February 7, 2010

The Changing Paradigm for Entertainment

“As it searches for the right digital business models, the media and entertainment industry is striving to reinvent itself…” says Accenture, in their newly released report on the state of the entertainment industry, This Time It’s Personal.  What a timely follow-up read to the Mobile Mandala blog post earlier this month examining some reasons why mobile is not yet fully integrated into the entertainment industry?” 

It prompted me to take a new look at that question. 

But this time, rather than take a mobile perspective on the entertainment industry, I wanted to take an entertainment industry perspective on mobile and other forms of digital content distribution and content consumption.  At a fifty thousand foot level, I was interested to identify some key drivers that have fundamentally changed from the pre-digital era (say 1995) that may have prompted this need for reinvention. Three immediately came to mind.

The Entertainment Experience

The locus of control over the entertainment experience is rapidly shifting from a ‘producer only’ model, to more of a hybrid ‘producer/consumer’ or in some cases ‘consumer driven’ model.  Certainly the shift has been far less dramatic in feature films and most dramatic in entertainment models that were incubated in the computer, mobile and online environment, such as gaming and now social gaming.  But, the tide is changing even in television driven programming – with consumer text and phone voting, online videos and other real-time consumer input – as well as other forms of reality programming.

Part of the change has also manifest itself in the emerging transition from a completed and locked-in production that is transmit over the broadcast environment to a more organic, dynamic entertainment experience that is modified in real-time with viewer or user input.  Again, internet-based gaming and other user generated or manipulated content applications are the most obvious.  In television, the recent Grammy Awards using real-time voting results to determine which song Bon Jovi would perform is a nascent example.

Monetization

Entertainment revenues have always been a combination of direct revenues (consumers pay for the entertainment experience) and indirect revenues (advertisers pay for the right to have their message seen or heard by consumers who are enjoying an entertainment experience).  With the migration of the entertainment experience to mobile and the computer based internet, consumers have been far more willing to pay directly for and with the immediate response possible in these mediums.  Social gaming certainly has provided impetus for monetizing this change as have smart phone applications.  The corresponding drop in advertising, particularly local advertising, has only accentuated the shift in the focus on monetization of potential revenue sources.

Another related change is the shift in cash flow from delayed payments to more real-time revenue generation.  Revenue from entertainment has been traditionally received after the content has been created and when it is experienced in its finished form. Ticket sales, DVD/CD sales and advertising on broadcast television/cable and radio are some examples.  With the advent of interactive response on digital media, content has begun to be monetized as an evolving work in progress that can be changed, manipulated and altered through control allocated to consumers.  Producer and user-created content experiences, monetized through freemium, up sell, web-based, user-generated content revenue models are prime examples of this evolving trend.

Platform Exposure

Traditionally, media has been premiered on one platform and then repurposed to other platforms to maximize the revenue windows for the monetization of content.  Digital media distribution was originally viewed as a promotional vehicle to support the sequential window-specific monetization strategy.  The ability to create significant monetization (and the potential for cannibalization) from the new digital distribution strategies has caused a re-evaluation in the existing model for platform exposure. 

The potential for simultaneous platform exposure has begun to take hold as content creators have begun to segment branded content for each platform and leveraged the unique content consumption patterns for each platform.  Mobile applications, for example, provide a completely different branded content experience (with incremental revenue potential) from traditionally distributed content platforms.

So, it is not surprising that “Sixty-five percent of executives believe the main source of future revenue growth will be new platforms/ways of delivering content,” according to the Accenture study. 

Yet, the study states “the principal hurdles they face in their efforts to transform their businesses are organizational issues, ahead of financial and market issues.”  Why? Because “businesses and their workforces have grown accustomed to particular business models, processes and ways of working, and are reluctant to take risks to change these into something new and less familiar.”

How appropriate then, that a long ago forgotten content source from the 1950s, could provide inspiration to the entertainment industry as it ‘strives to reinvent itself’.  Pogo, the central character in the 27 year running comic strip of the same name, once famously stated…

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

January 24, 2010

Mobile Is Not An Island

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

-      John Donne (English poet, 1572 –1631)

 

Back in the mid to late 1990s, as the internet was becoming an increasingly significant factor in the music business, most record companies set up a “New Media” department – covering all of that ‘internet stuff’ –  where one “New Media” guy was assigned to toil in relative obscurity figuring out what it all meant.  Every now and then he would poke his head out and announce to a relatively disinterested audience of executives what he had learned, and how it might apply to the rest of the company.  Over time, an adventurous executive or two would decide to listen more closely and decide to try out something new in the “new media” landscape. However, for the most part, “new media” existed as an isolated area of distribution and promotion that couldn’t be ignored, but also couldn’t be truly integrated.

