American Marketer


Marketers should beware of Mobile Attention Deficit Disorder

February 12, 2014

Eric Lazar


By Eric Lazar

On the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show last month in Las Vegas and all the wondrous innovations slated to hit the marketplace, perhaps it is timely to gently wave a hand across the eyes and wake our marketing colleagues from the hypnotic trance induced by all the shiny new objects.

Many say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. However, it is also true that doing different things time and time again while expecting better results might be equally nuts.

Mad about stuff
A doctor I am not, but diagnosing our collective inability to stay focused seems well within the Psych 101 course curriculum of earlier days.

Balancing the desire to be a brand modernizer to appeal to early adopters, against the need to avoid marginalizing the majority of your consumer base with convoluted widgets and flows, can be a difficult line to walk.

As industry leaders we want to experiment, we want to transform, we have to make an impact, but at what cost?

Indeed, there are always the financial considerations for any initiative, while return on investment can be measured as a direct impact on sales, public relations, social buzz, user acquisition and other criteria – each of those reasonable gauges of success.

But in the race to be first to market, is it a possibility that we are simply sprinting on a treadmill?

As we are now confronted with rapidly advancing tools that include improvements with in-bound MMS, push notifications, image recognition, passbook/wallet, location-based-services, Bluetooth low energy and wearable devices, where is it that we need to dedicate efforts and invest our valuable marketing resources for the greatest returns?

Do we risk driving ourselves into a collective case of M.A.D.D.?

Remember history, or be doomed to repeat it
Perhaps we can take a moment to consider the life and apparent demise of the greatly vilified QR code.

Creating a series of un-standardized code structures that required the download of different readers, available only on application-based devices necessitating a high degree of consumer education with a multi-step engagement process limited to use on certain static mediums that merely provided access to a Web link that never captures user information – what in the world made someone think that this was a good idea?

Nevertheless, there was hardly a brand that did not think a QR initiative was an imperative part of a viable mobile strategy.

MarketingCharts’ July 2013 study depicts several inconsistencies between the positive hype surrounding QR codes and actual adoption and effectiveness, the big takeaway being that the number of mobile subscribers scanning codes has virtually stalled even as the number of smartphone owners has increased.

Given the fact that a paltry 18 percent of retailers believe that the ability to scan QR codes to compare products and pricing is having a significant impact on their business, combined with only about 5 percent of consumers reporting using QR codes to inform their most recent purchase, the final death throes are near.

Further, when tablets first began to emerge in the modern marketplace around 2001 with the Microsoft Tablet PC, they never gained traction among marketers or consumers for a number of reasons including, weight, ease of use, lack of memory, development support and certainly cost given its hefty $2,000-plus price tag. Fortunately, I do not recall all that many lemmings jumping off that cliff.

Fast-forwarding to Apple’s first iteration of the iPad in 2010, it was common to hear the discussion among industry experts as to whether this was an renewed attempt to create a tool for a need that still did not exist.

So while marketers were relatively quick to jump on the application bandwagon for phone device applications, some even developing more than one brand app, each serving different functions, they seemed to exercise greater restraint before releasing a tablet counterpart.

That extra time to observe, evaluate and learn saved many companies from the unnecessary commotion of moving too quickly into uncharted territory.

Take a seat at the tablet
A May 2013 Pew Research study found that 34 percent of American adults reported owning a tablet, nearly double that of the year prior.

This is not to say that native mobile apps are essential, or even appropriate for every brand, yet, tablets gained swift adoption because brands approached it with a thoughtful concerted strategy and provided valuable content to consumers using that channel.

Walgreens and Starbucks have apps that are commonly hailed as the bar by which to measure. They are each sophisticated tools that integrate an array of treasured features and eliminate components that are overly complex for even the most novice of smartphone subscribers to understand.

It is apparent that these brands were determined to harness a singular channel, demonstrate excellence and develop a loyal following through consistency of message and user experience.

Lead, follow or get out of the way
Developing customer continuity programs in established pathways such as SMS, mobile Web and apps, as appropriate, are no longer luxuries – instead they are marketing essentials.

Layering in innovation will most certainly be the life breath to keep those platforms healthy and viable. This is to be encouraged.

However, chasing each of the latest and greatest novelties only understood by the most radical technophile with negligible value to the masses will surely be an unnecessary distraction for brands to pursue.

This year’s marketing challenge does not revolve around endorsing one particular technology. Conversely, it is about how do we successfully embrace all of the opportunities that surround us to construct an integrated, holistic and scaleable consumer experience that impacts our organization’s respective objectives.

Creating equilibrium between the tried-and-true performers whose ease and familiarity instills consumer confidence alongside trial technologies that generate curiosity and excitement is the web we should seek to weave.

SMS, mobile Web and a comprehensive app suite for phone and tablet are decisively entrenched as mobile tenants for most any brand.

SO AS WE head deeper into this year, let us seek to have at least these basics in place for 2014 and then challenge ourselves to implement additional creative and compelling components from outside the box.

Remember that a successful mobile program is rooted in convenience, fun and relevance. And do not forget to also take a momentary breath and ask, “Does this overlay support our mission?”

Retired U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki’s quote hangs near my desk: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

However, in the desperate effort to keep up with fast pace of change, be wary of contracting a case of M.A.D.D.

Eric Lazar is Chicago-based vice president of mobile business development at HelloWorld (formerly ePrize). Reach him at