How to make the mobile phone a social object again?

I did a talk about mobile in marketing at the Mobile Convention Brussels today. It’s not the first time I write about social objects or social currency on this blog, but in the case of mobile the device itself is in essence a social object. It allows us to connect with people, remember Nokia’s claim? And going from Dumbphone to Feature Phone to Smartphone (and yes I like these retronyms) the connections have multiplied. More tech, more possibilities and more people to connect to. Fantastic.

But at the same time we disconnect with the people in front of us. Research shows that already 10% of all Smartphone users feel the urge to check their phone every 5 minutes (!) and in another study 33% of parents admit that their phone and/or tablet was a sore point with kids. And yes I think we all recognize the images I used on slide 7. It’s no wonder the term ‘phubbing‘ was invented: the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Rings a bell?

Maybe Einstein was right:

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

So the mobile phone is a social object. Literally because it allows us to connect with people around the world. And it isn’t a social object, thinking about the definition we use for that in the conversation economy because it doesn’t trigger conversations, on the contrary. So there’s an opportunity in marketing to make the mobile phone a real social object, to use it to trigger conversation. To use it in a way it’s not the object itself that matters but the conversations around it.

Like we tried to do with “Reborn Apps”, the campaign for organ donation that won a gold Cannes Lions at this year’s festival.

Or also with older cases like “A Blind Call” or “Baby Connection“. These projects are not only there for conversion (which is also an objective of course) but are created mainly to kickstart conversations.

A few things to keep in mind when you want to use mobile to create social objects:

  1. Digital is not about technology. There’s little technology involved in the case of Reborn Apps for instance, it’s not by focusing on the tech that you will find the great ideas. And sometimes technology can spur fantastic ideas obviously and also that can be a good briefing, but in general it’s not where you start to find the answer to your problems.
  2. Context is key. Also here way too often that is immediately translated into technology, into things such as responsive design for instance in which responsive is just a way of saying how the design adapts to ‘every’ screen. I think that’s limiting ourselves, context is about which device, when, for what purpose, by whom, … and responsive design should be about a way of designing experiences that keep all of that into account.
  3. Find a unique (provocative) insight. I’m planning on doing a separate write down on the ‘provocative insight’ and how we defined that at Duval Guillaume Modem. The important thing to remember is that you need an insight that has a bit more edge to it, that people have an opinion on if you want it to generate those kind of creative ideas that will provoke conversations.
  4. Tap into real human emotions. It’s what makes it situations, projects, products, advertising, … recognisable. You can image yourself into a certain situation, you can immediately see how something like that could also happen to you. It makes it all so much more powerful.
  5. Make it irreverent. Challenge the status quo. Don’t accept things to be like everyone says they should be, don’t take things too seriously, think the opposite. When everybody zigs, zag.

Note: http://www.stopphubbing.com is on its own also a social object, the verb phubbing was created by McCann Melbourne (yes the guys from ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘) as a campaign for a dictionary. Great job from my buddy John Mescall and his team!

Stepping out of the App economy

Sometime late 2010 we started working on 2 rather big mobile projects and they made me think a lot more about apps and how our thinking for mobile is all about apps. Today mobile equals apps, and we are being dictated by the likes of Apple how we have to deal with that. So how big of an improvement the introduction of apps on mobile has been, I believe we limit our thinking by that same evolution, while it shouldn’t end there.

There’s no better way to experience the hassles one has to overcome when developing apps, then to develop your own (especially when the app is for the iPhone). And it was an article on TC about Disney that acquired an HTML5 game engine that got me thinking about this whole app approach. Smart move from Disney by the way. Bye bye appstores, let’s develop game experiences the way we like and let people pay what we think is right. And for multiple OS’s at the same time, all in one take. With Android gaining market share and also WM7 that will take it’s part of the cake at some point, HTML5 mobile web apps make it a lot easier to build experiences across OS’s and devices compared to today, and without all the appstore hassle. And if you go further, when you think about developing for mobile first instead of web and then mobile, I believe there’s a whole lot of untapped potential.

But the Disney acquisition isn’t having any live results yet. I think the FT was the first really big one to have made a move to go for HTML5 and the last few days or weeks a few others seem to have followed. LinkedIn just released a pretty nice HTML5 experience for mobile and earlier this week Amazon launched a similar experience for their Kindle:

“It can do everything that a normal Kindle app can do, such as synchronize your library, your last page read and bookmarks. Yet, the Kindle Cloud Reader is more of a reaction to the draconian app store rules instituted by the Cupertino giant than it is a dynamic new version of Kindle.”

It’s probably just a matter of time before those brand start pulling their apps from the appstore, or at least stop actively updating those in favor of native mobile web apps. I’m with Gigaom on this one when they say that Amazon might as well be showing media companies the future of the web with this one. Also sites as Twitter offer a rich and very nice mobile web experience, nothing like it used to be anymore.

I can only applaud brands moving in this direction and I believe that although the idea of apps on your mobile were a great innovation, they´re only a step towards a very rich mobile web experience. What´s your take?

Bonus link: HTML5 apps that are scaring the pants off Apple

Dear cell phone user

So there you are, reading a newspaper on a terrace while you’re kids are playing on the playground and the phone rings. Not yours, but that from your neighbor. It’s long, loud, … can’t even hear myself read the newspaper anymore.

shhh2

This initiative from Coudal might be old, but I sure wished I had a card on me yesterday. Printing them out right now.

