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Constantly connected consumers: iProspect, Havas, ZenithOptimedia, Starcom MediaVest and M&C Saatchi Mobile discuss our mobile lives

The rise of wearables, connected homes and cars offers marketers great opportunities but also a real challenge – how to gather and use the information the technology can deliver without annoying the consumer.

By 2020 it is expected there will be more than 30bn connected ‘things’ with sophisticated wearables, connected homes and cars all set to reshape how people interact with the world around them. It follows then that consumers have stopped taking notice of what medium they’re on and are concerned only with being connected all the time.

A recent panel session hosted by Phunware Advertising and Odyssey Mobile on board The Drum’s bus during Advertising Week Europe sought to delve deeper and unearth some of the critical challenges and opportunities this connectivity creates for marketers.

Beyond the smartphone

With the Apple Watch set to make its debut, it comes as no surprise that wearable technology was a topic the panel – which included mobile experts from iProspect, Havas, MediaCom and more – returned to time and again.

“I’m excited about wearables not for the sake of pestering people but because of how those technologies can interact with each other. For example, remote functionality not having to control everything with your phone,” says Matt Champion, client services director, Fetch.

The connected car also proved to be a point of interest. In the next five years, up to 75 per cent of connected vehicles will be capable of consuming, creating and sharing web-based data according to a report from Gartner, and car brands such as Ford, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have already started to forge a path in this sector.

“There are already interesting models out there,” says Champion. Among his favourite examples is a brand that could simply reward bus users with things like free Wi-Fi as they travel.

In the case of the bus, data is the clear benefit for the advertiser. “I like the stalking nature of mobile,” proclaims Liam Brennan, digital strategy director at Starcom MediaVest. “Smartphones and wearables are with people 24/7 and you can find out a lot about people, whether that’s location, browsing habits, purchasing habits, or how often they’re using iTunes or Apple Pay.”

He adds that data can be used to “fuel planning” for brand activity, a process he believes planners haven’t fully embraced yet.

“The real data that comes out of mobile, Twitter and Google gives more interesting insights. That for me is exciting – how we can bring a niche service into a wider planning strategy.”

Stop thinking about mobile as a channel

Mobile is the underpinning factor across all of these new technologies. But advertisers thus far have been guilty of viewing mobile as simply a channel through which to push a message, be it on smartphones, tablets, wearables or connected cars. This creates disruption, a barrier named by many of the panellists as one of the biggest change in mindset to overcome.

The resounding belief was that marketers need to start thinking of mobile as a behaviour that opens up the opportunity to create a service or experience around it.

“Mobile, unlike broadcast media, exists as a marketing platform rather than purely a media channel,” says Essence’s mobile director Liam Pook.

“Whether it’s utilising location data to fuel wider activities (eg OOH) or using app usage to improve CRM, advertisers and agencies are missing a trick if they fail to look beyond standard advertising opportunities.”

For James Hudson, head of digital at ZenithOptimedia, it comes down to the simple fact that, at the end of the day, “if it’s distracting it won’t work”.

Naming Nike as a good example of a brand getting it right with services such as the now-defunct Fuel Band and Grid, he suggests Nike saw mobile as a consumer behaviour and, instead of serving ads, created services people would engage with. This strategy has helped transform Nike from a shoe business to an experience business and ultimately opened a new revenue stream.

Among the other brands applauded for their efforts were Charmin with the Sit or Squat toilet-ranking app, Sky with Sky Go, and the WWE app.

“Yes, WWE is wrestling, yet it’s migrated to a services business. I can watch wrestling wherever I am, but when I walk into a stadium the app becomes a completely different experience based on my favourite wrestler or where I am in the stadium,” says Jon Hook, mobile evangelist, Phunware Advertising.

Hook also reveals that he has started seeing some interesting briefs coming to his agency from toy brands looking to use mobile technology to offer services to parents.

“It’s about how we make life easier by connecting these toys together rather than partnering with a Mumsnet for example,” he says.

As the Apple Watch (and presumably a version of Google Glass) comes to market the next stage of connectivity will be “glanceables” according to Graeme Douglas, chief strategy officer at Havas. But this is where people might begin to switch off.

“Who wants to be connected all the time? We have this utopian view of the future and I think we’re going to see a point where we start rejecting it,” Douglas continues.

Who is the head of mobile?

As consumers gravitate toward this device-agnostic brand interaction, user experience will be the common thread that ties everything together. It stands that where mobile fits in the marketing structure is vital and the person hired to drive it to the fore in an organisation has to have the right skills.

“They can’t just be people who like using mobile phones,” says iProspect managing partner, Sandra McDill. “One of the thing we need to do is think about those [heads of mobile] and their background and make sure they have enough knowledge on user experience around technology.”

Douglas agrees, saying part of the problem is that everyone has a mobile device and so “everyone thinks they know mobile”.

“The reality is they don’t. So you’ll see a generation of non-specialist specialists coming through. And that creates a skills gap,” he says.

Meanwhile, brand-side marketers also have a responsibility to ensure mobile touches every part of the business.

“One of the challenges that we are still seeing is the internal setup of many brands marketing teams. There is often a separate team for CRM, a separate team for online, a separate team for brand, a separate team for social etc. And each of these teams are often working with multiple agencies," says Libby Robinson, EMEA manager, M&C Saatchi Mobile.

"With this structure it is quite difficult to ensure that all marketing activity considers the mobile consumer and that mobile as a channel is utilised to it's full potential. This challenge looks quite similar to where social was a few years back."

Robinson suggests that the way forward may be to take a cue from advanced brands that have created an internal “champion of mobile” – someone who works across functional areas to make sure the business adopts a “mobile-first” mind-set. Brands that successfully utilise IoT data are poised to reap rich rewards.

Photography by Bronac McNeill

This feature was published in the 15 April issue of The Drum.

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