How times have changed.  Can you imagine anyone in 2010 being employed in any capacity in a record company and not be intimately familiar with the effects of “new media” on music promotion, distribution and sales?  Or any new music release where “new media” is not a compulsory, and in many cases dominant, part of the overall release plan?

I have a friend, right now as I write this post, who has the inside track to be the new “Mobile” guy at a major media company.  Is this starting to sound familiar?  Why is “Mobile” still the “New Media” of 1995 in the media and entertainment industry of 2010?

Why is mobile not yet fully integrated into the mainstream entertainment business?

It’s about time that the media and entertainment industry realizes that mobile is not an island.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study this week stating that the average daily consumption of entertainment media among kids and teens (8-18 years of age) rose from 6 hours and 21 minutes in 2004 to 7 hours and 38 minutes in 2009. In addition, consumption of regularly scheduled TV programming in its original broadcast time dropped 25 minutes in the same period, despite the overall increase.

How is this pertinent to mobile?  Check this out.  At the same time consumption of regularly scheduled programming dropped, overall consumption of television programming increased.  Why? Because while 59% of young people were watching TV at the time the programming was originally broadcast, 41% were either time-shifting, or watching on a platform other than a TV set.  Of the viewing that was not time shifted on television, fifteen minutes per day were spent viewing television on cell phones and sixteen additional minutes of viewing were spent on other mobile devices, like iPods.

Not convinced yet?  The study also found that when multi-tasking was taken into account, total media consumption time increased from 8 hours 33 minutes per day to 10 hours 45 minutes per day.  Of those ten hours, over two hours per day (20%) was spent consuming media content on mobile devices.  That number was not far behind the 32% of the time spent on television or the 25% of the time spent on a computer.  The other 23% was spent on an assortment of devices such as console video games, radio, print, movie theaters and CDs.

Furthermore, while the proportion of 8- to 18-year-olds owning a laptop has climbed from 12% to 29%, cell phone ownership has jumped from 39% to 66%, and iPod or other MP3 player ownership has soared from 18% to 76%. In fact, the study specifically states that “We suspect that the tremendous increase in cell phone and MP3 ownership among tweens and teens is probably the most important factor underlying the increase in media use among 8- to 18-year-olds.”

The time for the entertainment and media industry to shift to a fully integrated mobile offering is not only here, but as the study shows, has already passed.  Mobile is not only a “very personal, highly interactive, communication ecosystem on its own, but an integral and critically important part of the media and entertainment landscape; an always on, always with you medium whose rapid growth and adoption is dramatically changing the paradigm for media content consumption. 

Media and entertainment executives who fail to recognize and act upon this sea change in mobile are reminded of the last words of the same John Donne poem “for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.

January 19, 2010

Carnival of the Mobilists #207

Mobile Mandala’s latest post “Monetizing Passion” was selected for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  Hosted this week by Volker On Mobile, you can access a some very fresh and unique points of view by clicking here.

January 13, 2010

Carnival of the Mobilists #206

Mobile Mandala’s “App Stores Are So 1980s” was selected for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists, which is hosted by Andy Favell over at MobiThinking.  It can be accessed at http://mobithinking.com/blog/carnival-of-the-mobilists-206. There are some very interesting perspectives this week.  Check it out!

January 10, 2010

Monetizing Passion

Blog Post Update (January 15, 2010)

SEND A MESSAGE & SAVE A LIFE

DONATE $10 TO RED CROSS HAITI RELIEF

TEXT HAITI TO 90999

And with those 83 characters, mGive mobilized thousands of people in less than 48 hours to give over $5 million via text message to Haitian relief via the Red Cross.

The tragedy in Haiti is truly overwhelming, as is our collective will to help.  This outpouring of immediate response is not something I initially envisioned when I wrote the post below about passion and how it can be monetized. But certainly, we as a society are passionate about helping those in need. The immediacy of our response via SMS will be remembered as a watershed event not only in its capacity to help, but in our capability to immediately monetize response to causes which touch our hearts.

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This is not a post about porn.  But, it is a post about passion.  And some thoughts about how to monetize it in an age of digital immediacy.

