In 2010, the Next Big Thing was location-based social networking, a mobile-megatrend CNN reminds us was led by the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla. Last year it was all about group messaging services such as GroupMe or Beluga. And this year the excitement is all about “ambient location” and “social discovery” — a new category of interaction that brings together all the GPS-enabled mobile apps that run in the background on our devices and alert us when like-minded people are nearby.
The heightened interest in this new category was a given if we consider that it is a natural evolution (not revolution) of the mega-trends that went before. Combine location-based services and group messaging and you get messaging triggered by location and interest. There is a certain perceived “sexiness” around apps that allow us to bump and connect with like-minded peers on the fly. But what about the business value, let alone the results?
Despite the hype, the geo-location marketplaces that caused many a marketer to rethink social and mobile are hardly “crowd-pleasers.” Currently, there are only 15 million users of Foursquare worldwide. The ability to reach mere millions is less impressive if we consider there are well over 300 million mobile subscribers in the U.S. alone, and more than 6 billion mobile phone users worldwide.
Another topic that caught our attention and imagination was mobile payments and the economy that is unleashed when we can all pay using our devices. In line with this, we heard more about ISIS Mobile Wallet, thesystem app that is supported by major U.S. credit card companies ( , Visa and American Express) and three U.S. carriers ( , AT&T, and Verizon). The system also has the support of banks, including Barclays, Chase and Capital.
During SXSW, we had a glimpse into how this could play out with the help of an advanced demo that adequately portrayed the ease of use. But before marketers start thinking about how to react we should all keep in mind that this mobile operator-led initiative is not live in the U.S. To the contrary, it will roll out in only two markets over the coming months.
Social discovery and mobile wallets were by far the hot topics at this year’s SXSW. However, the real indication of where we are and where we are going was delivered by renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil.
He grabbed my attention with some very provocative comments:
- “You can start world-changing revolution with the power of your ideas and the tools that everyone has. A kid in Africa has access to more information than the president of the did 15 years ago.”
- “As we go through this decade, search engines aren’t going to wait to be asked. They’ll be listening [to humans] in the background. And [the search results] will just pop up.”
- “If we can convince people that computers have complexity of thought and nuance … we’ll come to accept them as human.”
The first statement is inspiring and shows how the Internet has helped democratize innovation and information. The other statements can be debated. (And please feel free to share your views in the comments below.) Will many people really want or accept a machine that listens and interprets behind-the-scenes in order to give us advice?
I agree with Kurzweil, who also shrugged off a suggestion from the interviewer that connectivity is a curse. As he put it: We are all in control and “time triage” is an individual decision.
How I See It: SXSW was buzzing with ideas, but some of the buzz about geo-location was just noise. These models obviously have their fans, but they also have their shortcomings, flaws that should prompt marketers to think before they leap. Take Gauss, which is positioned as a “people magnet.” It may attract people (as in peers), but if you want to connect with a lot of people, then geo-location will only get you lost. SXSW did a great job of exposing marketers to what is coming. But we can’t lose sight of what is already here — and the requirement to learn and use the mobile tools and approaches at our disposal first. There is no replacement for the more mass-market mobile activities — and companies like Ford and Macy’s are proof that there is a lot more that can be done (and achieved) if we get the marketing mix (messaging, app, website, in-store, outdoor) right. The results speak for themselves: heavy lead conversion and meaningful engagement. Another takeaway from my time in Austin: the discussion of whether a campaign is mobile or social is finally passé. No one mentioned it, a tacit recognition that these two have converged. Consumers caught on before the marketers did, and it was awesome to see the business models that are factoring both social and mobile into the equation.
Probably the smartest words I heard during SXSW in Austin: People don’t care about your products — they care about solutions to their problems. Amen. …
But that’s not to say people aren’t passionate about a few select products, even if the incremental innovation they represent is a far cry from being a solution to a problem.
Case in point: the new iPad that comes out this week, pushing tablet products further.
Here’s my take on the latest release: Some observers expected Siri to come installed on the new device, but I wasn’t one of them. In my opinion, the exclusion of this voice-activated smart assistant is a logical step in view of the some 50 million additionalApple is projected to sell this year. That’s a lot of consumers who can potentially jam the Siri voice recognition system. After all, it was overwhelmed by demand when the was first introduced. My hunch is the backend can’t handle another 50 million users asking Siri to point them to the nearest place to buy a taco.
How I See It: Fanboys and fangirls in the media were more than pleased to write about iPad pre-orders selling out for launch-day delivery. But isn’t that just one half of the story? It would be helpful to know precisely how many devices have been ordered because the sellout could have as much to do with a lack of supply as with a jump in demand. And a word about marketing at Apple, which is hailed as flawless on all counts. It isn’t. The best Apple could come up with this time was “resolutionary.” FAIL. It joins clear marketing misses like the phablet term tossed around for the tablet/smartphone hybrid device.