The Mobile Platform Trap

BearTrap_01-1000x1000Caught in The Platform Trap:
– Our humble contributor asks, “How did I get here? And how do I get out?”

Somehow, as fate would have it, I became a Mac person. It was all-unintentional, but here I am. But that’s just a precursor to a real issue that I became more starkly aware of recently. So, just to get you up to speed:

Induction Phase 1: Smartphone:
It all started, like most, with my purchase of an iPhone 4 in 2010. I was a Blackberry holdout at this time – in love with my QWERTY and my BBM community. The iPhone 3G was a nice salvo to the tech industry, but the 4 really set the stage for Apple’s vision for how mobile communications would advance into a more ubiquitous ecosystem. The iPhone was the new cool phone to have, and being a mobile marketing professional it made practical sense for me to be using the very thing that provided the framework for what it was I was advocating at the time. I kept my Blackberry 9000 clutched in my hand for 2 years after this – walking around with two devices. Once this became too problematic (and BB failed to get itself up to par with Apple) I weepingly ditched my qwerty and officially became an iPhone user (Fade in violins).

Induction Phase 2: Laptop:
The iPhone’s compatibility with my Toshiba laptop was not an issue for me – and having used PCs for over a decade I was still very comfortable with the Windows OS feel and organizational logic. I was hard-wired for the Windows OS – and I was fine. Last year when I was in my initial discussions with WWD&S about coming aboard, one of the partners, snickered at me during one of our meetings, “so, you ready to be Mac guy?”. It didn’t strike me until that moment that they were a Mac-based office. “Uh, I guess so”. I saw her smiling at me – my expression looking like the host of a dinner party just asked me if I would like to try the fried liverwurst and gorgonzola rolls. Two months later when I officially came on board, we explored the option of letting me keep my Toshiba, but it soon became obvious that the workaround was not optimal for a whole host of reasons (interconnectivity, file-sharing, OS incompatibility, network issues, etc.). So I relented and they equipped me with a new MacBook Air. I’ll concede it’s a gorgeous machine. In the Apple tradition, their total control over the box and software makes for a lovely integration of form and function. I’m still getting used to the OS (I jumped in at Mountain Lion, so I didn’t have to work off any of the UX/UI paradigm shifts that some of my stalwart Mac users reported). In getting used the new OS environment, I would describe the re-mapping of my brain like going from working inside a structured grid made of silicate (Windows 7), to working inside of a room made of gelatin (OS ML). Every nuance now has this rounded-edge feel, and the navigational dynamics are more fluid and “gooey” than Windows. It’s been a strange experience and my brain still wants to find files, store documents, switch applications and move around the Windows way. Anyway, perhaps more on that some other time.

Induction Phase 3: Tablet:
WWD&S recently had a Holiday party, and one of the gifts for the staff was an iPad mini. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this – and really excited, as I held off on getting a tablet while I waited to see which one would be best option in the array of new ones coming into the market. So, now, here I was, firmly placed with the entire Apple user ecosystem. All of my devices synced to my iCloud content and my iTunes account/library, all of my devices receiving the same iMessage at the same time (which results in a very strange moment: which one do I use to respond? And, what made me choose that one? A weird experience for sure).

So, here I am. A fully ensconced Mac person. Surrounded by Apple’s 360 consumer offering. And much like riding around for the first few weeks in a new brand of car (like when my Pop went from GM to Acura), I found myself making some attitude adjustments when I opened up the Mac in public – embracing myself as a Mac person. But then something else happened: At CES in January, I took some time to peruse the Samsung exhibit area – and played around with their new selection of Galaxy phone and Tablets (Phablets?). I was taken in by some of the innovations that Samsung is loading into these devices – and started thinking, “hey, this may be a good option”. But it struck me. I’m stuck now. I have all of my stuff in iTunes, iCloud, iMessage, iThis iThat, and migrating to a new “platform” would be a royal pain in the ass. Which forced me to ask: Would it be worth the effort? Do I love these new Android features so much that I would be willing to extricate myself from this nicely organized (well, most of the time) soft-OS world? The answer was no. It wasn’t. So I walked on and made my way to the LG booth, feeling kind of dejected and defeated over that realization.

