Friday, August 30, 2013

Raising the Bar on the Perception of Mobile Reception

My, my, how high maintenance we’ve all become.

Not long ago, many of our tech-savvy selves (myself included), were awestruck by the power of our devices. First, we couldn’t imagine a world without word processing programs. Then “Google it,” became a grammatically correct sentence. Now our smartphones and tablets allow us to shop, stream live radio, teleconference with friends and colleagues and manage multiple virtual currencies – all while we’re busy working and juggling other tasks.

But if a recent survey is any indication, our collective sense of technological awe is giving way to entitlement. Just like we don’t applaud every time an electric light bulb brightens with the flick of a switch, consumers are beginning to expect that their smartphone’s mobile service be just as reliable.

According to a Vasona Networks survey, 64% of respondents felt that “good performance all the time” was a reasonable mobile phone network expectation. A slim 36% were more forgiving and agreed that performance hiccups and dead zones were par for the technological course.

I wasn’t a survey respondent, but you can count me in the minority.

My reaction to the data is twofold. Firstly, it’s possible our overly linked, synched and wired world has done more to speed up our culture than caffeine. A bit of humility never hurt. And statistics like this underscore how little non-experts appreciate the complexity of our wireless world – not to mention some scientific basics.

Like any form of radio transmission, cell phone towers work by line of sight. So the hillier or more mountainous the terrain, the more difficult reception becomes. Likewise, walls, physical structures, and other electronic noise (TVs, desktop computers, microwaves, etc.), also wreak havoc on reception quality and mobile download speeds.

These are challenges that will never be fully resolved and it’s perfectly OK. Do we blame terrestrial radio when we drive our cars (and their antennas) out of reception range? No. The same rules apply.

What isn’t OK, though, are the many poorly designed mobile web pages and apps whose clumsiness prevents them from maximizing 3G and 4G speeds. Sometimes it comes down to a matter of “reception perception.” Mobile web pages might be downloading swiftly, but if the user experience is lacking, simple processes, (like trying to purchase something on a smartphone or tablet) become cumbersome.

To the aggravated 64%, if you must be of the persnickety persuasion, make certain your frustration is directed to the appropriate source. Focus less on cell phone service providers and more on how websites are designed, how apps are developed and the utility of these. 

As PR professionals it’s our job to help our clients maximize how they promote their mobile presence. Actual download speeds won’t be affected. But the time it takes for consumers to realize on-the-go enjoyment, will undoubtedly accelerate.  Perhaps the next time you visit a mobile web site or interact with an app that’s undergone radical improvement you will applaud and not feel so entitled.   
I’m just saying…. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beaming Mobile Messages To Your Brain

A couple of months ago some commuter trains in Germany made global headlines: a rail operator’s passengers were treated to a “marketing wonder” of windows beaming advertising messages directly into the brains of said passengers who’d happened to place their weary heads on the glass.

Called bone conduction and already used in military applications and hearing aids, early reviews of this new type of use have been mixed. Not surprisingly, the ad agency BBDO who produced the ad campaign for Sky Deutschland called it a success. Of course they would. But many responses from a Mashable article read more like: “Is this for real? Just stay out of my head. This kind of invention must be BANNED.”

I agree to a point. It is disturbing how technology this pervasive can be abused. Don’t we have enough bombardment of ads already across multiple screens and devices?

But less than two months later, there’s growing (indirect) evidence of a perceptual shift. A new Harris Interactive poll found that consumer interest in mobile advertising offers has increased sharply since 2009. Nearly half, (45%) of mobile phone owners said they were at least somewhat interested in receiving mobile alerts about new products, sales and/or promotions from preferred brands, compared with 26% of respondents who felt similarly in 2009. And of those more recent supporters, 78% said they found location-based advertising particularly useful.

Does this mean brain beaming advertising glass has silenced its detractors? Um, no. But in light of this new data, it’s not that hard to envision a future where location-aware smartphones (or wearable gadgets) will work together with personalized advertising delivered on glass in trains, buses, planes and on walls in airports, incentivizing even more purchases and “brand/brain engagement.” That includes physical purchases as well as in-app buys. In other words, “mobile” advertising doesn’t always require a mobile phone. And as smartphone adoption rates rise, consumers will grow increasingly comfortable with seeing advertisements everywhere they look.

Is there a safeguard against the world becoming one giant digital billboard?  Permission-based advertising – a point the Harris study was quick to address. Consumers must have the ability to opt out of these types of marketer outreach.

Replacing my marketing hat with that of a PR professional’s for a moment, talking glass and mobile advertising appreciation also underscores another need.

PR agencies must make mobile the connective communications tissue of their client engagement and media messaging. Considering mobile devices’ reduced screen sizes, that means thinking smaller; telling client stories in bite-sized nuggets. It also means stepping up the ways in which we promote the importance of mobile messaging and mobile advertisements to clients from the start of our relationships.

“Smart” glass may have yet to hit its stride. But Harris Interactive data confirms that mobile really is everywhere and the pushback from round-the-clock advertising is eroding faster than many communication professionals originally thought.