 “All humanity is passion; without passion, religion, history, novels, art would be ineffectual”

-  Honore De Balzac          French novelist (1799-1850)

 

 “Ambition is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we reach, we are never satisfied”

-  Niccolo Machiavelli       Italian philosopher (1469-1527)

For most of us, passion is a driver behind some aspect of our life. Whether it is what we do in our work or what we do in our life, passion is relentlessly present and often, universally consuming. 

Passion is powerful.  Passion is intense.  Passion is immediate. 

The ability to digitally provide the immediacy of satisfying passion is one of the greatest opportunities for purveyors of digital commerce and practitioners of digital marketing.

You don’t agree?  Check out Zynga Game Network, the maker of Farmville, part of the recent social gaming phenomenon where companies capitalize upon the player’s passion for the game (and passion for social validation and stature) by offering them the ability to “buy” virtual currency” to improve their performance and experience.  This is the same company that sold more virtual tractors per day than real tractors are sold in the U.S. in a year.  They just received $180 million from Digital Sky Technologies in December giving it a valuation likely to be at least $1.5 billion and possibly upwards of $3 billion. Not bad for a company that has only been around 2 ½ years with an estimated $250 million in revenues and over 100 million players per month.

Oh by the way, one of Zynga’s competitors, Playfish, was purchased by Electronic Arts in November for $275 million in cash plus $25 million in equity and $100 million in earn-outs.

Flirtomatic generates approximately $12 ARPU per month from predominantly working class people who have a passion for flirting on their mobile phone. And, even more interesting, the site is not about dating or actually being set up to meet people, the activity is all about the passion for repartee between the sexes – the back and forth, the interaction and the joy of flirting.

How do you jump on the monetizing passion bandwagon?  Identify the passions that drive your brand, product or service, target the audience that craves the experience that feeds their passion, stoke the fires of that passion, and above all, take advantage of interactive digital media to provide those with passion the information they crave, and the ability to act and receive some degree of immediate satisfaction. Especially on that very personal, highly interactive, communication ecosystem that is with us all the time and gives us the ability to immediately respond and engage wherever we are – the mobile phone.  

Your brand, product or service doesn’t lend itself to a revenue model like Zynga, Playfish, or Flirtomatic?  No problem.  Your passion play doesn’t have to be a direct revenue channel like those companies.  It can be a marketing vehicle to drive those with passion to you.

Trendwatching recently released its “Ten Crucial Consumer Trends for 2010”.  What was #7 on the list?  Tracking and Alerting. It is part of a mega trend they identified as InfoLust or ‘consumers lusting after relevant information’ (That’s their definition – how could I not include the word ‘lust’ in a post about passion?).

Trendwatching identifies a great example of using passion to literally drive business – Curtis Kimball’s mobile Crème Brûlée Cart. Launched in San Francisco in early August 2009, the mobile crème brûlée cart has attracted more than 8,000 Twitter followers, who rely on his tweets to find out exactly where he’ll be, and what flavors are on the menu, so they can satisfy their passions for crème brûlée. The same type of concept can easily be applied to SMS.

The Long Tail was a wakeup call, in part, to the effects of the digital and virtual elimination of the geographical limitations of space.  With the mobile phone’s omnipresence in our lives, we now have a further reduction in the limitations of time.  And for those of us who feel the ‘right now’ urgency to satisfy our passions, the mobile phone is always with us, wherever we go.

French novelist George Sand once wrote “the capacity for passion is both cruel and divine.”  At least now, we have a more immediate way to seek satisfaction.

January 3, 2010

App Stores are so ‘1980s’

As an old decade ends and another begins, it is only natural to look back and reflect.  One of the biggest trends of my lifetime has been the demise of the mass media broadcast and general print medium and the rise of the niche cable channels and specialized print publications.  Since the 1980s, the networks have seen their share of audience usurped by specialized cable channels and the general interest publications of the 1950s have been replaced by narrow interest publications of the 1980s, 90s and the millennium.

 So why is content discovery and distribution in the mobile application market still a function of 1980s one size fits all app stores? 

Mobile apps are truly the latest and greatest invention of the highly personalized, narrowcast digital medium known as the mobile phone, and yet the app store still clings to a decades old mass distribution model ruled by quantity and impersonal discovery.  Adding further frustration, in order to download the latest niche app, mobilistas have to leave the niche content and focused social experience they may be enjoying and jump over to the generic big box app warehouse to get their niche app. 

Not very user friendly.

So, let’s make sure we have this straight. In an era where the social experience seems to greatly influence the commerce experience, big box app warehouses are designed to keep mobile consumers who wish to utilize social media to discover new apps outside the front door – at least until they are ready to stop talking.  Once inside the big box app warehouse, all mobile consumers need to be quiet and just read the preapproved language describing each app.

