Entering the machine: how mobile marketing taps into our inner world

Every morning I take the train and pass through South Yarra station, where there is a collection of billboard images from Apple’s ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign. Grimes is featured second from the left, her eyes glowing like a cyborg. I always wonder whether that was the intention, whether this advertisement wasn’t just a reminder of a well established brand, but rather a commentary that we are, increasingly, entering the machine.

With a growing number of smartphones in circulation (in Australia, 87 percent own a smartphone while 76 percent own laptops) and an internet search rate to rival laptops, mobile marketing is becoming increasingly important for business to reach consumers precisely where and when they are about to make a purchase. For the uninitiated, mobile marketing is ‘any marketing activity conducted through a ubiquitous network to which consumers are constantly connected using a personal mobile device’ (Kaplan, 2012).

While mobile marketing is clearly an expanding channel (it’s predicted that by 2020 mobile advertising will exceed 30 percent of global advertising), I question how beneficial it is for the consumer. The understanding that we are, through the use of our smartphones, constantly sending and receiving personal messages regarding our location and real-time preferences (to a relatively unknown audience) is truly cause for concern. Everything we consume, view and engage with is monitored and then regurgitated back at us in the form of targeted advertising. As a marketer, it’s genius, but as a consumer, I am continually disturbed at the thought of being watched.

98b03e87-e1ac-4f67-892c-819b7122ae3e-1020x612The abandoned Presidio Modelo complex in 1995, The Guardian

In a weird sort of way, it’s quite funny to think that Steve Jobs, through the release of the iPhone in 2007, essentially opened the doors for the entire mobile marketing channel. Before the iPhone, there were a couple of smartphone contenders, but nothing which would have allowed personal and seamless connection to a ubiquitous network. Perhaps it was also the steadfast Apple consumer loyalty that initially drove such a wide number of smartphones into circulation.

Of course, in the 10 years since the iPhone’s introduction, consumers have increasingly begun to see their smartphone as an extension of themselves, meaning they are no longer question marks, but real-time reachable targets. Truly, in conducting a small train survey on my way to university, 14 out of 15 people around me were glowing in the light emitted from their phone screen, entirely engulfed in a virtual world. As strange as it sounds, it’s more likely marketers would be able to reach them with a pop-up on the screen than if they were standing on the street waving like a hooligan.

To continue on from that thought, how do businesses actually use mobile marketing to reach consumers while delivering value? According to Brian Solis, brands interested in mobile marketing should seek to increase engagement in micro-moments (coined by Google), which are moments when consumers rely on their smartphone to inform decisions in their personal or professional lives. As an example, I went to a bookstore in Hobart last week, but because I only had a limited luggage allowance with Jetstar, I used my phone to price and location-check a couple of books I was interested in purchasing, while still standing in the store. I was then able to determine that I didn’t need to purchase them (and thereby purchase a greater luggage allowance), as they were freely available elsewhere. It was very convenient, however this convenience is only possible if brands are implementing their mobile marketing strategies correctly.

bag-electronics-girl-359757.jpgElectronics Girl, Tofros.com, Pexels

Demographic information about consumers is no longer enough in order to reach people in these very personal moments. Brands need to understand the exact terms consumers use when they are searching for a solution. Additionally, mobile marketing is best appreciated (and less seen as an invasion of privacy) when it provides useful or helpful information. As always, consumers want to be delivered value, not blatantly sold products.

In adding to Solis’ advice, Kaplan (2012) goes further, having developed a framework (the 4 I’s) for mobile social media behaviour as a brand. The aim is to Individualise (tailor communication based on the individual user’s preferences or interests), Involve (engage in two-way communication rather than direct selling), Integrate (create seamless activities which enhance a user’s life, such as a weather app in temperamental Melbourne, rather than being a nuisance) and Initiate (encourage user’s to generate their own content and collaborate with the brand’s platform, as seen with review sites such as TripAdvisor or Zomato).

What’s interesting though, is that, for all of our concerns as consumers, that our privacy is being invaded, that phones are just becoming advertising devices, that social media is increasing personal isolation, anxiety and insecurity despite being touted as connecting the world, we are so reliant on smartphones that it may be becoming an addiction. Like our wallet and keys, we cannot leave the house without them. When my phone went flat in Switzerland, I ended up getting stranded in a nowhere town called Brugg at midnight due to a cancelled train, forced to wait until morning. If I had had a working phone, I could have called my partner, found a hotel or researched the best way home, but without one, I was essentially invisible, as if I had a disability. Food for thought, as they say.

