Back in the 1980’s it was considered avant-garde to have a “car phone,” and it was a car phone since it was the size of a large brick, or required a suitcase to actually make it mobile. Flash forward to 2009, and we are on the verge of a mobile marketing extravaganza. In 2008, 140 million “smart phones” were sold, as defined by phones with Internet capability. In 2010, sales are expected to double to 280 million smart phones sold.  And Nokia alone, is making 13 phones per second, selling approximately 400 million total phones each year.

Doesn't your wife work for T-Mobile?

Doesn't your wife work for T-Mobile?

The difference is mind boggling; in the last 20 years we have gone from having paperback size car phones to cellular devices with immense computing capability, including interactive media, in our purses and vest pockets.

So what does this mean for your business? We conducted an informal poll among smart phone users to gain insight into how new technologies are changing the way that people use the web, and how it may affect your business. While this is by no means exhaustive, there are some trends that are clear based on the data.

Out of our US-based survey group, it was almost evenly split between Apple’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s Blackberry, with iPhone’s locked-in service making AT&T the most used, and Verizon in second place and Sprint a respectable third. The selling points for each were based on the desire for a qwerty (full key) keyboard on RIM’s Blackberry vs. the design, web functionality and applications for the touchscreen iPhone.

Geo-Sensitive Search
The coming revolution will be in geo-sensitive search, or the combination of GPS (Global Positioning via your phone signal) and search coming together. Your customers are already coming to your site via mobile, and if you have a slow loading site, or one with too much Flash, you may be driving them away. In addition, when a user maps the location of your business on Google Maps, the reviews of your business immediately come up next to the review. It is the combination of maps, search, and reviews that are going to be important to manage.

google-maps

A Faster CRM Cycle
Mobile is also going to take CRM (customer relationship management) to a new level. The CRM cycle is going to become faster and faster with clients wanting responses more quickly and customers expecting access to personnel during all hours, not just banker’s hours. Also mentioned in the survey, the convenience of getting updates and reminders via text message (dental, vet, oil change) was also mentioned as a good way to help customers stay organized.

Your Business in Real Time
We are getting away from display advertising (web banners) and are headed toward businesses dying or thriving based on reputation management. The Internet is a real-time broadcast of what goes on between you and your customers. Everything from how long of a wait there is at reception, to how a customer was treated, your pricing, and level of service, can all be put on the web immediately via Twitter, Facebook, and also via blog. All of that data that customers post about you will be searchable, require time to manage, and is typically indelible. A smartphone can be the consumer’s best recourse via sites like Yelp or Mojopages.

Phone Applications Drive Users
The following sites already have either iPhone apps or mobile ready versions of their sites. As the AdMob Metrics Report from April 2009 showed, while the iPhone has 8% of the smartphone market share, it generates 43% of mobile Web requests and 65% of HTML usage. In comparison, RIM’s Blackberry has 17% of smartphone marketshare and 9% of mobile Web requests and 3% of HTML usage. Obviously the iPhone is leading the way in phone-based web access (but the Palm Pre is an up and coming challenger). And when you consider that phone apps are driving more and more traffic to consumer recommendation sites, any good or bad review you have is magnified.

How do you use your phone?

What, no option for "alarm clock"?

Yelp & Mojopages.com: User Reviews and Recommendations of Restaurants, Shopping, Nightlife, Entertainment, Services and More (Yelp has a free iPhone app, and  a mobile version of its Web site at mobile.yelp.com).

Angie’s List: A source for Local Home Improvement Contractors & Doctors

Zillow: Provides free real estate information. Search homes for sale, home prices, home values, recently sold homes, mortgage rates, and more (free iPhone app).

OpenTable: Real-time online reservation network for fine dining restaurants. Read reviews from recent diners (free iPhone app).

RepairPal: Gives you independent and unbiased repair estimates, user
ratings and reviews (free iPhone app).

We are living in an age when the customer is mobile, opinionated, and loud. To be realistic, you can’t please everyone and people do complain, so in order to best manage smart phone users it is key to have a mobile friendly site, to keep on top of communications (CRM) with your customers, and be in tune with their expectations.

Managing customer opinions online is going to be a make or break proposition for new businesses, and will level the playing field for nearly all the rest.  As geo-sensitive search expands from the tech cities to mainstream, and users on the Internet can tell everyone else on the Internet exactly what they think of you and your company in real time, this is not a fad that will pass in time, this is the new B2C communication.

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