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Don’t Let The Tactical Tail Wag the Strategic Dog: Social and Mobile are Layers not Channels

July 23, 2012

We too often hear the words ‘social’ and ‘mobile’ discussed as tactical channels in the context of both marketing outreach and product delivery.   We always beg to differ.

In fact, three current LaunchPad incubator projects bear this out.  Each recognizes the ubiquity of social and mobile as ‘wherever’, ‘whenever’, on ‘whatever’ device you happen to be using that maps to a deep product strategy, not a list of cool tactical features.   Thus, we view social and mobile as layers for marketing and product delivery, not tactical channels.

So we were excited to see this viewpoint more formally developed in two different pieces from highly credible authorities in recent days.  We thought it might be helpful to share and summarize–

The first comes from Big Blue’s “State of Marketing 2012 Survey” which suggests that mobile commerce is on a tear…

Mobile Sales

“Shoppers today are shifting from a singular online approach to a multi-channel experience that includes both mobile and social media. As a result, retailers must be prepared to connect with their customers on all fronts, or lose them to the competition,” said Craig Hayman, General Manager, IBM Industry Solutions. “As we enter the home stretch for the 2012 holiday season, we will continue to watch how CMOs and CIOs tackle these challenges and create social media efforts that deliver value to the customer while driving revenue for the business.”   -read more-

IBM’s report inspired these observations which we are in violent agreement, but -more importantly- illustrate social as a layer not a channel:

Indeed social commerce is a game of four quarters

  • e-commerce on social (e.g. pop-up stores in social media such as Burberry, in-app purchases for social apps)
  • social on e-commerce (e.g. social plugins on e-commerce sites – e.g. from social media buttons a la American Apparel, to users reviews)
  • e-commerce in-store (e.g. social features in traditional stores – Facebook-connected fitting rooms such as Diesel Cam)
  • in-store on social (e.g. retail events streamed into social media – e.g. Facebook launch of Ford Fiesta)

More essentially, it’s becoming clear that it’s a mistake to think of social as a channel.  Channel thinking is legacy thinking; instead social – and indeed mobile – should be seen as a layer, not a channel or silo, in commerce.  Social commerce is about adding social features to the shopping experience not creating another sales silo. (bold/italics ours)    -read more-

We believe the layer-thinking  above holds true outside the world of e-commerce.  Consider these two variations to the sentence above:

  • “Social anything {fill in the blank| is about adding social features to the {fill in the blank} experience, not creating another silo”
  • “Mobile anything {fill in the blank| is about adding mobile features to the {fill in the blank} experience, not creating another silo”

This is how we think… how can social and/or mobile truly enhance the fundamental experience we are trying to elicit?

The second piece we wanted to share comes from Harvard Business Review:  “The Future Isn’t About Mobile; It’s About Mobility” makes the compelling argument that mobile is a layer that facilitates seamless connectivity (mobility) wherever you are, regardless of device that is mindfully aware of the context.

… There will be blood as the business world pursues the mobile gold rush.

We’ve seen this movie before. In the early days of the web, it was the website that created a browser-fueled gold rush — until organizations realized that maintaining a website that provided real value was more difficult than launching something quickly. The same story is now playing out in social — getting something launched on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest is easy, but building an engaged and meaningful following isn’t. And the same will happen in the rush to mobile if companies take a “channel” approach vs. a behavioral approach. In short, it’s not about mobile as much as it is about understanding mobility.

Mobility trumps mobile. The difference between mobility and mobile is like the difference between hardware and software. Mobile is linked to devices — it is always one thing, wherever it is. But mobility changes with context: cultures incorporate mobile technologies differently. Mobile itself is the nuts, bolts, and infrastructure, while mobility is the context which determines if it all works together or doesn’t.   -read more-

The HBR piece goes on to make some very sage recommendations we like to think we have been incorporating in our projects…

To avoid “bloodshed” in mobile, learn from past lessons in Web, digital and social, improve your understanding of the nuances of mobility and mobile behaviors before you ramp up your investment in mobile.

Secondly, realize that going mobile is not the same thing as having an app. In fact, avoid the temptation to “app everything.” A lot of content — whether video or text-based — can easily be optimized for mobile consumption. Popular apps such as Flipboard or Pulse point to a future of consumer “appgregation” — using one app to aggregate many sources of content. Instead of creating a whole host of apps that few are likely to download, invest in making your “digital ecosystem” more mobile-friendly.

Lastly, don’t put mobile tactics in front of strategy. In the early days of the web, every site seemed to have an animated GIF or a clunky site-counter. In the early days of social, companies spent millions on costly Facebook apps with cute gimmicks but no real utility or sharing value. Today, companies are scrambling to come up with something “mobile” whether or not it makes sense for their long-term business goals, and whether or not users will actually want it. The outcome is the same in across all of these examples: a low number of visits/installs/downloads and ho-hum business results. Tomorrow’s winners of today’s mobile gold rush will boast significant (and sustainable) usage numbers due to the value of their content, whether it’s sheer utility or impossible-to-ignore entertainment value.

Before doubling down on mobile, any business should first ask themselves if they really understand mobility as a behavior and lifestyle, followed by tough questions about the role mobile plays in their business. From there, a strategy for mobile, built on an understanding of mobility, can take root.    -read more-

The importance of ensuring your social and mobile plans map tightly to your overall corporate and product strategy can not be understated.  Nor can the reality that mobile and social are layers not channels.

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