Digital Directions: 3 Keys to an Effective Mobile Strategy
Is the mobile platform the manna from the digital heavens that the Tribe of Publishing has been awaiting since the dawn of the digital age more than 20 years ago? Does the mobile platform allow us to profitably recast our mission as publishers with value and relevance? I would like to add my voice to the chorus chanting, emphatically, "maybe."
So what is so special about the mobile platform?
● Mobile as Uber-Medium: The mob- ile platform contains features of a variety of media, all rolled together: the portability of print, the social and economic transaction capabilities of online, the rich media experience of the multimedia world and the location awareness of GPS devices. We are limited only by our creativity.
● Market Perception of Salability: Mobile is not free. For a variety of fortuitous reasons, consumers don't believe that mobile content is free content, as they often do in the traditional Web world. Perhaps this is due to years of being nickel-and-dimed by wireless carriers. Whatever the cause, it is indisputably clear that it is possible to set and hold prices in the digital marketplace and create true, incremental revenue sources.
In their excitement, many publishing organizations have rushed forward to create their initial mobile offerings with little strategic planning: A great impetus exists to get apps out to the market as soon as possible; the strategic thinking can come later.
In a previous column, I lambasted what I saw as a herd-like mentality of publishers rushing into mobile apps. This is not a lack of faith on my part in the medium, nor a wish to be a damper on product experimentation, which I think can be valuable. My concern is that rushing into delivering a mobile app without developing a strategy to deliver real value can have negative effects for the publisher and the industry at large.
Sometimes these rushed efforts consist of an attempt to copy competitors' offerings—which are often themselves rushed efforts. In other cases, publishers take a "quantity over quality" approach, to release a wide array of low-value mobile offerings. These efforts typically leave the financial returns lackluster and customers nonplussed:
● "Travel Apps" are among the worst culprits, often repackaged B-list travel guides downloaded to your phone. Some of these so-called travel apps do not even have GPS functionality to show you where you are on the travel maps!
● "Joke of the Day" is another category of dubious apps, which are essentially static e-books that open to the page corresponding to the day's date.
● A third category uses the multimedia "CD-ROM-on-a-phone" product model to include video, interactive gizmos and flaming text. It's 1991 all over again.
Weak mobile product offerings have a negative effect on the industry as a whole. If consumers view mobile offerings from publishers as having, at best, superficial value, then the mobile experience will be relegated to the same category as Web content: a non-salable marketing platform to drive advertising revenue and e-commerce transactions. This would represent a tragic lost opportunity.
What to Consider
So how can you arrive at an effective mobile product strategy? Through the work that my company, Finitiv, has done over the past year or two with a variety of publishers, we have identified a pattern. An effective mobile strategy is based on a clear understanding of the following:
1. The mission of the organization. Is there a defined organizational mission? To whom is value delivered? How is success measured? The mobile offering needs to adhere closely to this core mission.
2. The strategic assets of the organization. Assets may include: content, brand/reputation, distribution, technology or capital. If a mobile initiative requires the creation of completely new assets, without using existing areas of strength, then the offering will pose little barrier to competition. Your mobile offering needs to exploit your existing strengths.
3. The unique characteristics of the mobile media platform. The mobile platform is an intelligent, connected, location-aware multimedia device. The more of these attributes the mobile offering uses, the more likely it will deliver a new type of value.
When these three factors are well-understood, exciting and relevant product options can be successfully created and deployed.
Some market verticals are a bit easier to develop mobile solutions for than others. Medical publishers, for example, have migrated from delivering print products to providing clinical workflow solutions, which lend themselves well to mobile platforms.
But opportunities exist for all publishers to discover relevant mobile experiences, even outside the low-hanging fruit in reference, education and professional information. For example, a young-adult fiction publisher may identify its mission as "to develop and sustain the love of literature in young people." This mission could clearly be supported with mobile experiences, which occupy a growing role in the lives of young people. A practicable mobile product strategy would be one that leverages existing content assets (titles), rather than the creation of new ones. Finally, such a strategy would use the unique characteristics of the mobile medium to propel the mission for this hypothetical publisher.
This is one of the most important intersections in the history of publishing. Publishers must demonstrate their continued relevance to our increasingly digital society in the form of mobile offerings that deliver real value. The alternative is too unpalatable to contemplate: the slow decline of the publishing industry brought on due to irrelevance and the inability to change. BB
Andrew Brenneman is founder of Finitiv (Finitiv.com), a consulting and services organization that develops and executes transformative digital strategy for publishers and other content organizations.