What working in Design taught me about doing online marketing and advertising. Part 2.

First Published on Clickz Asia October 2013

In this, my second piece in a series of three, I’m going to talk about a second tenet of Design Thinking – ‘The appropriate use of technology’.

design-thinkingIn generic ‘design thinking’ terms this technology tenet is often articulated in terms of feasibility.  i.e. the question is expressed something like, ‘for that thing we want to do, is there a feasible technology?’

When it comes to advertising and marketing I like to express it another way and ask myself, ‘for those people with whom we are trying to engage, and in this specific context, what is the most appropriate channel and does it make sense?’

We are living through times with unprecedented speeds of change and development. People are already talking about version three (even four) of a technology that wasn’t even in the hands of most people until half way through my life.  And whilst exciting, this speed of development nurtures demons of which we need to be aware – demons in the shape of rigid orthodoxies.

For those of us who have lived through the various iterations of the ‘internet’ the problem is only multiplied.  Many of us, for example, see mobile as an extension – as and add-on – to what we had before.  It’s another channel isn’t it?  For many of us it was (and still is) a case of ‘we can now put all that desktop stuff on mobile devices’. And recently I’ve seen multi-million dollar brands with QR code scans leading mobile users directly to desktop web pages on their phones.  We suffer from the legacy of yesterday when grappling to exploit and leverage the technology of tomorrow.  Or as Marshall McLuhan rather more poignantly put it, ‘We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future’.

It is no coincidence that developers in emerging markets manage to see mobile for what it is – stripped bear of the clutter that our desktop legacy -tinted glasses impose over the top.  They didn’t have desktops – mobile is the only internet some of them have seen and they see it for what it is, not for where it came from.

Being able to recognize the most appropriate channel for the most appropriate content is challenging and our history and experience is often conspiring against us.  In addition to the new technology channels provided by devices themselves they come too with their own sub-channels, technologies and applications.  With over the top messaging applications, GPS and the whole mess of generic mobile applications, the temptation for digital marketers and advertisers to jump all over these is compelling.

It is no surprise then that we have seen thousands of early adoptions of these opportunities in countless guises almost every one of which is now defunct or absorbed into something else.  I even wonder about the longevity and continuing stickiness of some of the most successful applications like Foursquare.

I recently held a workshop where we were considering the potential for mobile technology payments and here I suspect that in order to innovate and create real value and change we need to let go of the legacy of the past.  It’s too easy to think of swiping a phone instead of a card.  This isn’t good enough.  We need to understand the essence of the behavior and look at mobile and at the pure potential of what it offers.  Seeing mobile as something else that can be swiped is to entirely miss the point.  In a great piece in Wired from a couple of years back, a guy and his company doing stuff in Russia with 4G networks articulated the disruption in an interesting way: “[With this project] we are redesigning money, rather than banks,” Oskolkov-Tsentsiper says.

An openness to look at the very essence of the thing rather than the contrived tools and processes that we have as a legacy is where the real excitement is.  But being less abstract for a minute our selection any application of technology must always go back to the needs and desires of people and their context when and where we are trying to engage with them.

And because these things haven’t fundamentally changed in years any technology that attempts to create a new need or desire should be viewed with suspicion.  It’s unclear to me if Foursquare, for example, attempted to invent something in me (some kind of excitement around checking into places).  All I can say is that whilst it had my attention for many months I recently realized that I’d stopped using it and my life is still pretty much ok.

This whole area of embedding and creating behavior in and around new and appropriate technology and making it stick is tough when you really look at it.  It’s very tough.  Despite our living in times when technological evolution is advancing at speeds most of us will never really appreciate, it is testament to how hard it is that I still do my shopping today the same way I’ve been doing it for years.  Just look at all the technology our there and the potential it affords us and still, when it comes to the supermarket, not a lot has changed.  I’ve been hearing about technology initiatives in the high street and malls for years – location sensitive apps, in-mall mapping, magic shop windows and all the rest.  And how has my mall experience changed over the last few years?  About as much as yours I‘d guess.

The ‘appropriate’ in ‘the appropriate use of technology’ can be interpreted in many ways.  When starting this piece I used the word feasible and when it comes to engaging with people making something ‘feasible’ means addressing and ticking off a number of pre-requisites.  Invariably this will involve addressing an existing need or desire.  It will almost certainly mean making something easier or quicker or a lot more fun.  It may mean addressing the very essence of the thing rather than substituting one process for another (swiping a phone v swiping a wallet).

