The year ahead for mobile

More than a channel operating in isolation, mobile is everywhere, influencing our entire lives. Now brands must exploit the blank canvas before them, James Kirkham writes.

James Kirkham
James Kirkham

Mobile will stop being a thing.

Eventually, there will be no distinction between the future of networking technology and the future of mobile devices. Two become one. Inseparable and impossible to split. Mobile is everything and mobile is everywhere.

It is the single most vital entry point to the real world and all human information that has ever been collated. Three billion people on this planet use the internet, and two billion of these access it from their phones. Internet and mobile are one. Social and mobile are one. To continue to split and syphon off mobile is naïve.

Through such ubiquity comes complete disappearance. As technology envelopes everyone and everything, it becomes invisible. People once discussed the use of electricity to light a room. No more. It disappears. So the word smartphone will start slowly disappearing too.

My five-year-old son, like most children, has a brilliant, captivating little imagination. Unbridled lunacy spouts out of his tiny head, and there is no apparent desire to rein himself in or want to stop. In one of his many make-believe rants, he tells me how he finds the incredible facts behind his tall stories.

Recently, he told of how a rainbow-stealing thief lived in the hills near our home and used to raid his garden for colourful treasure nearly 50 years ago. I go along with his ramblings and ask him how he knows all this. "It is here, on my phone. Look, I’ll show you," he says. I probe for more information on his fantastical flight of fancy. "Let me look on my phone," he adds, motioning again to the pretend device in his little hand.

Children see mobile like TV science-fiction scriptwriters once did. As with Quantum Leap, my favourite show as a teenager, when Al briefed Dr Sam Beckett on his time-travelling escapades. They were the complete oracle. They were the way into all and the answer to everything.

Children will never talk about online – because, to them, they’re never offline. Their world has always been blended, information anywhere accessed in a moment and entirely on demand.

So mobiles are a portal to every answer that we’ll ever need, and a lens to the past or future. We as adults "do" social on them more than anything else too.

Because social and mobile are one. The rise of apps predicated on mobile beyond all else is impossible to ignore. Instagram, Snapchat and Yo were all entirely built mobile first by mobile people thinking in a mobile way for people on their mobiles.

This trend has been further cemented through the rise of joint social mobile platforms. Line and WhatsApp are the most obvious examples, where telephony is literally entwined and combined into systems: part-messaging, part-social communication, part-texting, part-emoji, part-Skype-style, part-image-sharing.

So mobile is too big to be a thing any more. If we’re looking to the very near future, the year ahead, then we should view it with this context in our heads. Start seeing communications opportunity as a way to bridge these gaps, and help orientate us towards an exciting future with a world transformed and unrecognisable from when we were children.

The decline of real-world retail

Many people believe that advances in mobile will allow us to shop differently. With mobile commerce now becoming as normal as reading online news, there is an increasing clamour to find more inventive means to bring the consumer closer to the clothes.

Developments in haptic feedback are expected to enable brands to create "textures" alongside the products they showcase, effectively allowing you to feel items of clothing through your screen.

People fall in love with their phone. They use it and look at it and touch it and see it more than anything else in their waking, working worlds

Furthermore, augmented reality means that mobile becomes a gateway for millions of new stores anywhere they wish. By creating "virtual" stores wherever you can get 3G reception, it means brands can "pop up" their shops wherever and whenever they want, without worrying about business rates or bricks and mortar. All of this feels very much like the death of real-world retail.

This year’s progressive and aggressive coming together between mobile and retail will edge us further towards an entirely different era when the traditional high-street shopping experience is radically altered.

As usual, the persuasive nature of personalised communications and convenience will make this argument difficult for anyone else to win.

Mobile on your terms, not theirs

The reason it took so long for advertising to grasp mobile is because the few people who would play with it resorted to interruption. Yet this is the most personal of devices, so such methodology was wrong.

People fall in love with their phone. They use it and look at it and touch it and see it more than anything else in their waking, working worlds.

So any brand that realises it is less about push and more about pull suddenly starts to rise in the mind of the consumer. That’s why an app such as Yo will be a big hit in 2015. What at first feels like something bordering on the moronic (the ability to send a "Yo" to a friend) then reveals a deeper, more exciting side.

Imagine sending a Yo to your favourite retailer or restaurant when emerging from the Tube in a new part of town.

Geolocation means you’ll be sent back details of the nearest venue. What’s more, it can fire back a discount and a coupon too. On arrival, it might go so far as to prepare your "regular" order, personalised with your Yo name on the wrapper. This is about the consumer asking and the consumer getting.

Shazam has had a bad rap from some quarters of advertising, where people complain that it takes too long to initiate in time to "listen" in on a TV ad. But what if you simply use it outdoors, at events, at installations, in shopping centres, so your shop can at any point be Shazamed in order for you to access additional content or an exclusive extra? There will be a rise of these incredibly simple apps and initiatives in 2015, all driven around a one-stop calling from the consumer.

Mobile display the way in, but not the future

The year ahead will see another rise in mobile advertising revenue, but don’t be fooled by the statistics.

This is still the legacy of an industry only now seeing the worth and potential to advertise their wares on mobile devices at all. This will ultimately go the same way as the online banner and be consigned to history before properly smart, contextual, editorially driven advertising is king, when you can barely see the advertising join to the real world. Where the lines blur between content you’re interested in and marketing you’re being sold.

Mobile the saviour of TV and print

Mobile shouldn’t be seen as the threat to other channels in 2015 – instead, we should see plenty of examples where it further fans the flames of older media channels and gives them a much-needed injection of excitement and interest.

This year will see far more social advertising examples, where our consumers expect more than just a 30-second TV spot. This isn’t about clumsily applying a natty hashtag, either, but instead about providing a genuine opportunity to lead the viewer into a greater depth of experience via a mobile phone.

An example might be takeaway brands running advertising at precisely the same time that their TV spots are on, to give the consumer a coupon on their smartphone. Or it might be the chance to watch whole new content strands for brands such as Comparethemarket.com, which has created extended narratives. It can deliver against these through mobile concurrently when the TV spot tells them. So much can be done, and 2015 will see agencies and brands being more inventive more regularly with their ability to join the dots via a smartphone.

With 2015 upon us, let’s consign the word "mobile" to history. Because it means everything to us.

James Kirkham is the global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett Group

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