing the status updates of others; in other cases, they simply know how and where to find information about people or groups they are connected with, whenever they need it. In a way, they are using information stored in social networks as a collective social memory, a touch point that allows them to see how their loved one’s day is progressing, to remember what someone looks like, or to remind them of someone’s name.
To successfully leverage this dependence on social mobile technology, marketers need to be clever and unobtrusive. Any kind of service that helps people feel safe and connected will provide immense value to a mobile audience, and these needs will continue to be primary factors in the growth and reliance on mobile technology.
The Future of the Mobility of Information
After safety and love, Maslow suggests that self-esteem and self-actualization complete the hierarchy of human needs. When people need information, they search for it, and as we move into the future, we will continue to see changes in the way searchers discover new content on the mobile Web. Although the link is not explicit, self-esteem and self-actualization are both deeply related to a person’s ability to access and process information. Self-sufficiency, authenticity, creativity, and meaning are all partially derived from a person’s access to information or knowledge.
In the modern world, when people need information, they search – and the most common and accessible method of search frequently involves using an Internet search engine. Mobility extends our access to the unlimited amount of information on the Web, making it an ever-present life tool. Although some mobile search technologies hope to rival the dominance of mobile search engines, those mobile search engines will indefinitely maintain their prominence as the top method of accessing mobile information. Our reliance on mobile search engines will have a dramatic impact on mobile marketing in the future. Savvy mobile marketers must understand the imminent evolution of mobile search engines and the growing ubiquity of mobile search.
The Evolution of Mobile Search
The algorithms that search engines use to determine relevance and rank results are constantly changing. An antagonistic symbiosis exists between search engines and Internet marketers. Search engines will always try to give searchers the best results, and Internet marketers will always try to manipulate the results to make their websites look like “the best” in the eyes of the algorithm. Unintentionally, Internet marketers have done a lot to improve the search engines, by creating the need for a better algorithm. Updates to the mobile search engine algorithm will continue to make mobile search results more portable, more personal, and more intelligent.
More Portable Results
Mobile search engines currently enable you to specify where you are, and they will tailor your result set based on that location, but the location still must be manually set. Automatic location detection will soon become seamlessly integrated into the mobile search algorithm. Location-based search (LBS) is still in its infancy, but this will change quickly. More mobile phones are equipped with GPS technology (or assisted GPS), and soon the searcher’s exact coordinates will become part of the search algorithm.
Because your cellphone is always on, the algorithm might even include information about how long you have been in one location. Hypothetically, a GPS-enabled mobile phone should be able to tell that you spend most of your time between two or three locations, usually home and work. So when you perform a mobile search, the algorithm could assume that you are relatively familiar with the local landscape when you are in those locations, but would adapt when you are not. When you arrive in a new city, the phone would know that you have not been in that geographic location for long, and local information would reasonably be given more priority in your search results to help you find your way around.
More Personal Results
Traditional and mobile search engines already tailor search results based on a user’s past searches and click-throughs if searchers are logged into their search engine account. If you have searched and found what you were looking for (meaning you didn’t immediately hit the Back button in your browser), the search engines can determine that your search was successful, and in future searches, they can assign a higher rank to the site where you found what you were looking for with that search.
As the world of mobile search progresses, we can expect many changes that will provide a much higher level of personalization. Search engines can show personalized results only to users who are logged in because many computers are shared among multiple users. Because there is such a low chance that a mobile phone is a shared device, the search engines will be able to tie a user’s search history directly to his or her phone number, eliminating the need to log in.
In that same vein, mobile phone numbers might gain status as unique identifiers, as IP addresses are currently used in the traditional online space. Everyone will have a unique set of digital content that is device-independent and accessible from a number of types of devices. This will make us much less reliant on the actual devices we purchase and more reliant on the Web and Web search, even if only to search within our own set of digital content hosted in the cloud.
More Intelligent Results
In addition to knowing where we are and what our normal search behavior is, future mobile search engines will understand and interpret context, and use that to influence the order in which search results are displayed. The device doing the search will become a much more integral part of the algorithm. Different devices have different intended uses that the search engine can easily determine:
This type of evolution to the algorithm won’t be valuable only to differentiate among different types of devices, but it can also provide a different set of search results for different product models within the same type of device. When a query is sent, the search engines can see not only that it is coming from a cellphone, but also what type of cellphone it is, to provide results that are specific to the demographic that is associated with the specific handset:
Mobile Search is Ubiquitous Search
One of the most important points to understand about the future is that mobile search is not just going to happen on mobile phone handsets. Many new portable devices are becoming Web-enabled and will offer mobile search as an integral part of the device. Your mobile site will have the opportunity to rank in a number of other devices such as video game systems, GPS, MP3 players and HD radio, TV and IP-TV.
With all these technologies, opportunities will arise to create and tailor a marketing message. Marketing dollars will always play a huge role in the development of new Web-based technology because they mitigate the development cost of the technology. Whether through carrier agreements with mobile gaming systems, search engine agreements with IPTV companies, or traditional mobile search results that are shown on your GPS, the opportunity to promote your products will be available.
The World is Changing
With the plethora of new mobile technologies, search engines and Internet marketers will have a wealth of new information available to them. Search engine algorithms will be updated to provide better results. This will make mobile search results more portable, personal, and intelligent.
Mobile marketing is changing at a remarkable speed, and the opportunities continue to expand and evolve. As in all marketing media, there will be a constant struggle for balance between the presence of marketing messages and the tolerance your target market has for the intrusion. Marketing that is understated or infrequent will not return the desired return; similarly, marketing that is overbearing and intrusive will not generate the desired response. Your best bet to leverage the future of mobile marketing could lie in your ability to understand and capitalize on how mobile technology helps people address their most basic needs, rather than simply focusing only on the more technical or flashy aspects of the practice.