As most of us have experienced first-hand, 2011 brought about a sea change migration of user traffic from online to mobile. This sea change was evident in the fourth quarter numbers recently announced by Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung amongst others in terms of both the unit shipments of smart phones and tablets and the unit downloads of applications accompanying the devices. In parallel, we are also witnessing a massive global ecosystem being built around all things mobile from accessories for the devices to content for consumption across the devices to data plans and service bundles to access the networks and clouds supporting the underlying user engagement on the devices.
Along the way, we have seen scores of companies pop up to address different elements of the problems accompanying the headaches that exist for optimising the high value touch points between brands and their anytime, anywhere audiences and communities. In general, these companies have made decisions about where and how to engage the mobile ecosystem by focusing their mobile solutions on one of three primary areas of headaches: (1) the client side problem of multi-platform application development, (2) the server side problem of mobile application infrastructure, or (3) the original or branded programming problem of mobile content.
The client side problem is one in which software companies, advertising agencies and internal IT departments have opted to create the application experiences representative of the “apps” that are being downloaded in mass. In some cases these groups have opted for religious debates about native coding versus HTML5 coding and purpose-built, custom applications versus write-once, run anywhere template-based applications. On the client side, elements such as user interface, user experience and look and feel are all viewed to be core elements to the features, functionality and utility created for users and consumers of the “apps”.
The server side problem is one in which technology companies, infrastructure companies, service providers, carriers and internal IT departments have opted to create back-end systems to address operational and monetization challenges that exist for these client side “apps” at transactional scale. In some cases these groups have opted to build out custom internal systems and solutions to address these needs, while in other cases these groups have opted to stitch together a wide variety of “best of breed” partners and service providers to provide a “complete solution” that can work on a worldwide basis across disparate languages, engagement requirements and business rules. Operational challenges tend to involve issues such as content management, media streaming, digital distribution management and business intelligence while monetization challenges tend to involve issues such as advertising optimization, cross promotion, loyalty /rewards, daily deals, flash deals and commerce (whether physical or digital in nature).
The original or branded programming problem is one in which media companies, content companies, social media companies, advertising agencies and internal marketing departments have opted to create the content, feeds, offerings and engagement to be consumed by application users and typically come in the form of photos, videos, audio, news, information, blogs, forums, social graphs, products, services and calls to action. On the client side, this programming provides user engagement and interactivity whenever and however desired by the application user and on the server side, this programming provides measurement, management and monetization tools to gauge what works, what doesn’t work and why.
The fundamental problem with addressing any one of these three areas without addressing them all concurrently is that the end result of the anytime, anywhere interaction between the brand and the consumer is failure. Doing the client side front-end well without a strong back-end and engaging content will leave the user frustrated and confused as the application will fail to deliver the content desired whenever and however selected across the networks engaged by the user. Similarly, doing the server side well without a strong front-end and engaging content will leave the user angry that the application is stable and fast, but lacks a desirable user experience or anything of utility, value or interest. And finally, doing the programming well without a strong front-end and back-end will leave the user annoyed that the application has exactly what they want, but they are unable to engage with or enjoy it.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of companies throughout the mobile ecosystem are opting to address just one of the three areas required for successful mobile applications. In each instance, they are citing “focus” as the reason for this choice and are claiming that they want to do one thing and do it better than anyone else in the world. While this answer sounds good, and even alludes to the perceived benefits of both competitive differentiation and putting more proverbial wood behind fewer arrows, it rings hollow and fails to acknowledge that mobile is quite different from anything else that we’ve all experienced in the past. Mobile users are finicky, demanding and have extremely high expectations for their personal engagement and attention. As such, each point solution in the mobile marketplace is simply creating a stand-alone and isolated digital island that has been cut off from the rest of the world. As you work through your mobile strategy and tactical planning, make sure that you can answer all three of these elements openly and comprehensively. As if you don’t, you can expect that the end result will likely take a path of unnecessary risk and potential failure for both your application and your brand.