Cost of Migration:
This puts me square into the conundrum that both consumers and the big platforms are wrestling with: The Platform Trap.
This of course is not just my experience. Apple and Google and Facebook (and now Microsoft and maybe even Blackberry) are long past selling products or devices. They sell platforms and ecosystems, designed specifically to create indispensability. These platforms “require” total immersion in a controlled system of tools in order to gain the full benefit of the preferred platform. The idea is pretty simple – and it’s getting harder and harder for consumers to make sense of. For example, Google smartly created Gmail way back in the Stone Age, and now has established a huge base of users: 288 million unique Globally and 80 million domestically. This was the beginning of Google’s plan to create ubiquity and drive users to link up to all of Google’s other services – Google Docs (now Drive), Google Calendar, Maps, etc. For those who selected Android as their mobile platform of choice, the Google app integrations were a seamless experience – and only further promoted the cementing of those users into Google’s eco-system. But what about iPhone users like me? For us, there are options, but we are not getting the full value of the Google app offerings while stuck inside of the Apple world. Sure, Apple has created their own versions of each of these tools, and some are inferior – so we are forced to work in a fragmented world, patching together a series of tools based on familiarity and paths of least resistance. God forbid a better mousetrap comes along that is not compatible, and we are left with being left out – and resentful of this rut we have been wedged into without our consent.

Open Source or Closed Gate?
This issue gets even more complicated when we layer in the different approaches that these platform giants take when it comes to their systems. Apple is a notoriously over-controlling landlord, and has strict rules as to how users can personalize, customize and change their devices (simple: they can’t). This approach was driven by Jobs’ vision that Apple knows how to best manage their world, users are going to be thrilled with their choices and all will be good on the planet. And as they do a great job for the most part, the majority of their users are satisfied with Apple’s governing style. Google took the opposite approach: Lets create a world that anyone can modify, personalize and customize. Lets let developers use our world as a playground and work with users to make the best end-result. This has its obvious benefits as well as some annoying issues: crappy apps fill the store, OS fragmentation is rife – wreaking havoc on the consumers choices and options, and the experience is inconsistent. But it’s really innovative. But they are still stuck.

Who loses?
These platform firewalls are only getting more defined, and as more and more device choices come to market, and consumers are lured into considering their options, its getting harder and harder to keep hold on brand loyalty. So who pays the price?
1) We do. If we are committed to a device, we are going to see things in the market that we cannot have or take full advantage of – be left peering into to the store window with our faces pressed up to the glass looking at cool stuff that we just can’t use. And if we want to make the jump from OS to OS, we will have to endure the pain of migration: like switching banks, tantamount to root canal surgery. So, as the market matures, and newer cooler and more functional stuff comes online, we will all be forced into this position at some point.
2) The Platforms do. I am sure that Google, Apple and their ilk are all snickering and hand wringing over this grand scheme that they have perpetrated but they lose, too. While they maintain retention (and mind you, retention and loyalty are not the same thing – I am not “loyal” if I am trapped), they lose opportunities for growth. Within a year, everyone will own a smartphone, an by virtue of their device selection they will have by default committed to a platform (whether they know it or not). Because carrier contracts last 2 years, that gives users ample time to entrench themselves into their selected platform (reads like an evil conspiracy, I know) and hence be far less inclined to switch. So, NEW customers are going to be harder and harder for these guys to capture. They are going to be cannibalized by their own design.
3) Carriers do. So what? Who cares? We all hate the damn carriers anyway. But nonetheless, they will have a hard time getting new customers for the same reason. Even with number porting, until the carriers offer the same features, people will stay on their carrier even though it can be like chaining oneself to a rotting, infected corpse. (Still think I don’t like the carriers?).
4) Enterprises do. This is a growing issue. BYOD is now on the rise at Corporations, which is creating a slew of issues (more on this topic in my next post) ranging from security, privacy, IT support, Device Management, etc. Many of these companies are being forced into this position as more and more executives are also locked into these eco-systems and don’t want to be forced to have to switch over to another – or, be forced to carry around 2 (sometimes 3) devices. As a result, an entire industry has been created around Mobile Device Management to build a working infrastructure around platform fragmentation. This becomes an insidious process – spreading throughout the IT infrastructure via Security, Privacy, Storage, Retrieval, App Store management, Application versioning and messaging systems.

