What a decade of iPhone means for brands

Amongst many consumers their iphone has fast become their significant other, but what does this shift mean for brands?

Stephen Upstone, chair of the Mobile Marketing Association UK
Stephen Upstone, chair of the Mobile Marketing Association UK

The iPhone may have secured its place in popular culture; but for marketers a decade of iPhone has failed to deliver on the promise of mobile marketing. From interruptive ads to clumsy display ads the drive to simply squeeze traditional advertising formats into the confines of the smartphone has created a highly unsatisfactory ecosystem for advertisers.

With this in mind, Campaign spoke to Stephen Upstone, chair of the Mobile Marketing Association UK, about the key lessons for brands from the broken promises of the last decade of the iPhone and what are the opportunities ahead.

Q: How has the iPhone changed advertising?

A: Despite the intense excitement surrounding the first iPhone’s announcement, the full implications of its arrival weren’t felt until the years following its release, and are still being felt now. In the last ten years, advertisers and creative teams have relished the iPhone's (and other smartphones') variety of opportunities for interactive, novel and engaging ad units. We are still in the middle of this development with live video, VR, AR, etc. – the smartphone, championed by the iPhone, is a piece of technology birthing a number of novel options for consuming media, and will no doubt continue to do so going forward.

Not only that, you also see phones, with GPS and other location systems, providing an unprecedented opportunity for advertising based on location in a precise and relevant way, granting new insights into consumer behaviour that can be vital for advertiser strategy.

Lastly, the iPhone was one of the first phones to develop the idea of attribution - advertisers now have the means of tracing and measuring the impact of ads in driving not only store footfall, but also physical purchases. For brands, having this specific ROI is key.

You only need to look at the original iPhone with its clunky design and thick, hard casing, to realise how far we’ve come.

Q: What lessons are there for marketers from the cult of the iPhone?

A: The rapid development and brand loyal nature of the iPhone cult is key. Consumer tastes can only have a certain lifespan, and companies like Apple are having to make sure they stay ahead of the game when it comes to their technology and the users buying their phones. Modern consumers don’t just love tech – they love having a top-of-the-range model with a premium brand image. Certainly, this message has been seen in other sectors, particularly fashion, but it is no more true than in the case of the iPhone.

Q: The TV industry attempted to label the smartphone the "second screen" but marketers were quick to recognise the central role of the smartphone. How has the iPhone revolutionised media consumption habits?

A: The way in which we now consume media is so much more snackable. Habits have changed. We now wake up in the middle of the night to check our messages, news or the scores of our favourite sports team. As a result, attention spans are at an all-time low (roughly 12-15 seconds as of the last count) and the advertising communications have become much shorter in response, giving way to successful ten-second mobile video ads for example.

Smartphones are constantly evolving, providing media consumption opportunities that never existed on television, especially with interactive touch screens and full HD cameras for AR experiences. Video consumption rates on mobile are rising year-on-year in a way that the TV industry can only dream of: PwC described 2016 as a ‘videoquake’ and 60% now consider their smartphones as their go-to screen for consuming video. As brands like Apple annually develop higher-res display specs capable of playing impressive content no matter the location, this will only continue. Alongside this come new formats for consumption – 360-degree video, AR, VR, location-based services – the list is getting longer at a rapid pace.

All of this reflects the device-agnostic world that exists for modern consumers. Screens shouldn’t be ranked first, second, or third, but instead prioritised depending on context and relevance. That is where mobile advertising, especially when powered by data-fuelled solutions, comes into its own – capable of providing audiences with ads as and when it fits a user’s context – either when sat in their living room or on the train to work.

Finally, it is important not to merely see the iPhone through the lens of the TV industry. It isn’t just for consuming media – a smartphone is now an interface – pivotal for banking (with people more likely to bank via their phone than visit a branch) or for controlling the central heating in this new era of the Internet of Things.

Q: How has the iPhone changed consumer behaviour and how is this developing moving forward? 

A: The iPhone’s principal adoption of higher speed 3G and later 4G coverage, championed the idea of consumers being ‘always-on’ as opposed to them ‘going online’, as was the case with desktop and laptop. This has been pivotal for sectors like retail, where m-commerce has grown to represent a huge part of the digital space. Black Friday 2016 was testament to the power of these devices in consumer habits.

Consumers have come to expect a slick mobile experience on optimised sites, free from disruption. This is something the mobile advertising sector has and continues to appreciate through the innovation of new formats, especially native or interscroller content, that fit seamlessly into the user journey rather than on top of it. This is something that will no doubt continue, and as the iPhone develops, so too will the approaches of advertisers, working in tandem with changing consumer behaviours.  

Q: With the language of consumers use of screens akin to the language used when discussing alcohol or smoking have we reached 'Peak iPhone'?

A: It’s hard to believe we’ve reached ‘Peak iPhone’ – both hardware and software will continue to innovate, as will the Apple brand. The Internet of Things and wearable devices, for instance, has provided a raft of new opportunities to integrate phones into day-to-day life. Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted we’d see the equivalent of 20,000 years of innovation in the 21st Century, and tech companies have learnt in the last ten years that if you stop innovating, you start losing out. Apple appreciates this, and will always be seeking to develop further.  

A case in point was the craze surrounding 'Pokémon Go' – a rapid and intense period of app adoption and AR technology that shows just how quickly a consumer landscape can change. Events like this prove we are a long way from the peak.  

Q: From AI to Echo; what’s next? How will consumers move on from the smartphone?

A: CES 2017 gave us a glimpse of what’s to come for consumers going forwards. Amazon Echo, for example, is a cost-effective, interface-free piece of tech that is only just coming into its own among early adopters.

AI is in a different league entirely, having already left a notable impact in a variety of different sectors. Gone are the days when AI was a sci-fi trope, or an Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped robot. Nowadays, it has the means of deciphering and applying terabytes of information, providing novel approaches to decade-old problems. What we will no doubt come to see is AI being more actively applied to a variety of contexts, be it legal, creative, or even on the poker table.

For digital advertisers with the right AI systems, this is an exciting time. At LoopMe for instance we use self-learning AI-solutions to optimise ads, providing value for agencies and brands and non-intrusive ad experiences for consumers. This allows creatives to be more relevant and appropriately placed – benefiting the consumer rather than bombarding them with poorly curated content.

On a wider social level, we’re seeing AI, with smartphones as a vehicle used to improve everyday life – health and medical diagnoses capable of being refined through self-learning systems. Social benefits like this will change people’s lives – a bold prospect for the future.

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