What are the pitfalls to watch when developing a mobile strategy? Why isn’t an app enough? What can you do to avoid the ‘iSyndrome’ that has blinded the industry to opportunities beyond the iPhone? Martin Wilson outlines the seven things you have to get right.
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In one of my regular and lively chats with our very own Peggy Anne Salz, recently named one of the 20 people you must follow in mobile, we ended up talking about why mobile strategies – even those pursued by companies with the ideas and resources to do much better – crash and burn. We concluded that many companies deserve high marks for trying to ‘think mobile’, but their execution is mediocre at best.
The reason: they have become confused by the hype and the technology buzz surrounding this medium. It’s a myopic condition I now call ‘iSyndrome’ – alluding to our current preoccupation with all things ‘i’, including iPhones, iPads, iAds – and the list goes on.
I have struck a chord with this term – and the thinking behind it. Colleagues amplify it via Twitter and technology blogs. And Tomi Ahonen, considered by many (myself included) to be the mobile thought leader, has congratulated me for calling it like it is.
What is iSyndrome?
- iSyndrome: a symptom, characteristic, or belief, that building an application = mobile strategy.
What are the signs?
- Where you see individual and organisations following oversimplified mobile strategies focused on short-term results rather than long-term value, you see a company stricken by iSyndrome.
What is the solution?
There isn’t one. It depends on variety of factors including the nature of your business, your target audience/customer base and the priorities you have set in your business plan.
But we can say that a mobile strategy requires a company to do much more than transfer a fixed online service to mobile (squeezing content or services onto a small screen, for example). An app alone is also not the answer.
And choose your mobile platform wisely. And you will have to make choices because no company has the resources to develop for all the operating systems and flavours of mobile out there.
Consider the newest mobile numbers from comScore. In the U.K. the iPhone makes up about 4 percent of mobile devices in circulation (that’s if we count all the legacy Apple devices in the hands of users as well). Android has an even small piece of the pie. In fact, of mobile devices; some 70 percent accessing the mobile Web are not smartphones at all (!) In addition, some 62 percent of devices using apps are simple featurephones, not smartphones.
So, why the singular focus on smartphone strategies and apps? Peggy suggested that it could be a case of cognitive dissonance (seeing but not wanting to accept the facts) and challenged me to write a column that sets the record straight.
Having been personally involved in supporting the development, delivery and launch of mobile services for a number of organisations around the world – including Yell, DexOne and Trudon, to name a few – I know how difficult it is to be focused on what counts when companies and press everywhere are caught up in the search for ‘the next big thing.’ (Indeed, how can we even consider another technology leap as long as we haven’t solved usability, monetisation and the dozens of fundamental issues?)
It’s difficult to create a long-term strategy for mobile when everyone else is talking up short-term fixes.
But the requirement for balance and reason couldn’t be more urgent. Mobile is breaking on to the mainstream. The industry is buzzing with activity and conferences around mobile education, mobile health and mobile shopping are debuting to sold-out crowds. It’s not mobile content; it’s content. It’s not mobile commerce; it’s commerce. We no longer say e-business and soon ‘m’ will disappear from our industry vocabulary altogether.
This change is happening now – and companies can lead it or be crushed by it.
With this in mind I have identified seven problems that organisations must recognise and resolve if they want to develop solid mobile strategies that deliver lasting competitive advantage.
1. Thinking tactics, NOT strategy
Organisations invest in mobile without thinking it through. Because they aren’t clear about this vital detail they spend large sums of money in the process and rarely see returns. (Even worse, they create negative brand perception amongst consumers.).
Why does this happen? Decision making is being made based on hype and technology buzz. The organisation is failing to calculate the addressable market, understand the mobile environment, and meet consumer expectations.
Solution: View mobile platforms and devices as tactics to deliver your strategy, not just define it. The core service and foundation is the most important element to get right.
2. Setting aspirations, NOT expectations
Organisations state staggering mobile ambitions, forecast huge numbers of users for their services and expect immediate returns.