Rethinking the mobile web

When we think about mobile today, we think about the iPhone. And if you’re lucky we think about Android as well. But as this presentations shows (once more) that is only a small percentage of the mobile market. Wouldn’t we want all (or at least most) mobile users to be able to experience ‘our offering’.

This presentation is a good eye-opener on the question we should all ask ourselves? Shouldn’t we make the mobile web more inclusive? And how would we go about to do that?

Confusopoly

Found this in a blogpost about a new mobile operator in Belgium. The word itself is coming from Scott Adams from his book The Dilbert Future:

“Adams introduced the word confusopoly in this book. The word is a combination of confusion and monopoly (or rather oligopoly), defining it as "a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price". Examples of industries in which confusopolies exist (according to Adams) include telephone service, insurance, mortgage loans, banking, and financial services.”

Call it a little bit of Wednesday morning fun. I’m pretty sure most people will recognize this :)

Your friends always with you

My marketing colleagues in The Netherlands just launched a new campaign to promote the mobile version of Windows Live Messenger… and I like it a lot. The site is in Dutch so might be a bit hard to understand but you should still go take a look. Click “Geluid aan” (aka Sound on) on the main page and then choose between in browser of full screen play. Once you’ve done all that you get introduced to Mike chatting on mobile Messenger from the metro station. All of this is visualized pretty nifty, but what’s especially nice to it is that you can change between the 4 people participating (by clicking on their names in the status bar, botton left of the screen) while the story continues. Just go and check it out for yourself, kudos to Monique and the team.

overalbijjevrienden

Once I know who the agency was, I’ll update right here. The site was created by Red Urban Amsterdam.

Unusual unboxing

Like I needed more convincing to go and buy the Samsung Omnia right? Even though this video is created by Samsung, it is a refreshing approach to unboxing gadgets like we see so many times on the tech blogs. Job well done! Now tell me when and where I can get it, curious to see if it matches up to the Diamond.

My mobile life

Sometimes I think I live on mobile. If there’s a device I really couldn’t miss it’s my mobile phone. Ask my wife, if on occasion I don’t take my mobile phone with me, she’ll wonder how it’s possible I forgot it. It’s just too odd for me to be without. According to my mom, it’ll grow on my ears one day. Whatever ;)

Anyway, it’s true that mobile is important for me, ever since I got my first mobile phone some 10 years ago. Every year I hope that mobile will really breakthrough, but unfortunately also this year won’t be the year of mobile, just like 2007, 2006 nor 2005 were the year of mobile. It’s that one prediction that I wish it were through, but you know it won’t be.

It’s not even in our hands. I think the devices are there, thinking of the N95, the iPhone and some Windows Mobile devices that are all capable of doing amazing things for such a small device. The iPhone has the interface to love, my HTC is less slick but comes with 3G, built in GPS and all the power of Office and Exchange on mobile. Or the N95 with it’s superb camera. And now I’m not mentioning a ton of other great features these phones have.

Apart from all that greatness, I’ve been a very active user of the mobile web for the last 6 years or so as well. First on WAP on my old Nokia 6310i for instance, later on Vodafone Live with a Sharp GX30. Back then I was still working on Kinepolis‘ new media strategy and we invested in this back then already. Today Kinepolis is still one of the very few Belgian companies with a decent mobile site, for which you got to give them credit. But even outside Belgium, there aren’t many mobile specific sites, which already resulted in a shout-out more than a year ago.

The mobile sites I currently use are: BBC, Bloglines, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, Dopplr, Facebook, Google Reader, Live Search, Kinepolis, MSN, Twitter, Technorati, Wapedia, Flickr, Yahoo and WordPress. I don’t really know many more that are of use to me, or that aren’t in a walled garden like Vodafone Live.

I also use client versions like Live Messenger (which you can download for all kinds of devices), the Live Search client as well as the Google Maps client, Yahoo!Go, … as well as apps that run in the Java environment on mobile like Gmail and Opera Mini. On the N95 I also tried the Widsets, but whatever the phone, the browse services still top them all.

Today, with the iPhone’s browsing capabilities, or other mobile browsers that enable better viewing of ‘normal websites’ on mobile we will probably skip the further development of mobile specific sites. With Skyfire for instance (see announcement) or Deepfish I expect to see more ‘regular’ browsing in the future.

Still, the problem remains, now even more than ever I guess. We will have access to every site we want, with great browsers but at what cost? There’s a good explanation why I use so much mobile: I can use it obviously but more important is that I don’t have to pay for it. The day I have to pay for it, I’ll cut back for sure, need or no need. How much I love the Wifi on these phones, that’s not truly mobile for me. It’s when in a taxi, or before checking in a plane, while waiting on someone, … that I love to use all my catching up. Not only in my sofa at home for instance.

So unless operators change their models on data costs, mobile will never really breakthrough and that’s sad. And yes you can discuss devices etc aren’t ready yet either, allow me to say they’re well ahead of the game when you compare them to operator attitudes. And I’m afraid they won’t change that soon either. There’s too much money to be made with TXT messages to allow you to use IM on mobile instead for instance. What’s your take?

PS: Also check out the upcoming FF for Mobile now we’re at it ;)

PPS: And Twitter, for god’s sake, at least add a replies tab to m.twitter.com will ya!