In the end, this issue does not seem to be improving. With the announcement of the new Blackberry “platform” last week, and the huge push by Microsoft to maintain their chokehold on businesses, the game of platform indispensability will only continue.
Well, time to run, as my iPhone, iPad and iMessage app are all sending me the same message. Need to go decide which one to respond to.

Branded App Show-off Contest – recap

Battle-of-the-Apps-Logo-Final-300x2491MXM Events Mobile Mondays Branded-App Show-Off Event

Back in October, I had the privilege of presenting at the MXM Branded App Show Off during Ad Week.  Matt Snyder has been doing a great job in establishing the Mobile Monday’s event – and seeding the mobile community here in NY. He worked with the different mobile associations of NYC and put together this event specifically for Advertising Week. According to his YouTube page, “the goal of this event is to create an opportunity for the community to learn about the best Apps for brand marketing build by developers, agencies and marketers in NYC”.  The event featured 7 different Branded Apps presented to the audience while being moderated by a panel of 8 judges. The event took place at Union Square Ball Room on Oct 1st 2012.

Here’s a recap of the event: (you can also see some photos of the event on his Facebook page here.

There were roughly 600 people in attendance. The 7 app presenters were apparently selected from roughly 50 registrants.  The parameters for consideration were that the apps being showcased had to be designed for the purposes of promoting a specific brand – and for building the business of said brand.  The event kicked off with a standard opening networking reception and bar schmooze – followed by intros from the hosts. Next were the presentations/demos – in a “battle of the brand” type showcase – by the selected Branded App presenters – that were moderated by a panel of judges:

  • David Berkowitz- 360i
  • Scott Jensen – MTV
  • Taynah Reis – GDI
  • Andrew Reis  – SamStella
  • Jake Ward – App Developers Alliance
  • Timothy Ware  – WSJ
  • Chad Mumm – The Verge
  • Richard Ting – R/GA

The 7 Branded App presenters were:

  • Northface – Northface was the winner of this App –Off event.
  • Duracell Powermat-  Powermaster app –  Provides a means by which consumers can not only monitor their current battery power, but also allows users to find Powermat HotSpot locations nearby AND also “nominate” places that they want to be HoptSpot enabled.  This is a Social Gaming feature that drives advocacy and recruits users as a part of a grid-building movement to spread the word of wireless power.  It features full social integrations and a badge winning program with leaderboard.
  • Disney Parks – This app won the “Audience Award”.
  • Trojan
  • Girl Scouts
  • Cadbury
  • ESPN

Each presenter walked the panel through the app and its features and were asked to focus on these points in the presentation:

  • What were the core business goals for the app?
  • What you did to build the Brand, and achieve those goals
  • What was the effect of your efforts- brand value
  • Any audience or ROI figures you could share
  • Did your brand marketing effort lead to actual purchases or sales of the product and why.
  • How did awareness get converted into ( for example)  intent, purchase, support, loyalty and advocacy for the Brand.
  • Any lessons learnt

Overall, it was a pretty diverse grouping of brands and approaches. Overall, what was clear is that mobile apps are still a tactic that demands innovation.  Just making an app is no longer enough.  I see 7 key things that are MUSTs for successful apps:

Content  – App must either solve a real problem for the user – or must be a highly addictive time waster.

Functionality- Simply put, the app must work.  i.e., if there’s a bar code scanner- it should open smoothly and connect to the desired content with no hiccups or issues; if it’s got an mCommerce store, it needs to close the sale for the user seamlessly and smoothly.
Design- it has to look good.  Apps are getting sexier and sexier – and consumers want innovation and sleek design.

Usability – Kind of like Functionality – but this is more about how intuitive the app is – button sizes, locations of elements, user flow from screen to screen – placement of content on screen, etc

Information Architecture – The logic of the navigation needs to be well thought out so it syncs up in a natural flow.

