cross-screen marketing solutions

2011 was the year that the Mobile Web (finally) hit critical mass

That was the year that was. In 2011 agencies, advertisers and brands finally realised that they need to work and partner with mobile web specialists if they are to prosper in an increasingly mobilised world.

The overriding reason for this has been the spread of smartphones and much has changed over the course of a year. According to research company IDC, 100.9 million smartphones shipped in the final quarter of 2010, a figure that was up 87.2% on the previous year.

Eleven months later and a seminal report from data analysts Neilsen showed how things had moved on in 2011. In the US the vast majority of those under the age of 44 now have smartphones and usage was significantly up across the board.

It’s not just the 40% of teenagers who own one, but also the 18% (up 50% on 2010) of people over the age of 65 who have them. Just as importantly not only do they own them, they are using them and the UK is as enthusiastic as they are across the Atlantic in the US.

Research last month from EPiserver reported that 59% of UK consumers now own a smartphone and 18% have a tablet device… and more than a third have used them to make a purchase, a figure that will undoubtedly rise as the Christmas season approaches.

These are exciting times. At Wapple we have been predicting these numbers for years – sometimes in the face of opposition that didn’t believe that mobile could ever stand against the bigger brother that is desktop internet.

But today many people reach for their phones before opening up a laptop or even moving to a desktop PC.

So how did we get here? What were the events of 2011 that caused the mobile web to hit critical mass? Naturally when it comes to tipping points there are multiple factors but Google’s advances in the mobile space have ignited the sector and consequently caused mobile marketing to explode.

Google’s Android is now the dominant operating system after finally taking over from Apple in 2011 and the company has thrown its weight behind several initiatives to support the industry. In Q2 Google launched ‘Google Sites Mobile Landing Pages’, aka Google Mobilize, a new tool to help SMEs launch mobile websites.

This provided simple, template-based sites for customers and was free for them to use, although this was not a philanthropic gesture on behalf of the company. This was all about mobile advertising revenue with SMEs signing up for the AdWords platform, not that SMEs seemed to mind too much.

The company followed this in Q3 with the launch of Google Wallet as it joined American Express Serve, Mastercard Paypass, Visa Wallet and Isis in offering mobile payments services. According to mobile analyst G + (not related) this market will be worth a whopping $670 million by 2015 of which 40% will be ‘digital goods’.

Last and not least the company recently announced GoMo, a significant signpost in the natural development road of the mobile web. Google had previously announced that 79% of advertisers had sites that were not optimised for mobile devices, a truly extraordinary figure. The GoMo initiative helps agencies and companies by using 12 mobile web experts to create mobile-friendly sites.

For example, mobile ad networks serve billions of page views so this is a huge opportunity for their advertisers but often they waste this by linking their banner ad to their website, rather than a mobile optimised version. GoMo will help prevent this and the unwanted 80%+ bounce rate that comes from a non-optimised mobile web site.

Google know that mobile web services represent the future of our connected lives. The browser is at the heart of their devices, both mobile phones and the new Chromebook laptops. Wapple once suggested that entering a URL on a mobile would be easier than dialling a number. Today we see the Google bar on the homescreen and the dialler stored away like any other application. Interfaces like this from Google have subtly influenced users to further the journey that already started – a shift towards consumption of digital services through the devices they carry in their pockets and places on the bedside table every night.

But it wasn’t all down to Google. Other companies jumped into the space with their own positive statements on mobile. Global brand Unilever announced that it would use mobile as its primary marketing channel within ten years, in a strategy that includes covering mobile data charges for those interacting with its brands.

Moreover clothes retailer Gap claimed in 2011 that its investment in mobile had helped the company treble its online conversions, citing its new mobile commerce platform, targeted mobile ads and a GPS-based store locator as the elements behind this surge.

Then there’s the automotive industry. Every week eBay sells more than 2,000 cars on mobile web and innovation is this sector is rampant. In some cases, QR codes have been used to take the customer from a brochure or TV to a test drive and AutoTrader recently reported that in 2011 45% of its customers had accessed AutoTrader Mobile while ON a dealer’s forecourt to research a car.

Significant dates have also pushed mobile web through the last 12 months. Mothers Day purchases of gifts and especially flowers have seen mobile become the platform of choice for many and the recent Thanksgiving Day celebrations in the US has seen a similar spike. Christmas, as already noted, will push mobile transactions via the mobile web to a new level.

Of course, there’s more to come. At Wapple we’re busy getting the message out to those businesses and brands that haven’t yet caught the wave. There are plenty more verticals still to bring their services to the mobile masses. Thankfully, with great technology platforms like ours it’s no longer the daunting task that it once was.

Acquisitions and mergers have also driven the market. The recent acquisition of Mobile Interactive Group by Velti and the  merger between iLoop Mobile and Lenco Mobile is testament to this. Expect further market consolidation in 2012.

But there are also grounds for caution and it might be propitious to return to Google for the numbers. Its 2011 study that only 21% of its biggest advertisers had a mobile-optimised web presence.

Google used 200 diagnostic points to measure each advertiser’s mobile readiness, with criteria such as load time, device detection and mobile optimisation, so this is an in-depth study.

There is still work to do. With at least 10% of web sites now accessed by mobile and rising daily, this state of play shows how important imobile strategy is. Sub-standard mobile experiences damage brands and send customers away. Companies, big and small alike, need to treat mobile with as much as respect as they do for all traditional channels. Perhaps even more so – after all this is the platform of the future, the platform that connects with consumers wherever they are.