So, that’s it from me this week. Do you have any interesting stories about your own smartphone dependency? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

16 Comments

  1. I definitely agree that we all have a smart phone dependency, which probably comes from the fact that we value our phones as a part of our own identity now because of how much information we have about ourselves on our device. I think its such a great way for businesses to engage with customers now!

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    1. Hey Angie! That’s really interesting that you feel that way (that it’s a great way for businesses to engage with customers). It’s always good to see a differing opinion. I personally find it a little invasive and disturbing – at least some of the marketing messages. Particularly in light of everything which has recently happened regarding Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica case, I wonder where our information is going and if it is going into the right hands.

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  2. Hi Hannah, Love the analysis and I must say I can’t help but gaze up at those Apple ad’s at South yarra station too.

    In terms of the abuse of privacy and our information ending up in the wrong hand’s, do you think that the emerging and widespread public knowledge of this is will be enough to fully deter us from using social media such as Facebook? Or do you think that it is a minor bump in the road in their operations and we will all have forgotten this in ten years time?

    Thanks.

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    1. Oh, definitely the second. We barely remember terrorist attacks that happened the day before. There are so many intense things happening in the world, that’s why companies such as Facebook can get away with so much, we as individuals do not have the willpower or brain power to stop it. There are whole teams of people trained to tap into our inner worlds. It’s easier just to embrace it.

      Honestly, I don’t think it’s a bump in the road, it’s more like, a slip up from Facebook’s side. Clearly our information is constantly being harvested, but the trick is in making us think it isn’t happening. The only fix I can see is legislation, but with rapidly increasing technology, the way our current system works in passing laws, it’s impossible to keep up.

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  3. Hannah – great post. I often wonder about the same thing regarding smartphone dependency. The thing is, I find targeted advertising to be quite good – when it works. Sure it’s kinda scary, but if I have to look at ads, I’d rather find out about something that matters to me than something that I care very little about. In the end, traditional advertising is all about knowing the consumer – now with mobile they just know a little more. We still have agency as individuals and consumers to be independent, so why does it matter so much if some corporate entity has our anonymised data stored somewhere that no-one will ever look at?

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    1. Hmm, I suppose it doesn’t if no one looks at it. And I do agree, successfully targeted mobile marketing can be useful. However, the latin aphorism ‘knowledge is power (scientia potentia est)’ which was embroidered on my high school uniform hasn’t really left my mind. Should our information get into the wrong (third party) hands, such as that of a political dictator (I don’t know much of what is happening in China, however from what I have heard, the citizens are so highly controlled or monitored they cannot even j-walk without being sent a message seconds later on their phone), I would be very worried indeed.

      Like most things, it’s a delicate balance. I’m not entirely convinced that we as consumers have as much power (or knowledge) as we think we do.

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  4. Hi Hannah! I love how you dig deeper into mobile use itself from behavioural and psychological angle. I believe that any kind of business is back up by human behaviour and mentality. Demographic is no longer a cutting-edge strategy to get into customers’ minds anymore. I feel that all my search and app downloading histories are not far from telling precisely what kind of a person I am. It helps so much in improving user experience. But it’s also a sad thing that we just slowly lose some basic abilities like long-term concentrating isn’t it?

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    1. Hi Sharon! Thanks for leaving a comment and thank you as well for reading my blog! The long-term concentration or even ability to write lengthy pieces of text is a fascinating topic. I think in Australia now there are a lot of primary school students in WA entering high school, barely having learned to read or write properly. While the claim is that it has to do with ill-equipped teaching staff, I wouldn’t be surprised if other things such as videos, memes, emojis instead of text in instant messaging apps and games are getting in the way of what was previously “reading time” or communicating with friends through traditional language.

      It really makes you wonder what implications technology dependence will have for us in the near future. It’s given us unprecedented access to information and content sharing, but has also made us “dumber”. I suppose that’s a conversation for another day though, as it’s a bit of a deviation from mobile marketing.

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  5. This was a great read! I loved how you took a different approach on the phenomenon of mobile phones.
    I, just like many others am addicted to my mobile phone and to say the least am highly dependent on it.
    On a personal level, I left uni extremely late the other week, my phone had died and my train line was cancelled. If I had my phone I would’ve been able to book an Uber, or checked the times for the nearest trams.
    I also explored mobile marketing this week, and found an interesting fact that also relates to your blog. I found that 90% of smartphone users consult with their phones to finalise a purchase. This proves how reliant consumers are, and without mobile phones people wouldn’t have the ability to quickly access, research information about products or even make a purchase.

