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Embracing The Nth Screen

by Oscar Trelles / February 28, 2012

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

The mobile revolution, driven by the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, is having a profound impact on the way consumers interact with content. The TV screen is competing for attention with mobile devices in the living room, and enhancing the viewing experience will not be enough to keep consumers engaged. As screens converge, the challenge is designing experiences that can be initiated on one screen and carried over to any other. Understanding the journey from screen to screen, as well as the activities each device enables, is key to creating context-aware, personal messaging that helps brands establish relationships with consumers, relationships based on relevance instead of repetition.

From watching movies and TV shows primarily on TV sets, then on personal computers, and now on tablets, consumers have naturally come to expect content that is optimized for all the devices they own, and accessible on demand. Services designed around this need have created a new type of consumer that considers a cable subscription superfluous. Known to some as “cord-cutters,” this group’s growth will continue to accelerate, as digital natives grow up rejecting the idea of paying for content they can find online and often for free.

Given the growing availability and diversity of devices and content delivery services, consumers can no longer be thought of as having a uniform set of devices, because individuals assign subjective value to each screen. That value is primarily driven by the intrinsic function and features associated with each device, and how those functions affect the consumer’s state of mind while using them. Together, these factors determine what I call mobility context.

A mobility context is the interaction space created by the combination of the form factor of a device, its unique attributes, and the amount of time a person is willing to spend using the device exclusively, which ultimately determines how mobile a device actually is.

Smartphones, for example, are about “here and now.” Because of their size and the ubiquitous cellular connection, they have become an extension of our bodies and their owners can be expected to carry them everywhere (and I mean everywhere). These are the devices we use to get directions, to check prices on Amazon before buying at a brick and mortar store, to check to see if our friends have already checked-in at the cafe where we are meeting, or send them a quick note if we are running late, etc.

Consumers now make purchasing decisions across mobility contexts, making every screen a vehicle for awareness, consideration, and even closing a deal. Consequently, mobile commerce is expected to experience continued revenue growth, as more transactions take place at the consumer’s fingertips. However, this is not limited to impulse buying and online retailers, and can impact the purchase process at the point of sale. Such is the case of Starbucks, who reported last December that $110.5 million had been spent directly through their mobile app since it was launched in January 2012.

Competitive advantage will not be found in maximizing “air time” on every screen, but in understanding customers’ real-life problems and providing integrated solutions that make their lives easier and help them navigate information overload, so that they can make faster and better-informed decisions. For example, it is interesting how IntoNow -a social TV app acquired by Yahoo! last year- does an amazing job at identifying what movie or show I am watching right now, but does nothing for commercials. Considering how many TV ads now contain calls to action pointing to online content, wouldn’t it make sense to offer marketers a way to activate them? Fortunately for Shazam, they realized this too and have recently launched a TV product for advertisers.

Focusing on the relationship with consumers and creating solutions that seamlessly integrate across screens should become a primary method of differentiation among marketers. The most successful marketing will engage individuals by connecting their specific interests and needs with experiences that are not only aware of their mobility context, but take full advantage of its unique characteristics.

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