When it comes to advertising and marketing we need to strive to engage people in meaningful and relevant ways and a key component of this is the technology.  And evidence would suggest that it’s tough.  Very tough.

 

Tour de France and mobile

I can get pretty worked up about digital and mobile. And about cycling too!  So when we get on to talking about ‘Tour de France’ mobile apps I’m there with bells on.

THE PELOTON CLIMBS THE COL DU GALIBIER ON STAGE SEVENTEEN OF THE 2008 TOUR DE FRANCE
THE PELOTON CLIMBS THE COL DU GALIBIER ON STAGE SEVENTEEN OF THE 2008 TOUR DE FRANCE

Below is a response I wrote in August 2011 basically bemoaning that year’s TdF app, highlighting that it simply repurposed desktop content into an app albeit it in a half decent way.  By all means read it but to sum up I wanted to suggest how I thought the app could and should be better by understanding what it really means to be ‘mobile’.  I came up with an idea of driving users into bike shops with some idea of a simple partnership business model allowing everyone to win – the stores, the consumer and the main brand sponsor.  My idea and the model are not really important – it was just an off the top of my head suggestion.  My main point was one that could be summed up (in the quite catchy phrase I hope you’ll agree) as the difference between ‘merely mobile and truly mobile’.

 We’re all pretty tired of seeing those stats slides rolled out as part of countless presentations around the world detailing the numbers of mobile users there are now and the percentage of web traffic that runs over small screens.  (At least I think we’ve now had ‘The Year of Mobile’ haven’t we?)

Getting serious about mobile means grasping the difference I coined above – understanding what transforms something from merely mobile to truly mobile.

To do this we must consider the following:

Context – how and when is the user using the mobile app / site?  What unique or persistent needs might they have at that point?  What can / should the app deliver for the best possible contextualized experience?

Location – perhaps the most obvious but not necessarily most important aspect of the above.  We must ask ourselves what does ‘where they are’ offer us in terms of being ultra relevant.

Cutting the crap – ask yourselves, ‘what information and stuff could the user do without at this point?’ – your brand’s board members might be half interesting to a few people but save it for the desktop site (probably).

Utility – how can we move from information and content to something that really provides usefulness.  What would be ‘great’ for the user right there at that moment?

Responsive design is now almost a hygiene factor although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at some sites.  And it’s important – don’t get me wrong but I think focusing on it can be a hindrance.  It, almost by definition, gets people in the mindset of taking all of what’s there and making it accessible via a small screen.  A might better approach might be starting from scratch and staring from the bullet points above:  Where are they?  What are they doing?  What would they want to know right now and how can we make something useful?

 As I mentioned above the reply (below) was written three and a half years ago and despite all those stats slides and mobile’s importance being drummed into us I don’t see that much truly mobile stuff as opposed to simply being merely mobile.

 

Original reply:

I had the Tour de France app running on my iPhone in July. And I have used the live timing screen on the Formula One website for some years now. My question is: are these apps that we have now really mobile? That’s not meant to sound as stupid as it might do! Of course they are mobile. In one sense at least. And great apps they are too whilst, at the same time, being little more (in most cases) than existing content repurposed for mobile devices. The TDF app was, as I mentioned, great but did nothing over and above the ‘web’ content other than make it available on a small screen and handy when a laptop or desktop was not to hand. And it was sponsored by Skoda wasn’t it? – an ad campaign totally lost on me.

 Isn’t the really power of mobile – the time when apps become truly mobile – when they know where you are and what you are doing? Isn’t this when mobile advertising tips into something truly game changing and disruptive?

Imagine that Tour de France app. Instead of just having a Skoda screen on startup (the same screen for everyone everywhere in the world regardless of age, location, interests etc) what if it alerted me to a cool bike shop as I walked by telling me about some great offer on a bike and that they were showing Le Tour on TV? In other words the app contextualised my interest and my location and gave me something useful and potentially really relevant and engaging. So, instead of a one off fee with Skoda (let’s ignore the broader advertising deal for now) the app developers had invited hundreds of thousands of bike shops all over the world to partner with them in handing over 5 bucks for every punter they drove into a store brandishing a code that got them 10% off stuff. Isn’t this the sort of thing that will be the future?

This feel likes the future of mobile advertising. When apps become truly mobile in their ability to understand and contextualise people’s situations and behaviour. The difference, if you like, between a truly mobile app and an app that is merely mobile.