User Input- It needs to be easy for users to enter information into the app where required.  Some apps are now auto-filling content or have great image recognition technology that can read credit cards.

Mobile Context – Where and when is the user using the app?  Does the app take into consideration the location/time/activity/history/preferences of  the user?  This makes the app experience more personal and relevant.

Trust – Security – Does the user feel comfortable entering data into the app?  How will it be used?

What is best way to drive retention and loyalty for mobile apps?

employee-retentionThis morning one question on Quora caught my attention and I had some thoughts.

A Localytics research study last year found that 26% of apps are used only once after being downloaded. As a result, we are starting to see a concerted effort to shift away from incentivized downloads and towards engagement with focus on overall customer lifetime value. App engagement and retention strategies depend on a wide spectrum of variables.

1) What is the app itself? is it a game? A utility? A content reader? A social engagement platform? An mCommerce shopping tool?
I’d categorize these as falling into one of two buckets: either “time-saving” or “time-killing” tools. Each one of these executions solves specific yet different user needs- and hence will require differing retention strategies. Time-killing apps are typically games or content (readers). The obvious answer for maximizing user retention here is to make sure that the game/content is of high quality. Games account for the vast majority of time spent on mobile phones. So, this is both good and bad news. Good because it is a high-impact activity, and bad because as such it’s becoming such a cluttered category – and thus makes it harder to stand out. Bottom line, make the game engaging, simple, and easy to “get into” – and make sure that the reward to challenge ratio is designed for maximum engagement. This gets into a whole discussion about game-dynamics that is a lot deeper and more complex. There is an outstanding article on mobile games from the NY Times that you should read. Utilities are a dime a dozen unfortunately (how many expense tracking apps are there now? Or battery notifiers?)

2) What is the business goal that the app is designed to fulfill? Is it for brand awareness or brand support? Is it designed to drive store traffic? Is it designed to drive direct revenue (through app purchase – or in-app purchases?) is it built in support of a product launch? Is it a customer service tool? This is a KPI-based question – and speaks to the means by which you will measure overall success of the app. Again, the answers to these questions will reveal varying methods for retention. It may important to note that in-app purchases now account for the majority of app revenues. However, this trend is generated by users being committed the initial app experience for a good amount of time before those purchases roll in. So, overall, if your goals are strictly financial (you want the app to make money), then trends indicate that getting the app out for free initially – and then waiting for the content/usage to seed – is the way that is working best now. Freemium as a rule has been a tried and true method for longer term customer engagement – and it holds true here as well. For brand awareness, this is a tougher one. Why would someone invest a great deal of commitment to a brand message? Typically they won’t, unless the value of the app content is so rich that they simply can’t get enough of it. That’s why a lot of brands are now turning to Utility Apps as a means of driving brand lift and loyalty. The investment is high however. Solid utility apps are an expensive proposition and need to be update frequently. But users are loyal – if the app solves a time-saving or efficiency problem effectively. I use a lot of utility apps personally – few of them are from brands – and would pay more for new features if they were introduced.

3) Who is your audience? Different types of users consume apps in different ways. While app types tend to follow audiences (for example, games are TYPICALLY developed for younger audiences, while finance apps are TYPICALLY built for professionals, etc) all sorts of apps are consumed by the entire audience spectrum. Know your audience. This is key. Invest in research. Look at app usage trends. Do focus groups – even with a core group of friends or co-workers. App developers make the mistake of assuming things about audiences (adults don’t like games, or kids don’t use utilities, etc) that do not prove out in reality. What are your target users habits and behaviors? Where do they live (urban or rural?), what is their income?

4) Test. Test. Test. So much of this is going to be trial by fire. Learn what you can, plan accordingly, commit to a strategy and set it free to the wild. Once the app is in market, the usage data will reveal a great deal about what tweaks are needed. I highly suggest (almost insist) on including a Flurry API for measurement and assigning someone to monitoring and analyzing results.