I thought the latest and greatest digital commerce experiences were supposed to be better than the brick and mortar experiences!  Can you imagine how many people would shop at a brick and mortar store if there were ‘no talking’ signs posted all over? 

There is a reason why mountain climbers are happy to spend more money for more products at a mountaineering store than at a generic sports equipment warehouse.  It’s about the communal and social experience that furthers the enjoyment of mountaineering – not to mention the ease of being able to find all of the great mountaineering products in one placed specifically designed to satisfy their needs. 

Why is the app discovery and distribution model so archaic…or at least so 1980s?

Just like in the real world, there is a time and a place for big box stores.  As my wife says, there is no better place to buy socks than Target.  So, for the dictionary app, some great phone games, and other general apps, I think the big box app warehouses work fine.

But on behalf of all mountaineers, quilters, airplane pilots and everyone else with a specialized interest, I have a request. 

Give us some specialized app stores with vibrant social communities to enhance our love for our niche activities and allow us to participate with our community in a place where we can discover, buy, share and enjoy those apps together.

December 13, 2009

Will Mobile Phones Change Retail Forever?

There was a lot of passionate response to the post a few weeks ago “Will Mobile Phones Replace In-Store Retail Salespeople”.  Even more reason that these three announcements this week caught my eye:

  • The Aberdeen Group published a report  that stated in 2008, the total of digital signage market revenue stood at $766 million and is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2014, growing at a healthy CAGR of 20%.
  • The London Daily Mirror reported   according to unnamed sources that Nokia is planning to begin rolling out embedded NFC (near field communications) kits into its entire line of Symbian phones beginning Q3, 2010.  The Finnish giant already has NFC in selected handsets, such as the 6216 Classic.
  • Malaysian manufacturer Fonelabs  will produce two million low cost (under $100) NFC enabled phones in 2010 

What do these three items have to do with retail?  First, just as a refresher, Near Field Communication (NFC)  is “a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology which enables the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimeter (around 4 inches) distance.”  In other words, if you have an NFC enabled phone and opt-in, your mobile phone will be able to communicate with another proximate electronic device automatically. 

The types of applications for NFC on mobile are numerous:

  • Electronic payments – swipe your phone and make a payment without a credit card.  NFC technology is already being used in Japan in more than 30,000 stores. Users can place $50 amounts, for example, into their smart phones to make payments or even use them in smart vending machines.
  • Mobile ticketing on public transportation – swipe your phone on readers placed in buses, airlines, and trains
  • Electronic keys – swipe your phone and open hotel doors or your house door
  • Smart posters – use your phone to read RFID tags on billboards and other signs to receive additional information and to let the “billboard” know you are there

Smart posters is the one that I find particularly intriguing. 

Let’s imagine for a second, that you walk into your favorite bookstore where you have purchased many titless in the past.  With your permission, as you walk past an internal electronic billboard, you allow the billboard to communicate with your phone.  Instantly, the billboard scans your past purchases and recommends new books to you that you might enjoy reading.  Or even better, a scanner reads your phone as you walk in and sends you an SMS with a customized offer to you for a discount on items you purchase that day as an opted-in frequent customer.

It’s kind of like going into your favorite pub where everyone knows your name.  Of course, downsides such as privacy cannot be underestimated (but, that is why it has to be on an opt-in basis). Imagine, though, how much more effective it would be to having a customized sales experience.  In clothing stores, sales people can know what you like, know your size, know if it is in-stock, and immediately bring you customized selection of new items.  Out of stock items could be posted to your customer ID and custom SMS messages could be automatically sent to let you know when the item is back in-store.

For the retailer, NFC gives unprecedented real time monitoring of consumer behavior in-store that could lead to better consumer in-store experiences – more accurate preference tracking of target audiences for better merchandise selection, display and pricing, and an ideal feedback channel for more detailed research.  Individually, salespeople could be more effective in providing consumers with more meaningful in-store experiences if they are familiar with their past interactions.

Will mobile phones replace in-store retail salespeople?  The consensus opinion from that last post was no, but it surely will change the playing field in a substantial way. The impending mobile NFC introductions are yet another way that the retail experience of the 21st century will never be the same.

Mobile Mandala will resume publishing on January 3, 2010.  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

December 6, 2009

Innovate or Die!

