Look up from your smartphone for one moment and you may notice that nearly everyone within the same vicinity has their eyes glued to a screen of their own.
In fact, studies show this trend isn't stopping soon due to increased connectivity and lower costs for infrastructure and devices. Mobile adoption continues to make moves with regard to the collective consumer consciousness, as studies prove that usage will likely rise in the coming years. According to eMarketer, mobile penetration in developed countries continues to hover around 50 percent based on the given location's total population. While the U.S., the U.K., and Japan passed the 50 percent mark in 2014, other leaders-Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Finland-will likely cross that threshold in 2015. Australia, South Korea, Norway, and Sweden, however, hit the halfway mark in 2013. E-commerce stands to benefit from this growth, as 34 percent of global transactions now take place via mobile. Japan, which sees more than 50 percent total e-commerce sales via mobile, also boasts an exceptional smartphone conversion rate four times that of the U.S. (9.35 percent versus 2.46 percent).
"Mobile penetration has become widespread simply due to the smartphone and its major transformation of business and life as we know it," adds Austin Paley, corporate marketing communications manager for Blue Fountain Media. "Having a smartphone is no longer a luxury item-it's more of a standard than anything. For countries with emerging economies, smartphones are becoming more prominent in households because they are less expensive than purchasing a traditional computer, and have a lot of the same functions that you would need."
But, as Forrester Research highlights, only 35 percent of today's marketers have the budgets they need to support their mobile initiatives. Thus, while consumers continue to adopt mobile technologies at breakneck speed, brands across the globe still have much catching up to do. While leading companies throughout the world make an effort to embrace wearables, the Internet of Things, and connected cars, few have laid the groundwork needed to carry out and expand upon mobile strategies as time progresses.
"When it comes to mobile marketers, the field has evolved so quickly that there's an expertise lag," explains Tom Farrell, senior director of marketing at Swrve. "There are some experts, but most are still in a Field of Nightmares: 'They've come, I had better build it pretty darn quickly!' Across the B2C landscape, in particular, marketers are still coming to terms with just how rapid mobile adoption has been, and how it has made so many of the tech and tactics they are used to redundant."
Santiago Jaramillo, CEO and founder of Bluebridge Digital, reiterates this sentiment, claiming that organizations worldwide are "late to the game" when it comes to comprehensive mobile adoption. Businesses now lag behind consumers because, while consumers have fully and completely bought into mobile, many brands have been slow to embrace the necessary changes required to become mobile friendly. Many are still in the process of trying to figure out how to integrate existing communication channels-print, email, SMS, and Web-with newer mobile technologies, such as mobile applications and push messaging. Ideally, companies must pay attention to the way consumers vote with their time, as the average user engages with his mobile device for nearly three hours per day Focusing on their exact actions will help determine strategies in the future.
To most industries, mobile remains a bit of an enigma. While the mystique of the channel remains, the ability to incorporate mobile effectively into a brand's overarching strategy is often a challenge, as brands largely rely on industry acceptance and overall adoption of mobile among consumers.
"The challenge with mobile for marketers is similar to what they have experienced with social networks, which also figure into the mobile picture," says Joe Pino, director of customer success at Clutch. "Many marketers pounce on these channels simply 'to be there' without a concerted strategy to drive value for the customer or brand."
Pino explains how marketers can derive immediate value from mobile customer usage by adopting consumer management technology to understand the consumer's actions, preferences, and trends across mobile and other channels-like online, in-store, and social. Then, they will gain deep, multidimensional understanding and deliver highly personalized engagement via mobile. "While it can be challenging for marketers to develop mobile solutions that have a widespread impact, they do have an opportunity to impact customers' overall experiences by using their mobile 'digital footprints' to drive personalization," he adds.
According to Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder, and CEO at Constellation Research, marketers typically believe in channel ubiquity, as customer experience must be continuous and consistent across all channels and devices. Mobile provides access and connectivity at the individual human scale because the associated gadgets offer brands insight into location and sentiment data that fosters personalization. Leaders, however, recognize that mobile is more than its core devices-it's about the ability to do things in motion, Wang adds. Today's consumers are accustomed to the immediacy such tools offer, and companies that tap into this "always on" mindset will eventually bring their mobile strategies and customer relationships to the next level.
Mobile's Greatest Global Trend? Bringing Technology to the Developing World.
For many countries, mobile adoption isn't about technical innovation. Instead, leaders concentrate on creatively adapting to their given territory's unique social and economic situations. Yet, while some countries are not as far ahead because of the strength of their economy, many are successfully accelerating adoption even when they are economically disadvantaged.
"In many countries, the mobile device is someone's only access to the Internet," Bruce Bales, senior vice president of global strategy at Mblox, highlights. "Even in the U.S., 7 percent of Americans have no broadband service other than their smartphone data plans. Mobile is an inexpensive way to incorporate all communications in one device-SMS, voice, and Internet. Countries that are trailing behind the curve must rethink their overall approach, and in many cases, require licensed wireless carriers to offer prices and service that accelerate mobile growth, which will ultimately propel their economies."
More specifically, mobile adoption within emerging countries enables consumers to use their devices for monetary transactions. Over the past eight years, Vodafone has worked tirelessly with its Kenyan affiliate, Safaricom, to bring the people of Africa access to the mobile financial tools many need to aid personal growth and development. Known as M-Pesa-the 'M' stands for mobile, and 'Pesa' is Swahili for money-the mobile money transfer service launched in 2007 in an effort to provide Kenyans with the ability to send money and make bill payments right from their mobile devices. While less than 30 percent of the population within the African markets have access to a bank account or credit card, nearly 70 percent own a mobile device. Thus, mobile money has allowed Kenyans to bypass their more developed counterparts on the path toward a cashless future.
M-Pesa users need only visit one of its 40,000 agents to deposit or withdraw money from their mobile accounts at any time. Users can also transfer funds quickly, easily, and wirelessly to family and friends, which offers much relief in a country where citizens often send money to kin in rural areas. Ultimately, by providing improved access to said financial tools, Vodafone hopes to lead its consumers out of poverty. In fact, one study discovered that, for rural Kenyan households that adopted M-Pesa, users saw their incomes increase by 5 to 30 percent over time. By 2012, M-Pesa grew to 17 million accounts, more than four times the number of citizens with access to a bank account, and by 2014, these users accounted for more than $19 billion U.S. dollars in mobile transactions, demonstrating both the widespread penetration and ultimate benefit within Kenya alone. (To learn more about how mobile money has changed the face of banking in Kenya, click here, and watch the story of M-Pesa below.)
Thus, as mobile adoption expands across the globe, such technologies have the power to level the playing field and spark innovation throughout developed and emerging markets. Individually, countries may still struggle to figure out how mobile can be leveraged even further, but globally, leaders understand that these tools offer new ways to connect with consumers that will only fuel their thirst for increased innovation in the future.