5) Market the crap out of it. People need to know that the app is there. How else are users going to get engaged? Social Media channels are good – but you will need to get a seed base first so the advocates are recruited. Reviews, posts, PR, organic discovery – these are the golden idols of a solid marketing strategy – but critical mass is needed to gain momentum. Again, so much of this is accidental unfortunately.

6) Quality!!! It’s a highly Darwinian market out there now – only the good survive the long haul, so make sure your app is good. Apple’s submission criteria while draconian is a good thing in that there are built-in quality assurance parameters that developers are forced to adhere to. Android’s lax oversight makes it easier (too easy in my view) for developers to dump garbage into the eco-system. Android’s marketplace may offer a good starting point for testing – but there is no better retention strategy than an excellent design and user experience. Hire talented people that understand app design. Adhere to best practices. Look at your favorite apps – and the most successful (look at Path – great design) and follow the lead.

Mobile Brands still not “showing us the money”…..

Just posting a video from a panel discussion I was on at the App Nation Conference in San Fran last year that dealt with the lack of dollars dedicated to mobile marketing. Was watching this and marveling at how little progress has been made since then on this front.

More mobile accounts are being activated than ever before – more mobile web traffic is being reported than ever before, and brands that are mobile savvy are seeing direct ROI from mobile marketing investments – but still, crickets out there from the majority of mainstream brands.

In Today’s Mobile Market, Its a Game of Comfort or Speed.

built_for_comfort_not_speed_mousepad-p144807551176412108envq7_400I take the 7th avenue line downtown to work every morning.  Depending on my arrival time at the station on West 72nd street I have the option of taking the 2/3 express or the local 1.  Like every other NYC resident strategist I have calculated the time implications of both options.  So, depending on what time I make it to the station my selection for which train to use changes.    Now that they have installed those new-fangled digital arrival time displays, its easier for me to make my choice, but the dynamics are still basically the same:  Comfort or Speed?

Comfort is what the Local Train offers.  As most morning commuters are in a rush, the vast majority of the people at the 72nd express station are there BECAUSE its an express.  And as such, the 2/3 trains are more crowded.   Packed, actually.  Shimmying one’s way into the cars is a strange mixture of contortion and personal space violation.  One is forced to basically hug complete strangers and many times even end up with your nose a millimeter away from some unknown persons cheek.  It’s a pretty uncomfortable experience.  But its fast.  Arrival at 42nd street is under 3 minutes – and arrival at my 34th street station is around 6.    So, when I want to get ahead of the pack, I choose speed.

When I am running a bit early, I’ll hop on a Local 1 and usually will find an actual seat.   I can read my newsfeed apps and chill in between stops and listen to the ambient sounds emanating from some kids earpods.    Comfort.

Comfort or Speed?   Sometimes we just don’t have an option.  What I am seeing today in the mobile market is a bad choice of comfort over speed.   RIM is a great example.  “We have a lead position on Enterprise, screw the consumer market.  That’s not our playground.”   Snore.  While the competition gets onto the Express train, and makes it to the winner station way ahead.  Same goes for corporate brands.  There is just not enough urgency  – and brands are waiting for the local train  – holding back while others pack into the express car.  “There are other express trains coming, no worry”.

But in this market, the express train has left the station.  Get on board, your running late.

RIP RIM (??)

blackberry-dead (1)I am an ardent blackberry fan, and I clutched on to my Blackberry Bold 9000 until my knuckles were white – sheerly out of love for the reliability and rock-solid performance of the darn thing.   Then my work required that I get an iPhone, so for a while, I was one of those two-fisted mobile nuts walking around with a pair of guns on my side.  One was my reliable RIM six-shooter, and the other, the nerdy, metro Glock 4.   After a while I had to admit that despite its long list of shortcomings, my iPhone simply provided me with more functions and features.  So, I tossed my BB on my night table.   It still sits there, sheepishly looking at me when I go to bed and wake up.  We glance at each other and visions of our past relationship flash before my eyes like a shitty chick flick.  But its just not as practical anymore.  I am angry at Bassile and Lazaridis for caring more about their egos than paying attention to market.  Now look.  RIM is a relic.  I truly hope there is the perfect Frankenphone out there on the mobile horizon: a BB 4S Droid 9000.  But until then, I’ll commiserate with Siri.