Why does this happen? Unrealistic targets run the risk of rapidly losing goodwill and support. The organisation is failing to lay down manageable objectives, define controllable approaches to market, and pursue good commercial execution.
Solution: Define realistic ambitions, factor in the barriers and challenges and map out routes to market and commercialisation.
3. Moving goal posts, NOT fixing scope
Organisations progressing mobile in a way that is open to product, cost and schedule slip from the outset.
Why does this happen? If it can slip it will. The organisation is failing to lay down a core scope, identify milestones and key deliverables, internal and external requirements and highlighting key risks.
Solution: Define a scope, based around a foundation, and stick to it. For those starting out a ‘foundation’ can evolve but should not ideally change, even in time. Tactical elements focused on actual execution – such as platforms and compatible devices – can come later.
4. Using any available resources, NOT the right ones
Organisations progressing mobile in a way that shows they may be lead (in the wrong direction) by a key supplier, or forced to go internal.
Why does this happen? Mobile is a largely proprietary, fragmented and challenging environment. The organisation fails to deliver core components that work. Instead, features are sub-standard, services fall over on accessibility, usability or performance, and there is poor quality behind the execution.
Solution: Ensure you have the right resources available to meet your requirements. Consider relevant internal resources and external supplier(s) – multiple if needed. It is critical to get the basics right.
5. Managing ‘mobile’, or NOT, in the business
As an organisation begins to develop mobile is it amazing to see how many experts appear, how many individuals suddenly have a view and want to contribute.
Why does this happen? Scope and focus becomes a moving feast. The organisation experiences shifting ideals and sees core service offerings become diluted. Schedule and cost is impacted.
Solution: From the outset define an approach to engaging and involving the organisation and the right team of people, and stick to it.
6. Meandering path, NOT focused roadmap
Once an organisation delivers a mobile service it is surprising see many have not considered a roadmap, or lifecycle.
Why does this happen? Prioritising development and further investment becomes impossible. The organisation fails to evolve services to enhance the experience and offering. It is challenged to remain competitive and acquire/retain new users.
Solution: Think about a roadmap from day one. And factor in elements that did not make first releases, such as usability features, commercialisation and mobile platform and device fine-tuning.
7. Marketing vision, NOT a tangible plan
Service has been built, user and commercial objectives set and communicated. Yet many fail to define marketing plan and identify tactics that can deliver the numbers.
Why does this happen? Prioritisation of activity and defining contribution is challenging. The organisation fails to define an effective mix. Instead, it places resources on poor contributing tactics, relies on uncontrollable elements and – more than likely – under invests.
Solution: Build a marketing plan that combines tactics to realistically deliver your objectives. And work to achieve a balance that incorporates partnerships and places the necessary investment behind your ambitions.
The end-game is all about positioning. Mobile has already earned a centrepiece role in our everyday lives and now organisations are challenged to give mobile that same significance in their strategies. To achieve this, organisations must understand that mobile is not an app or a one-off solution. Then – armed with this knowledge – they must execute strategies that deliver positive results.
Success requires focus, balance and a big-picture view. Several surveys, including recent research from the Association for Interactive Media and Entertainment (AIME), the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), point out that companies lack the knowledge, understanding and experience to implement or integrate mobile in a meaningful way. Specifically, the organisations, which surveyed of 140 marketing professionals from the retail, advertising and mobile service sectors in the U.K. to understand the attitudes and opportunities around mobile retail, concluded that consumers in the U.K. may be embracing mobile commerce faster than companies can respond.
It’s a gap retailers and companies across all sectors are well-advised to fill through partnership with companies and individuals with the expertise to accelerate their mobile strategy.
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Martin Wilson has been involved in digital media for over 14 years, during which time he gained a wealth of experience in the fixed line and mobile Internet. In January 2008, Martin established Indigo 102, an independent consultancy, to assist organisations (including digital advertising agencies, directory publishers, media owners and online service providers) take their brands – and value propositions – mobile. In this role Martin has supported the development and launch of mass market mobile services across three continents. You can contact Martin directly (email@example.com) and follow on Twitter (@indigo102).