The end of the year is upon us and that means top ten lists, year-in-reviews, and predictions galore. Sort of in that spirit but a slightly different format, I’ve been organizing the way I look at the mobile local world into a few buckets.
So as this month’s column, here’s my state of the union in mobile local media, laid out as a few separate but interrelated areas to watch as we enter a new year.
How Much is that Dongle in the Window?
We’re seeing escalating smartphone engagement at the retail point of sale. That poaches the indoor space that retailers traditionally owned and makes it a free-for-all for influencing shoppers. User expectation is meanwhile evolving to have info about products, nearby availability, prices, deals and real time inventory. The real opportunity lies in building content and ad delivery to align with that user intent. SKU-level product data should permeate each stage of the purchase funnel from demand generation in display ads, all the way down to retailer or third party shopping apps that engage users at the point of sale. This will start in traditional location-based advertising and continue to reach all new levels of granularity down to the meter level, and eventually indoors, a la Apple’s iBeacon. Closing the loop with mobile payments will follow, but that’s still too underdeveloped and fragmented for prime time.
The Discovery Channel
The age of smartphones has brought forward the discovery use case to compete with the search paradigm that ruled the desktop. This continues to improve as underlying device capability and app innovation bring us all new discovery features. Lots of this will be around social sharing, and the real opportunity will continue to develop in location-based discovery. Things like Google Now will go deeper into our calendars, weather patterns, email, buying behavior, etc. in order to become smarter predictive engines. This also impacts design by compelling things like card based interfaces. Swiping cards in different directions, a la Google Now, Swell, Tinder, etc. are more intuitive than traditional SERPs. And their intuitiveness compels more user inputs, which in turn provide more sentiment data by which to build smarter predictive engines for local discovery.
The Wild Card
One potential wild card scenario is how all of the mobile signals and big data implementation will move beyond just content ad targeting. The next step will be to work towards variable product pricing that is “demand priced” and driven by things like users’ proximity to businesses, and past user behavior. Think airfare pricing on steroids: Mobile signals will provide a richer mosaic of data to segment users by their probability of transacting. From there, variable pricing can work towards optimizing revenue for businesses and the holy grail of “yield optimization” that was the unfulfilled promise of the daily deals craze. This might only get started in 2014 but is something to watch for.
The Device Continuum
Don’t’ think of “mobile” as just smartphones or even tablets. The concept of mobility in the post-PC era has more to do with the expanding continuum of screen sizes and more robust data networks for pervasive connectivity. Then throw in wearables like watches, fitness trackers, Google Glass, connected cars, homes, etc. The result will be increased connectivity and levels of engagement, creating all new monetizable moments for local discovery, social engagement, and mobile shopping.
The name of the game for mobile publishers, advertisers, or product developers is presence across screens and personalization features that allow users to skip between devices most seamlessly. The mark of success will be creating brand-consistent experiences across those screens, while still paradoxically customizing interfaces for disparate hardware form factors. Best practices so far can be seen from Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and HBOGo.
Though most of the near-term execution and content packaging will continue to be more smartphone and tablet oriented, keep an eye to what’s coming very quickly in the form of wearables, biometric technology, and all of the sensor-driven connected technology increasingly surrounding us in the internet of things.
Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.