This Really Is the Year of Mobile. Seriously.

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Forrester's chief of idea development tells why mobile's moment has officially come.

This Really Is the Year of Mobile. Seriously.
Forrester's Josh Bernoff

People's lives have become so dominated by their mobile devices that they not only find themselves constantly able to do new things with their magic machines, but they also expect new things from them. Which means they expect new things from marketers and their mobile apps--and not just new things, but the right things. That's one of the themes put forth in The Mobile Mind Shift, a new book from Forrester analysts Ted Schadler, Josh Bernoff, and Julie Ask. We asked Bernoff, the research company's SVP of idea development, for some marketing intelligence on providing memorable mobile moments.

Has mobile thrown a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans of marketers and enterprises?

Yes, while they weren't looking, the main locus in which people interact shifted. It's no longer Web, it's mobile, and mobile requires a completely different way of thinking about how to interact with consumers. You have to connect them to services as quickly as possible and give them the information they're looking for. Marketers concentrate on telling you what you should hear right now, but people connecting with mobile devices are interested in solving their current problems.

Marketers have christened each of the past three years the “Year of Mobile.”  Why is this the year that was?

I think this is the year because of what I see in the marketplace. There are two completely opposite trends happening at the same time. There is a high degree of need, and at the same time a low degree of capability. A lot of companies are saying mobile is taking place, but the number of companies that have it under control is very small. There are a lot of them coming to us saying, “We need your help.” About 80% of the effort involved in mobile engagement is in reengineering back-end systems to connect with mobile. We project that companies will spend $189 billion in 2017 to redo their systems.

We worked with a healthcare company that had an excellent app, but had poor customer ratings on it. People said that when they tried to execute the features, they didn't function properly. The reason is that reworking the back end in healthcare companies is very hard.

So rewiring companies' back-end systems is the business to be in. Who's poised to clean up?

KPMG's Cynergy unit, Mobiquity, Sapient Nitro--these are some of the companies that have proven themselves adept at delivering successful mobile applications.

What kinds of tricks do IT systems need to be able to do to synch with mobile?

They need to be effective at connecting with mobile devices. They require a new kind of platform. You have to have as much [of your mobile capabilities] in the cloud as you can to deliver at the speed you need. You need to line up with third parties like Google Maps, for instance, on capabilities you can't build yourself. You need to be able to deal with enormous surges in traffic. Think about an airline operation. A passenger is at the airport and opens his airline app to find his gate. You have to respond quickly to deliver that. These apps have to be developed rapidly and they need to iterate rapidly. It typically requires an agile development team that can deliver results in a matter of weeks and then review and improve on them in a matter of weeks. Big companies have mobile steering committees to determine how to allocate resources.

Marketing apps are notorious flops. Name three things they must have to succeed.

The first thing companies have to do is to understand the difference between apps and sites. They need to invest in a site that's ready for mobile. Many people will find you through search first, so that site has to be designed to take as much traffic as possible. Adaptive design is not sufficient; you need to design for reach. Also, for an app to be workable, it has to actually be useful. That's where most marketing apps fall down. Columbia Sportswear has an app called "What Knot to Do in the Greater Outdoors." Some hiker is out on a mountain and needs to tie a certain knot, and this app tells him how. It's utility marketing, the next step beyond content marketing.

What about B2B enterprises? Have they been as affected by the shift as B2C companies have?

I get that question all the time and, yes, of course, there are several ways mobile has changed B2B. B2B customers are human, and like everybody else they're using mobile all the time. There are far fewer effective B2B apps, however. One place where apps can be very effective are in selling situations. To explain something complicated in a sales call, a visual like a table or chart can make a salesperson much more effective. Trane, the air conditioning company, increased its close rate from 35% to 65% with an app for field reps. They used to crawl around somebody's house, then go out to truck and write a quote on a business card. Now they can enter the information into the app, show it to the customer, and say, “Here's why you need a higher-end system.”

In your book you write that “mobile is not a channel.” Please elaborate.

We learned, in some sense, the wrong lesson from online. Remember when e-commerce was new? People in retail thought they had figured it out. Online is like a channel, a separate store. But mobile is not a very good selling channel. It's more of an informational channel. You're not going to buy a lawnmower on a mobile phone, but when you're in the store it can help you choose what lawnmower to buy.

Now that the Year of Mobile has arrived, do marketers who are behind still have time to catch up?

You really can't wait at this point.  More and more companies we talk to tell us that more than half of the traffic on their websites is coming from mobile. This is a complete shift in the way people interact. So unless you are prepared for it now, you are going to be way behind. You can't declare this the Year of Mobile and then miss it.

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