Forget Local, the Mobile Future is Personal

01 Dec
December 1, 2010

Location-based services and local deal sites are all the rage these days but the staying power of “local” as a stand-alone service or feature is going to be short lived, especially for mobile users. Much has been made of the stats from Bing and Google that tie local intent to mobile searches, but I contend that these statistics are a function of the relative immaturity of the mobile ecosystem, as opposed to an ideal way to interact with dynamic data sources. While local is certainly an important component of any marketing strategy, the brands that set themselves up for the greatest success will incorporate it as part of a much larger personalization strategy.

As is often mentioned, the mobile device is the most personal of all gadgets, but the reality is, aside from contacts, ringtones, and wallpapers, there really isn’t much personal about the phone at all. Sure, you’ve got your favorite applications organized into folders and use it to kill time while waiting for an appointment, but what really creates an emotional connection or value to the user?

But all that could change tomorrow.

Over the next few years we are going to see an evolution in thinking by marketers and application developers that ushers in a new category of services that harness social, location, profile pools, commerce, and personal preferences to deliver true value through the mobile platform. These new services will make hyper-targeted recommendations, surface products based on data, proactively communicate information of interest, and ultimately turn the mobile device into a personal companion. There is no doubt that this will introduce immense technical complexity and privacy concerns, but, as we’ve seen previously, consumers are willing to embrace new models when the value outweighs the real or perceived costs.

Despite a highly fragmented mobile ecosystem, it’s important to avoid the trap of operating within discreet silos. Here are just a few high-level ideas on how data sources can be combined to create mobile services that provide value, engender loyalty, and create long-term relationships between marketers and customers.

  • Mobile Commerce: Screen real estate on mobile devices is at a premium, thus making the case for personalized experiences even more acute. While Amazon has been delivering semi-personalized experiences to desktop users for some time, it’s critical to present relevant information to mobile users. For example, if I visit the REI mobile page or iPhone application, I should be presented with merchandise based on my purchase history, sizes, geography, wish list, social interactions with the website, and even weather. As a bonus, it would be great if I was sent a push notification or text message when an item on my wish list became available at a store in my area. None of these ideas are earth shattering or out of reach from a technical perspective but would do wonders to move a very impersonal experience into something much more rewarding for both the consumer and REI. Contrast this to the current REI application and mobile web experience where I can’t even view my wish list on my phone and using GPS to find the nearest store location isn’t an option.
  • Travel: Being away from home for travel, whether business or leisure, introduces numerous stresses that can be alleviated by a bit of proactive personalization. Imagine a scenario where your travel application of choice contains your airline and hotel itineraries, ties into your calendar, syncs with your social network, and recommends dining options based on your Foursquare history or restaurants you’ve stored in a wish list. Upon landing, an email or SMS would be sent to loved ones alerting them of your safe arrival, your rental car confirmation would appear, and Google navigation would launch with directions to your hotel or first meeting.
  • Healthcare: According to a study published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 31% of consumers would be willing to use a mobile application to monitor their healthcare. While this could certainly be a useful stand-alone service, it would become much more valuable if the data was incorporated into other services to deliver content and recommendations based on your health profile. For example, imagine you used an application that monitored your blood pressure and that was tied into your Yelp app. Working together, the Yelp app would only present you with restaurants that provide healthy dining options or recommend gyms when you were traveling. It may seem far-fetched, but such integrations are done with APIs all of the time.

Non-stop content streams, price transparency, and social media have created the most knowledgeable group of consumers we’ve ever seen, but what was once valuable information is becoming overwhelming. Curation through personalization is the next step in the  brand + consumer relationship, setting the stage for long-term engagements that provide ROI for brands and customers alike.

What steps are you taking to offer your customers a personalized experience?

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