Decision making normally takes place in a social context. When humans connect, they influence and persuade. That’s why marketers often say that word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful medium that money can’t buy. Of course, the rise of online social networks is turbocharging all of that. Some marketers would argue that money can buy positive word-of-mouth endorsements for their brands. That may explain why Facebook hosts more display ads than any other site on the Web. (According to the marketing research company comScore, Facebook’s share is now one of every four display ads online.)
Mobile social networking means that peer influence is more important than ever. Apps like Fashism provide style-conscious young women with something far more effective than a bunch of anonymous third-party clicks on a “Like” button. Let’s say someone is in a dressing room with a new outfit on, wondering whether to buy it. So she snaps a photo with her iPhone and uploads it using Fashism (or a similar app from GoTryItOn or ModCloth), and community members will tell her how she looks. That changes everything for marketers trying to manage perceptions of their brands.
In analogous ways, mobiles can create social movements based on peer influence. Facebook teamed up with Starbucks to raise money for Conservation International. Every time a mobile user checks in with the Facebook Places app from a Starbucks café, the coffee retailer will donate a dollar to the charity, up to a maximum of $75,000. Another service, GiveGiFi, uses Venmo and Foursquare to let people leave gifts for purchases at places such as restaurants, hotels, bars, stores. Mobile payment systems, too, are going social, enabling consumers to broadcast when and where they bought, say, a movie ticket—a new way of influencing friends to join them. With all these social apps at their disposal, businesses are bringing the tools of direct-response marketing to physical places.
While we humans think we mostly talk to each other, marketers would like to think that brands can talk to us, too. In fact, that’s the essence of modern marketing—giving brands a “personality.” This is rapidly turning into the challenge of how to give brands a social (and socially appropriate) “voice.” Well before Apple had sold, by current count,120 million iPod, iPhone, and iTouch devices, marketing and agency types were grappling with the question of how to “enter the conversation” taking place online about their brands and offerings.
Now mobility has introduced a new, more personal dimension. Billions of dollars in advertising are rapidly shifting to mobile media. Once there, brands must face the thorny question of how to enter that conversation—already a complex array of interactions and communications among millions of consumers—as it unfolds. One possibility is to use mobiles to make things speak. A Swedish dairy, Skånemejeriet, thinks it’s important for its natural products to be able to tell their own stories. It has fielded an iPhone app that enables grocery consumers to enter a code from a milk carton’s date stamp and learn about the local farmer who produced the milk. Natural-food maker HarvestMark has partnered with Kroger, the U.S. grocery retailer, to field a similar app than lets consumers connect with any brand and learn its brand story.
Wireless Economic Development
In the last several years, poor countries and developing nations have acquired mobile handsets at a rate that’s four times that of the developed world. These are not smart phones (yet), so the role they’ve played is “limited” to texting or SMS.
When it comes, however, to aggregating large quantities of information relevant to human populations - whether markets and pricing, crops and weather, health and epidemics, pollution and the environment - collective data from millions of users don’t require 3G networks or smart phones.Thus Nokia continues to ship more mobile handsets than any other consumer electronics maker. Its feature phones remain highly affordable. In the hands of enterprising individuals in the developing world, such devices connect not only people to people but also people to the world’s information resources.
The opportunities are abundant, starting with mobile payment systems and banking services for the “unbanked” in parts of the world where many more people have mobiles than bank accounts. To build small businesses, entrepreneurs need cashless ways to pay for goods and services. That’s why Mony (a “mobile wallet” service from YellowPepper in Ecuador) and M-Pesa (a similar service that began in Kenya), are starting to have a big impact on economic development. Phones that accept and store cash are also being used as crowdsourcing devices that enable some of the planet’s poorest people to earn money for performing microtasks.
In short, mobility is transforming humanity. Without question, it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, mobile technology is making us more connected as a species; it is putting nearly unfathomable resources of data, information, and content at our finger-tips; it’s making such resources ubiquitous and easily accessible; and it’s rendering such content ever more compelling and immersive to find and experience. On the other hand, our mobile devices are eavesdropping on us and trespassing on our privacy as never before, changing what and how we remember our lives, short-circuiting our decision-making authority, and compressing our communications into smaller and smaller bites. The future of mobility is, in some ways, profoundly sobering, even as it augurs infinite possibilities for business. Never has computing been so personal, and never has information technology been so pervasive. So, pay attention to what’s in your pocket. Watch it as it watches you. And stay tuned. Our mobiles are collectively and dramatically shaping the future of business.
Jeffrey F. Rayport is an Operating Partner at Castanea Partners and Chairman at Marketspace. LLC. Carine Carmy at Marketspace contributed research and reporting to this article.