The days of the desktop internet are almost over

Own the New Mobile, Digital Era

The days of the desktop internet are almost over.

The writing was on the wall back in 2010 when smartphone sales first overtook those of PCs; when Morgan Stanley predicted that mobile search would overtake desktop search by 2013; and when Apple first unveiled the iPad. Since then the trends that got us to that point have only accelerated, so that now we stand on the cusp of a new era of internet development – the era of ubiquity.

And as we approach the point of inflexion, it’s important to break away from the word mobile, all the past discussions of the “year of mobile” notwithstanding. Mobile is linked too firmly to the phone, and the period we’re now moving into is far more complicated than that.

Untethered communication includes the mobile phone, but it also includes the myriad uses made possible by different types and sizes of tablets, connected TV, addressable outdoor screens and more. But it will draw one crucial lesson from the evolution of the mobile phone.

Just as the advent of the mobile meant we moved from calling a place where we hoped a person would be to actually calling that person, the advent of the ubiquitous internet means we will no longer be addressing a computer where we hope a person will be, but addressing that person wherever they are.

This in turn will be the key challenge for marketers and media owners. The original promise of internet advertising was that it would be so timely and so relevant that it would no longer be seen as an intrusion, but as a service. The problem, and the opportunity, for marketers is that relevance is a fragile thing.

When your target audience is hunched over a PC in the evening, the assumptions you can make about relevance and the timing of you messages can be quite broad. When that audience is on the move, switching between platforms and channels, timing becomes more crucial. Get it right and your message will indeed be seen as a valuable service. But the same message that someone might read with interest when they’ve got a mouthful of sandwich could be dismissed as spam five minutes earlier when they’re hungry and deciding where to eat.

This has two implications. The first is that marketers need to be more aware than ever of the different roles played by different channels in the communication mix, how they work together and how to direct customers between them. The second is that the need to understand where the customer is – geographically and temporally as well as where in any purchase process that might interest you – has become much more complicated. The much-vaunted 360 degree view has become a 4D view, where time is the crucial extra variable. Last year at a conference I heard a speaker say a cookie can go stale in an hour; for some categories the lifespan may be even shorter than that.

There is, however, good news. The amount of data available about users via their mobile devices is significantly greater than that available via desktop PCs, and it’s directly attributable to the individual. It is also poised to increase dramatically as people begin to use their mobile devices as wallets. And just as there seems to be less resistance to paying for content and services accessed via mobile, there also seems to be a greater acceptance of tracking for marketing purposes.

Recent research suggests that almost 70% of UK smartphone users are positive about location-based messages. It’s too early to say for sure, but the value offered by location-based approaches may be enough to break the deadlock where two-thirds of UK internet users want more relevant online advertising, but an equal number mistrust the mechanisms that would deliver that relevance.

So over the next few months, as we approach the AdMonsters Screens event, I’ll be using this column to dig more deeply into some of these issues, along with others surrounding the way marketers, advertisers and media owners can take advantage of this new era, and interviewing some of the most interesting companies in the space to get their views. I hope you’ll find it interesting, and that you’ll share your thoughts with me as well.

AdMonsters Screens unites the digital media leaders responsible for building the revenue engines of the multi-screen web. Register your place today and join us in London on November 28 2012.