In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen laments to Diane Keaton about the sorry state of their stale relationship.  “A relationship is like a shark”, he says. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies.  And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

With the mobile ecosystem changing so rapidly, if a company is not continually moving forward, it too will become a dead shark.  A client of mine was talking to a potential customer in China who remarked that six months ago China not only did not have the Android phone, it also didn’t even have 3G! 

The crux of a mobile company’s proactive efforts to stay in front of the change curve, and its response to the inevitable change that comes, is largely a result of the company’s culture of innovation. Professors from Harvard Business School and Brigham Young University just completed a six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs which identified the five skills that enable the best innovators to soar above everyone else. 

Published in December’s Harvard Business Review, the article posits that what innovators have in common is their ability to actively observe the world around them and put  ideas and information together in unique combinations .  This ability to connect disparate qualitative and quantitative input is key to innovators’ ability to think outside the box and develop the paradigm changing innovation we have seen in the technology and mobile space.

Here are the five skills that the study says drives innovation.  How many of them are actively encouraged as part of your company’s culture?

  •  Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.
  • Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask “why?”, “why not?” and “what if?”
  • Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.
  • Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.
  • Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.

What are the consequences of failing to innovate and adapt to changes in the ecosystem? 

Well, we only need to look back to 19th century Manchester, England for inspiration.  That is where the light-colored peppered moths used their coloration to blend in with the white-barked trees as camouflage to protect them from hungry birds.

However, due to the intense pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s trees became discolored with soot, and the light-colored moths began to stick out and get eaten, while the newly hatched dark-colored moths blended in. Now, in the past few decades, pollution controls have helped clean up the environment, and the trees are returning to their original color. Hence, the now newer lighter moths are once again thriving while the darker cousins are becoming dinner.

Scientists now believe it was the adaptive power of natural selection that caused the moths to change color.  In other words, if the moth population didn’t evolve, mutate or otherwise change color over time, their prognosis for longevity didn’t look good.  In fact, before 1848, there were no dark-colored peppered moths.  In 1896, 98% of the pepper moths were dark.

In mobile, the innovation and resulting evolution needs to occur in months, not years, to ensure survival. Without that innovation, your company ceases to move forward and dies like a shark, or ceases to evolve as its ecosystem evolves and gets plucked off of its perch by hungry competitors.

Innovate or die?  I think I’ll take another look at those five skills that drive innovation again.

November 29, 2009

Will Mobile Phones Replace In-Store Retail Salespeople?

Mobile phones have to be one of the best on the spot, at the moment, information retrieval resources of all time.  How many times have you seen disagreements settled immediately, courtesy of a quick iPhone web research query?  Well, it looks like some companies are ready to capitalize upon our penchant for instant research about things that interest us.

Let’s flash back to a recent industry panel where a senior Best Buy executive said “The right information at the point of impulse increases desired consumer’s behavior, sales, profits and customer satisfaction.”  That sure sounds like a description of one of Best Buy’s best in-store salespeople helping out customers standing next to the latest electronic gizmo in one of their stores. 

It isn’t. 

The conference was a mobile conference and the speaker was the senior manager of marketing and emerging capabilities at Best Buy.  She was talking about using mobile phones – not salespeople – as the information source at the point of impulse. I guess there is nothing like a little recession to make retailers think a little harder about how utilize our collective penchant for using our mobile phones for quick research projects and potentially saving some money in labor costs in the process.    

Here’s how it works:  Using the mobile phone, customers can request information about any product on demand in a Best Buy store with a call to action on a product fact tag in store. What a great idea for consumers (no more pesky sales people asking ‘how can I help you’) and what a great idea for Best Buy (cut a little payroll here and there as the idea takes hold – I know, I know, not one salesperson will be fired as a result of this technological advance which is solely dedicated to the betterment of our customers:)

The truth is that we are already moving more and more to a self-service environment, anyway.  Why not leverage the mobile phone to eliminate cost, bring down prices, reduce the frustration in trying to flag down elusive salespeople to ask questions, and give us another excuse to have fun looking up info on our mobiles?  It sure makes sense to me.

So, let’s take this one step further. 

What if retailers gave us the opportunity to engage in interactive texting?  Think of all the time we waste, and frustration we accumulate, in big box stores feeling like we always have to muscle in to get a little service.  Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier to just text in the question via mobile phone?  Then, get an answer and re-text our next question?

Why stop at electronics stores? What a great way for bookstores to compete with online retailers – just text in the title you are looking for and receive information on whether or not it is in-stock and where it can be found. 

