Beyond the Buzz of SoLoMo

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Gary Dolsen, IBM
Gary Dolsen, IBM

What's the real marketing opportunity SoLoMo presents?

There's no shortage of marketing buzzwords. Although many of them fall out of use quickly, some have staying power because they capture a concept that rises from a marketplace reality. One such term is SoLoMo, and it's here to stay because it's not just a marketing trend. It identifies a societal shift in consumer behavior. Consumers are interacting with each other and with businesses on multiple levels, platforms, and devices. SoLoMo is more than just a buzzword because the confluence is driven by consumers, not by vendors.

The game changer

All good marketers understand that the customer landscape has changed, and that these changes have sparked a shift in consumer expectations. Customers want brands to understand their unique wants and needs and to create an engaging experience for them regardless of what device or channel they use. In addition, customers now experience brands on the local level—in-store—as well as on the Web, through social media, and on their mobile devices.

Social media has changed the way brands speak to their customers; the conversation is now an evolving one. But what's really shaken up the market is the growing pervasiveness of mobile and smartphones with advanced Web, social, and geo-location capabilities. Opus Research describes SoLoMo as “a more mobile-centric version of [hyper-local search] with greater local precision: It's about getting nearby information on demand, wherever you may be.”

The market for smartphones and tablets continues to soar, and represents countless new opportunities for brands to interact with consumers. More than 125 million U.S. consumers carry smartphones, according to comScore, and Gartner predicts that tablet and smartphone revenue this year will rise by 38.9 and 9.3%, respectively. Even more amazing is that 90% of mobile owners keep their devices within arm's reach 100% of the time. Because mobile devices are always on hand, customers are increasingly using them for discovery or search. In fact, 74% of U.S. smartphone owners use their devices to access local information like directions; 38% wish to receive promotional messages based on their location; and 18% have checked in at merchants using social apps like Foursquare. SoLoMo will become even more prominent as “the Internet of things” grows, and brands must be ready to have a presence across all of these digital touchpoints.

The challenge

Businesses are scrambling to keep up with the shift. The challenge now is not only to be where customers are, but to be there with a consistent brand image and experience. Most consumers get their information from a variety of online media. They move seamlessly between devices and from Yahoo! to Yelp to Foursquare before deciding to connect with a business. While these new mobile channels represent great discovery opportunities for businesses, brands are still learning how to manage channels across all platforms and create consistent experiences across all devices and locations.

The opportunity

The true opportunity in SoLoMo is the chance to engage with customers wherever they are, and provide a customized experience across social, local, and mobile channels. A vast amount of data and insight also comes from these interactions, and companies can take advantage of what they find within social networks, mobility, and location-based tracking to learn more about their customers and customize the experience to ensure that they're getting exactly what they need and want.

Many local businesses rely on foot traffic from local discovery, and SoLoMo, leveraging geo-location, can be vital. On-the-go consumers use mobile search to find local businesses, often looking for store locations, hours, inventory items, and price comparisons. Mobile customers are also typically more ready to buy, as their needs are more immediate. So, SoLoMo becomes an opportunity for businesses to convert customers. Additionally, customers already use their smartphones while shopping, so mobile can assist with customer service in lieu of a sales associate. Also, customers can receive customized offers when they go into a store or are in the surrounding area, helping to drive them to purchase immediately.

Part of the future of SoLoMo will go beyond just a brand or engagement strategy. It will be joining these three forces into effective products. One example of a few products on the market today that are accomplishing this is the Nike+ running app, which has social, location, and mobile components that all reinforce each other.

The convergence of social, local, and mobile can help with everything from customer acquisition to loyalty to customer service to new product development. Now and into the future, this phenomenon will continue to revolutionize how brands are interacting with customers.

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Gary Dolsen, IBM

Gary Dolsen, director of exceptional digital software at IBM, is responsible for the company's digital experience strategy, product management, and the overall health of the business. He's spent the past dozen or so years building, marketing, and applying portals, Web-content management, mashups, and other Web-experience products. Dolsen was a certified wildland firefighter for more than eight years, and is a big football fan; his team is the Denver Broncos. Dolsen, who holds a BS in computer science from Michigan State University, worked as director of technical marketing at BEA Systems prior to joining IBM.

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