    Feel free to check out my blog this week- I explore tips and tricks of mobile marketing and a few success stories 🙂

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    1. Hi Vanessa, thanks for your comment. It’s always interesting to take a step back and think about how we really do rely on technology in so many ways to guide our decision-making process.

      Just thought I should let you know however, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use my comment section to advertise your blog.

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  6. Hi Hannah! Great content in this post – I especially like how you use personal anecdotes to solidify the claims you are making about marketing and mobile marketing in particular.

    I think its interesting that you mention this almost paradoxical feeling we have nowadays when using our smartphones (that we want to be able to live “in the moment” without staring at a screen, but that we also (more often that I would like to admit) end up in a situation best solved by looking at the smartphone). I for one, have been so accustomed to accepting this and that when being on the internet that I have almost forgotten that there might also be people out there with less desirable agendas than just providing me the information I need.

    Do you think that you will become increasingly sceptic towards the intention of campaigns and people/businesses on social media who claim that they are “just here to make life more convenient for you”, as mobile marketing and targeted advertising gains even more pace?

    Once again, thanks for the great post!

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    1. Hey Morten! Thank you so much for writing such an insightful comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

      As to your question, I think as a Marketing student, I almost cannot help being skeptical, as we are being taught to do exactly what is being done (in a sense). And in terms of targeted mobile marketing, since we as humans are increasingly reliant on the internet and computers / personal devices (we are essentially cyborgs – I couldn’t do my job without a machine), we actually don’t have much of a choice. Not having much of a choice puts us in a pretty bad position in terms of negotiation of rights.

      I think that’s what was so interesting about the Cambridge Analytica case which spawned a hearing from Congress regarding Facebook’s practices around privacy and data harvesting. It’s too late. It’s too late to ban these practices, the only thing we can do now is try to create some kind of balance. Whether that is as individuals (shutting off devices, taking time in nature) or as government (providing legislation surrounding data protection).

      I do still want to believe some targeted advertising is beneficial – there is still benefit there, for the consumer and for the marketer, but it’s a very delicate tightrope we are walking on at the moment, and I feel as though everything is just going to get even more complex when AI becomes a mainstream presence within our lives.

      If you’re interested in Japanese animation, I recommend watching Psycho Pass (2012). It’s quite a good take on how the future could turn out, in terms of having so much information on everyone in society, that everything is ‘seamless’ and essentially decided for you. A future such as this would be the saddest outcome in my opinion (where your role is decided), as it is the odd, eccentric people on the fringe who I find the most fascinating.

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  7. Smartphone dependency is so real. I often observe people (myself too) waiting for someone or something and making themselves look ‘busy’ by using their phone. We don’t ever want to be seen as being alone. Our phone is our best friend, our comforting companion that is ALWAYS there.
    I think this fear of looking as if we are alone, waiting or bored motivates us to constantly be scrolling through social media or mindlessly clicking through apps with no real purpose or no notifications to check.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hey Matilda! Thank you so much for reading this blog and sorry for the slow reply – assignments and deadlines have been creeping up and I can hardly keep my head above water.

      The fear, or social anxiety is definitely real, though I try my best to fight it. Speaking of addiction though – how many hours daily do you spend on social media? I’m also studying market research and one group who presented their findings of 100 students found that there were some who spent over 15 hours per day just scrolling through posts. It really is mind boggling how we have become so dependent on “connecting” with others, yet disconnect ourselves.

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  8. Interesting blog! I always find it so funny how everyone gets this weird panic when their phone dies or if you even leave your phone at home for the day and quickly realise how much you rely on it for things like knowing what time it is or when the tram is coming. I’ve always wondered though if as all these new companies start offering different versions of smart phones that all these different types of software will mean that businesses will start having to align themselves with certain software and it could start cutting out types of consumers that aren’t on certain systems, I guess this is already happening with consumers who don’t own smartphones.

    Either way, interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hey Bette! How exciting to see you reading and writing a comment on my blog! I will have to check yours out as well.

      That’s a very interesting thought progression. I think you’re right, in that it is happening already, though perhaps more with “updates” than with companies aligning themselves with certain software. I think if I were to predict it, I imagine it would look something like video games being available on different platforms – although it’s quite interesting that the ones that are most popular (such as Fortnite) are available everywhere, so it probably wouldn’t make sense for companies to limit their audiences like that.

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