THE BLOG

Can Mobile Devices Help Consumers Feel More 'Situated?'

11/19/2013 02:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Technology is great, but we must not forget that the future has an ancient, living heart. Human nature keeps that vital organ pumping in search of hope and predictability.

People now view more web pages on their smartphones than all other devices and CMOs are now becoming holders of their company's IT budget. However, before mobile manufacturers can increase the ROI and loyalty from consumers of the mobile experience, designers need to leverage much more than just another device or provide location data and proximate points of interest to eat or shop.

Yes, Apps and other new offerings have recently increased personal connectivity, but maximizing eyeballs ("Spray 'n' Pay") is still the name of the game. This is not enough. With all this platform and device choice, attention often becomes so fragmented and frenetic, content so sliced-and-diced, that people come away feeling less "situated" than at the outset of their search. Google Earth is a metaphor for the opportunity -- yet to be realized -- that mobile can offer.

Managing Their Place

Regardless of creative bent, personality or profession, human beings seek a sense of "their world is a manageable place, and they are good." People want to feel they can, in the words of the archetypal battlefield commander who, after briefing troops on his plan, says, "Move Out!" It's not that people expect the world to be their oyster, but they want the confidence that stems from feeling they have the lay of the land so they can move forward with their chins up, explore, discover and see what comes of that. That's the real "search" experience people want -- not over-curated but associative.

Nowadays, though, more often than not, we feel that we live in a world that is too fast, too competitive and too unpredictable. It's not that people don't have answers. They rightly and often don't know what questions to ask. The name of the current context of the world is, "I don't know the name of the current context of the world."

Today so much is commoditized, especially connectivity and content. Even time is commoditized. People are living in an endless series of staccato "nows." Context is lost, resulting is a diminution of long-term motivation. The search for finding an expanded-me is being derailed.

The Ubiquitous Mobile Opportunity

This is where mobile can come in. Mobile devices are always with us. They are handy (literally in our hand) or in our pocket, and have become part of our body (and image). This makes them different. It makes them intimate, which makes them unique for helping people establish a firmer footing while exploring.

In these streaming digital times, corporations and their ad agencies feel they need to produce always-with-me experiences and participatory venues for mobile consumers. To do this, however, they must go beyond slogans, beautiful visuals and exaggerated snippets of behavior that seem like stories but are not really stories. Seamlessly integrated communications must be created wherein video material is interwoven with other presentation forms (some user and pro-sumer generated), all in the service of broader stories that are stories and that fit into real peoples' real lives. To do this, people must be the focus, not just products or technologies.

Design for Coherence

It takes more than a few more bells and whistles to convert the pressure of time rushing by to time well spent. Mobile offerings must transition from connectivity, to content, and to context, such that each screen viewer is perceived as a partner. This requires a corporation to view themselves as more than a bullhorn for sales, but a facilitator of customers' self-expansion. That's the leader who makes everyone else the center of attention. That's the Ur-Leader - the one who is valuable, not just available.

Culture is a mega-structure that creates an undergirding -- a dot-connector -- to peoples' quest for meaning. It enables individual exploration and creativity within a social matrix. Current times have largely shattered that structure. The irony might be that a little hand-held mobile device, a modern invention par excellence, could evoke a sense of culture by helping people situate themselves in a world where space and time have been obliterated.

Product purveyors and ad agencies need to become uploaders of culture, not just hawkers of products or multi-platform razzmatazz.