Mobile Web is Table Stakes for Brand Marketers

mobile sitesFor brands, when it comes to mobile shopping, the smart money is on the mobile web.  While I get more requests for app development over mobile website development to the tune of 5 to 1 from brand managers, it amazes me how much top brand and marketing execs ignore all of the data that proves out the effectiveness of a mobile web presence.  Apps are great, and they are a necessary part of the mobile marketing eco-system for sure, but brands are simply ignoring the value of mobile web at their peril.

In its most simple terms, smartphones (particularly the iPhone and Android handsets, which together make up over 70% of the entire smartphone device universe right now), are just small handheld computers that have operating systems and browsers.  As these smartphone browsers get better and better, more and more people go their mobile phone first when looking for web content.  Think about it: How many times a day do you use the internet on your phone when you are already sitting in front of a computer?  I do this more than I realized.  When I was thinking about writing this post, I took the time to jot down how many times a day I do this at my desk and I counted 5 times.  That’s 5 times that I used my iPhone for a web search when I had a perfectly good PC two inches from my fingertips.  I don’t think I am all that unique in this regard – and this is the kind of behavior that you cannot ignore:  your customers are looking for you on mobile phones more than you likely realize.   And if they have a lousy experience, they will never come back.

If the experience is good, the results are better than traditional web.  Look at the Neilsen charts below.

These numbers are compelling as they show that people are far more likely to make a purchase via a mobile website than a shopping app.  These are 2011 holiday shopping stats – and these numbers show two compelling things:

1)      Trusted brand and mobile web equals mobile sales.  Amazon, not surprisingly is the clear winner here as they are the leader in overall digital sales and the most trusted web based retailer right now.  But what’s really interesting is that once the trust barrier is breached, people will use their phones to make purchases.  They see no difference in the choice of device.  What we are also seeing is that people are now viewing mobile phones as a means to help make impulse buys at POS that they once were unable to act on.

2)      Having a mobile shopping engine on your mobile site allows shoppers to act at the point of sale – when they are in the buying mind.

A mobile website should be table stakes for any brand at this point.  Why brands are not making this more of urgency escapes me, frankly.  I see brand marketers making huge investments in mobile apps (which again, I feel are a key component of any solid mobile strategy for sure) but not putting the proper emphasis (urgency + dollars) into their mobile web presence.

Here’s my personal prescription for brands on mobile web:

1)      Establish a web presence, like, now!  Even if it’s a decent landing page that simply acknowledges the user and offers a web-ready experience that is better than displaying your main website.  The landing presence should contain simple calls to action that are appropriate for your brand, like, product info, contact us, store locator, and, if possible, buy now.

2)      Measure it – Once this mobile presence is established, apply standard measurement and analytics practices.   How many hits, what call to action are users choosing, how long do they stay, do they come back ,etc.  Simple.

3)      Establish a more sophisticated mobile web strategy – Now that the basics are done, use this time to build a solid mobile web experience.  Are you a lifestyle brand? Are you a service brand?  What are your customer’s mobile habits?  What are the reasons that they will be coming to your mobile site?  Where are they coming from?  Searches?  QR codes?  TV Spots?  What are they looking for?  What is the funnel strategy?  Do you have an ecommerce engine – and can it be backed into the mobile site?  Do you have a retail presence?  You get the idea.  We are seeing that once brands get this stuff worked out, their mobile web investments pay off in dividends from a branding and sales lift perspective.

4)      Loop this into your overall mobile strategy – How do all of your mobile assets work together?  Does your app development strategy leverage the mobile website?  Where are you running mobile rich media?  Where do your media lead customers to?  Are you channeling your customers effectively across the mobile ecosystem?  (basic principle: mobile web as acquisition, and mobile app as loyalty and service).

There is no excuse for brands not to invest in mobile web as core part of their 5 to 10 year marketing plans. Ignore it and you will lose equity to those who appreciate the importance of this channel – particularly to the younger demos – 18-35 year olds who are in some cases ‘mobile only’.