3 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From the Mobile-First Consumer Journey in China

The country’s ‘M2O’ game plan leaves no room for deniers

The mobile device is the center of the universe, and it’s increasingly pushing media and marketing to change the way we talk about consumer journeys.

Evidence of this is happening in major marketplaces such as China. Case in point, when you go to China, and talk about online to offline, it’s quickly clear that hardly anybody there equates online with desktop anymore. In China, online means smartphones. Period. That’s the one device. The future of mobile, content, location, marketing, commerce and advertising is no longer online to offline. We’re living in a mobile-to-offline (M2O) world.

Companies that don’t agree or don’t see it coming with clear eyes—organizations that hold on to the old belief that mobile is just one screen among multiple screens and not the only screen with any significance—will end up as roadkill. Count on it: M2O deniers will go away, and quickly.

Tom Kenney
Illustration: Alex Fine

Welcome to the M2O future

China’s media and brand-marketing ecosystem is operating and innovating with M2O as its guiding frame of mind.

In China, for example, one of the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) companies recently told us that it is going to shut down desktop sites and desktop development next year. The company will only focus on mobile development and innovation, starting in 2018.

Read that part again. This major Chinese corporation is going to shut down desktop and work with mobile exclusively. Its leadership predicts desktop traffic will make up just 8 percent of user attention by 2018. This is their evaluation: desktop in China is not the future and therefore just not worth supporting with investment or being a distraction.

We can already see some of this transformation on the ground. There are 1.1 billion mobile subscribers in China; that’s two-and-a-half times the size of the mobile-subscriber base in America. In China, smartphones will pay for everything (if they aren’t paying for everything already, for the most part). Mobile consumer transactions in China loom large over the volume of mobile-based commerce we see here—to the tune of 50 times larger than mobile payments in the U.S.

With these mobile-only moves and stats as backdrop, if what I saw there over the past several months is any indication of where all this is going, China will quickly blow past the U.S. and perhaps surpass the West in general when it comes to mobile.

And the whole country has basically skipped desktop. Its innovators have no reverence for, or dependencies on, old media. Mobile is China’s 100 percent focus, the main driver. So yes, from this perspective TV and desktop are now officially old media and both are on the bobsled chute, a straight-down slide into irrelevance. It’s inevitable.

Nobody leads from the sidelines

Given the model China is creating and forecasting for us right this minute, you can’t lead from the sidelines. You have to move very fast. Iterate on the opportunities to embrace and grow consumer engagement with each new version of the smartphone constantly and continuously. This is not a trend to keep an eye on; this is the future, forever.

To push the market forward you need to be on the device in a mobile-only world, working with premium mobile publishers who are actively engaging with partners that can develop vibrant, responsive, super-intelligent software and services that drive new mobile consumer engagement.

Exchanges aren’t going to cut it. They’re sidelined in the first place, depending on remnant that fails the premium-media test. Innovators and market movers cannot build successful solutions for this new reality with remnant.

Owning the post-desktop future

First-party data is inherently an M2O concept, and successful mobile marketing means owning on-device data and on-device data permissions. It also means maintaining positive relationships with consumers who are already far along on their journey to a mobile-only M2O world, powered by their billions of swipes and taps.

First-party data is at the root of the relationships we want going forward. The “audience of one” experience—and this is the experience that defines the heart of the first-party data outcome—not only drives loyalty, it also means marketers can trim away much, if not all, of the waste that impressions served to the wrong audiences generate. Higher match rates across devices mean better campaign results.

Premium media is what we’re talking about. It’s what we love, and it’s the gold standard when it comes to every marketing and advertising effort—and especially as M2O approaches. If we’re going to take a lesson from what we’re learning in markets like China, it’s that successful mobile publishers, advertisers and marketers will own the future of premium media with M2O as their imperative—their only strategy.

Tom Kenney (@kenney_tom) is the CEO of Verve.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 30, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.