And, how great would it be to have self service mobile Q&A on the new car lot?  I don’t really like all of the sales pressure from those pushy car salespeople and now I can avoid it once and for all.  For good measure, I could just text the offers and counteroffers back and forth and never have to talk to them in person!

The best application, though, would be in high end department and apparel stores.  After trying on the overpriced designer suit, I could text in the question “How does it look?” I guarantee the response will be the same as if I had asked an in-store salesperson (who could actually see me in the suit) the same question.

On second thought, text messaging just can’t replace the sincerity of those baby blue eyes telling me I how good I look, even if they don’t really mean it.

November 22, 2009

Carnival of the Mobilists #201

Mobile Mandala’s Always With Me, Wherever I go (Part 2) was selected for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  You can catch all of the best posts in mobile this week at http://www.burningthebacon.com/2009/11/23/carnival-of-the-mobilists-201/

November 16, 2009

Carnival of the Mobilists #200

Mobile Mandala’s  Don’t Put The Email Shoe on the Mobile Foot   has been selected for inclusion into this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  Be sure to check out some of the most interesting writing about the mobile space at this week’s host, Mobilestance

 

 

November 15, 2009

Always With Me, Wherever I Go (Part 2)

When my Dad was nine years old, he would tell his mother he was spending the day with a friend, leave the house to ride the New York City subway all over the city and return after dark.  His mother didn’t know where he was, or how to get a hold of him.  After my sophmore year in college, I spent the better part of a summer travelling all over Europe, also without giving my parents any information about how to reach me if they needed to.  

How times have changed.  We now all have electronic tethers to our families, our businesses, and virtually anyone else who has our mobile phone numbers.  We are always connected, at all times.  Our mobile is always with us, wherever we go.

One aspect of mobile, which is getting increased notice, is the utility of being able to receive immediate SMS messages with important information at any location and at any juncture in our day.  I remember calling into my parents every now and then from Europe, sometimes after waiting for an hour at a public international phone in a European city, for the sole purpose of making sure everything back home was OK.  There was a certain discomfort in not being able to be reached in case of an emergency.  Once I knew things were fine, I could go on with my trip emotionally unencumbered. 

 Now, we can be reached anytime, and virtually anywhere – and that has the potential to change our lives significantly for the better.

Dan Jones, the VP, Channel Development at Smart Reply, gave me a great example the other day of how the utility of ‘always with me, wherever I go’ is currently being used to our advantage.  His firm is working with the Center for Disease Control to give Americans the latest up-to-date information on the swine flu via mobile.  After texting HEALTH to 87000 and answering three quick demographic questions, I can receive H1N1 swine flu alerts and other related health info about three times per week.  Since I gave my zip code, I would think they could also send me local swine flu info (like when and where the vaccine can be accessed in my community), as well.  So far, since September 8, they have received over 12,000 registrants (70% from their website, 25% from the Smart Reply network, and 5% from other sources, including Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites – the percentage from social networking certainly should be higher!) and the service is provided in English and Spanish.  Interestingly, 43% of the subscribers to this text service are 35-54 years old.

There are so many uses for push alerts that improve the utility of our lives that it amazes me that this area has not been pursued more aggressively.  Many of us have already used the airline flight status alerts on our mobile phones, but how many of us would sign up for push alerts to your mobile phone like these, if they were available?:

  •  Traffic status alerts customized for our specific commute home
  • Police, fire, natural disaster and other up-to-the-minute safety alert info for our local area (that sure would have been useful in the Southern California fires last year!)
  • FDA recalls for food products purchased at local markets (through supermarket loyalty clubs, many have your phone number and which items you purchased in their database!)
  • Impending service call alerts from cable, phone, and utility companies (so you don’t have to wait at home for the duration of the dreaded four to eight hour window)

Push alerts to the mobile phone can even be helpful for more mundane daily utility items such as daily medication reminders and refill alerts, bill payment and membership renewal reminders and on the spot notification when a table is ready at a restaurant.

As parents and as marketers, we know the value of being able to reach others wherever they are, at any moment of the day.  But as a consumer, I would like to get much more utility information pushed onto my phone to improve the quality of my life. 

I’m glad the airlines figured out that aggressive promotion of this mobile utility would bolster the perception of their industry.  And it’s good that government is getting more active about using the mobile phone to help us with dealing with the swine flu.

But I’m sure that there is, and there could be, much more. 

What other really useful utility push SMS programs are currently available? And more importantly, who isn’t pushing the utility of our mobile phones, and should be?