Voice: One Screen to Rule Them All

Intimately bonded with their smartphones, consumers shape the mobile future ahead of marketers

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More than six decades ago, television started life as the first screen because it was the only screen. When I grew up, we had one TV with a few channels. Life seemed simple compared to today’s multiscreen environment, as I watch my own children engage with their phones and laptops, sharing and communicating with friends while the TV is on in the background.

The numbers don’t lie. We spend about 20 percent of our time watching TV, but according to Nielsen, that number is declining for the second year in a row. It’s not that we are turning off—Americans are voracious viewers—but, rather, shifting our attention to new technology that makes it easier to watch content whenever and wherever we choose. What device allows you to get customized content on the go or at home? A TV?

More than half of Americans sleep next to their phones and say it’s the first thing they touch in the morning and the last thing at night. Consider this: In the past year, one in five Americans watched TV programming on a phone. Is this mainstream behavior? No, not yet. Is this common behavior for a significant population? Absolutely. For millions of Americans, mobile is the first screen, and out of the home it’s the only screen. Meaning if you don’t have mobile in your marketing mix then you are missing a huge opportunity.

A recent Microsoft Advertising study called “Meet the Screens” found that we clearly love our mobile devices. Just about all smartphone owners (94 percent) worry about losing their phones, and 73 percent have felt panicky when they’ve misplaced their phones. No matter the age or culture, only 11 percent of consumers who own smartphones, tablets, TVs and computers would give up their mobile phones before their other screens. Most also stated that phones mirror their identities—social links, favorite activities, localization, travel, family photos, data that is very private. For marketers, the level of intimacy of mobile technology opens up new opportunities for intense consumer engagement.

One of the biggest challenges facing marketers is understanding, creating and managing customer experiences across multiple platforms including email, mobile, social media, the Web and other digital channels. According to a recent Forrester study, more than 78 percent of marketers said creating multichannel campaigns is critical to growing their business. Consumers want a seamless experience with a brand that cuts across all platforms whether it’s mobile, desktop PC, tablet or TV.

Right now, there are two popular forms of mobile advertising. The first is banner ads on your phone that typically say “just click here.” The other is interruptive advertising. These two simple forms of media have their roots in other media—like a print ad or a Web ad on a computer’s large display. We tolerate it because it is next to content we want to consume. However, when we encounter a mobile ad that’s irrelevant, it’s disruptive.

Coming up with ads that take advantage of the smaller mobile screen requires innovation from many parties—advertisers, digital publishers such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook that sell ad space, and mobile ad networks. We need to start with the consumer and how he or she uses a mobile device.

For example, let’s look at consumers and the on-the-go shopping experience—pre, during and post—and treat mobile as the first screen and not an afterthought. This past holiday season, consumers increasingly used their mobile phones for researching deals, store locations and price comparison. It’s not surprising that more than 50 percent of Google searches are on mobile phones.

While in the store, shoppers will use their phones to check in via Foursquare, Shopkick or another location service, search for coupons, scan product codes and make a purchase either in store or, increasingly, online. And people are sharing their purchases via their social channels. There are many touch points along this journey to inspire and engage shoppers on their much-loved mobile devices.

Last year, marketers put mobile strategies in place. In 2013, the pressure will be how to break down silos across digital channels and leverage the data to help optimize and target integrated campaigns using mobile as one channel. Advertisers have no choice but to go where audiences are, and mobile has clearly knocked TV off its pedestal as the first screen.

Whether it will match TV’s six-decade run is anyone’s guess.