April 14, 2008

I regularly perform training for ad agencies; a couple weeks back, I was doing some training sessions for one traditional agency, and I was reminded that of all the sessions we do, the one that invariably gets the most attention and reaction is the one focused on mobile.

Mobile is still a dramatically immature medium as far as content delivery is concerned, with a very small portion of the audience truly interacting with content on their phones (if you live in San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles, I'm sure you'll disagree with me -- but head away from Metropolis or the tech-hubs and you'll see what I mean). However, mobile is also the most personal and pervasive medium. During my training sessions, invariably the most interactive element is the part where we demonstrate mobile search!

What I find most interesting is that mobile search hasn't become an advertising vehicle for the masses as of yet. The platform is ripe for integrating ads, since consumers initiate the request and they are pretty used to seeing ads on search results (this little company called Google has built a pretty decent-sized business on this model; maybe you've heard of them). Google hasn't exploited this yet, even though its Google SMS (text a request to 46645 or GOOGL) is in common use, nor has Yahoo (theirs is accessed via texting 92466, or YAHOO). The issue with these platforms is that no one knows about them! I'm amazed that neither Google nor Yahoo actively promotes these services to their users -- and if they do, then they've completely missed me! The only way anyone hears about them is from their friends and colleagues -- and mostly those folks are in the Internet industry, not the general marketplace.

Then I came across Medio: a company that offers search technology for WAP sites and publishers. These guys have a solid business in building sponsorable search platforms for mobile, but this model requires that consumers access the Internet or the data services on their phone. Medio offers its services to operators, but I could not be sure which operators were using the platform yet (which is not a criticism because they are a B2B player in that case, and consumers wouldn't need to know who powered the search). I searched a little more and uncovered companies like Sputtr, Taptu, AskMeNow, textChaCha and many others. My search results didn't even delve into the voice-based mobile search platforms, of which there are too many to even count in this article. All have great ideas, great technology -- but still lack penetration into the customer mind-set. As of now, they are hot companies with strong futures!

In my analysis, mobile search is a diverse category because of the inability of the carriers to come to terms on a standard. For mobile search to explode in the way that forecasters project, the carriers need to pick a standard and place it on the deck of the phone itself.

My iPhone is pretty close to what I would want, which you can see if you go to the Maps feature. This is a simple, yet buggy, interface built directly into the experience of the phone. Building a search tool directly into the phone experience would be infinitely more accessible and simpler for the average consumer. To be a success, we need to see a tool that is one "click" away from its proper use. SMS Search is pretty close because it is built into the existing structure using a special Short Code rather than a unique application. These other tools, though extremely cool and definitely effective, require at least two "clicks" to access them (open the browser, type in the URL, then "enter"). On my PC the experience has been simplified (sort of) by integrating little search boxes all over windows or on the toolbar of my browser. Search hits the average user when it's easy, not something that has to be searched for!

All in all, I'm still positive that mobile advertising will grow, focusing on two primary areas: mobile search and integration into mobile video. These are what people want! They want info immediately and they want access to video instantly. These are the "killer apps" for mobile and it's only a matter of time! Check out these companies mentioned above and do some research to formulate your very own opinion!

By Cory Treffiletti
Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com

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