Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Third Screen

I recently read The Third Screen, a book about marketing to customers in the mobile channel, and found it to be a great deal more reasonable than other titles I've read on the same topic.   Instead of marveling at features (most of which languish unused) or citing aggrandized statistics about urban Japanese teenagers to suggest that the world will follow in their footsteps, the author takes a more reserved and sober look at the channel - and particularly the way in which people actually use it - to consider the possibilities and limitations of the channel.

Mobile is an important channel - which has gained popularity on a global scale faster than any of its predecessors, and which is used far too widely to be dismissed as a fad - but its impact is far less sweeping than many enthusiasts proclaim, simply because users do not see the potential of it and service providers fail to consider it as a thing unto itself.   In essence, mobile is another channel, but not a substitute channel.  Much in the way that the Internet has not killed television, mobile will not kill the Internet - but it will be used as a method of accessing information and using services in times and locations where the user is unable to feasibly access the Internet.

The author's sense, with which I heartily agree, is that mobile is different to previous channels, and it is only when those who provide content and services recognize its capabilities and uses and leverage them appropriately that it will become truly successful.   For the most part, is presently being misinterpreted as a clumsy but portable version of the Internet, but a few innovative companies have grasped the nature of the medium and the value that users seek to obtain when they leverage it, and shown the way that others might follow (but which many will be slow to adopt).

Some specific examples:
  • Text - Mobile is excellent at delivering a few sentences of content that provide a quick answer to a question.  It is terrible at reading long passages of text or browsing large collections.
  • Video - Mobile is excellent at delivering short video clips that an individual watches alone.   It is terrible at delivering longer video programs that individuals want to explore in a non-linear way, or to experience in the company of others.
  • Audio - Mobile is excellent at delivering music and other brief clips to an audience of one.   It is terrible at delivering audiobooks and other long programs, or for sharing the experience of consumption.
  • Services - Mobile is excellent at enabling the user to perform a simple task that requires less than a minute and requires little thought.  It is terrible at performing more complex tasks that require focused attention.
With this in mind, mobile has little hope of being used for some tasks and people will continue to leverage other channels (people will not huddle around a smartphone to watch a movie together); it will likely be a substitute for others (it is faster and easier to check the weather on a smartphone than on the Internet), and offers some capabilities that no other medium does well (finding a restaurant that is currently open within a few blocks of when the user gets hungry in a strange city at two in the morning).

This has less to do with the technology and its features than it does with human needs, which are the drivers of adoption.   Rabid enthusiasts aside, most people will seek to do things in the most efficient, effective, and convenient way possible and will not suffer inconvenience for the sake of using a technology simply because it exists.   In fewer words: it doesn't matter if mobile can do something - its capabilities will only be used if the channel itself provides utility to the user in a way that enhances the task they are attempting to perform.

And this is where many companies, and the technology enthusiasts who egg them on, get mobile entirely wrong: they attempt to provide content and services simply because it is possible, and assume that users are so enthusiastic about the channel that they will use them.   Few pause to consider whether there is any advantage to the user in using this specific channel.

Those brands that recognize the potential of mobile realize that the greatest value of mobile is in doing some things well - and as such their mobile presence is distinctly different to their Web site, because the way in which customers engage with them will be distinctly different.   But at the same time they recognize that it is exceptionally bad at other things, and remove them from the experience to prevent distraction and clutter from the few things of actual value - that, or reengineer them to be mobile-friendly experiences when possible.

I do hope that enough of my colleagues in the CX profession look into this book and adopt a more sober and realistic mindset in regard to the mobile channel - it will remain cluttered and choked with bloated and clumsy applications and services until that happens, and will fail to deliver actual value to the user.

No comments:

Post a Comment