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My opinion still resists: User Context – The New Gold of the Mobile Industry

Reading the excellent article by fellow Andrew J. Scott about “Context”, I remembered my 1-year-old article I have only published on paper yet, called “User Context: The New Gold of the Mobile Industry”. Read on …

Mobile services are still stuck in “desktop thinking”

What we are seeing today is only the surface of the real potential for mobile services. This is because producers, brands, and agencies are still doing what people do when they discover a new channel: They transport existing products and ideas into the new channel, but neglect to dig deeper to reach “the gold.”

Because banner and display advertising had worked well on desktop screens, the obvious reaction is to simply reduce the size of the banners on mobile screens regardless of where users were or what they were doing.

This mistaken behavior happens because it is too exhausting and time consuming to think disruptively and consider the user context. Unfortunately, we are often “prisoners of our own ideas.” We tend not to be objective and are therefore bound by our own thinking most of the time. However, according to The Next Web article, “Everyone Sits in the Prison of His Own Ideas,” new thinking is needed for developing successful mobile services. There are several ways to accomplish that goal:

  • Trying to get an idea of what people want by doing market research,
  • Building something you really need yourself,
  • Building something your friends say they need,
  • Copying and pasting someone else’s idea and improving upon it, or
  • Letting a thousand flowers bloom and watching what happens.

Context will certainly be the key driver for popular mobile offerings that serve specific customer need. And while there is no best way for victories in mobile, there are strategies for building a winning mobile service.

Case studies: “User context” considerations for mobile

So how do we design, create, and develop a mobile service with user context in mind?

First, we have to look at the existing assets of the mobile product or service and what the core value might be. If we can identify these things, we are halfway there.

Second, we need to distinguish if it is a proposition that will serve every user with the same need or if we need to design the product in ways that serve different people with different needs.

Let’s start with case studies, from the least complex to the most elaborate.

AutoTrader’s iPhone app. This app was created and developed by SapientNitro, and only available in the UK market, which originally focused on one specific idea: Users were in the streets (a very mobile situation) when they spotted a vehicle they liked. SapientNitro asked, “How can we leverage that moment into a mobile opportunity for AutoTrader?”

The initial information that these users needed was the make and model, its price, and how to purchase it. The solution was to use the iPhone camera to identify the car model by taking a photo of the number plate and then match it with the government database. As a result, the user got the exact model, could search for it within the AutoTrader market, and then could contact the car dealer.

This was not an adaptation of the desktop AutoTrader portal. There were no sitemap or navigation elements. The entire focus of the concept was to serve the needs of the user to identify and shop from the street.

The Home Plus Subway Virtual Store. This product was the 2011 winner of the Cannes Lions for “Best Use of Outdoor.” For its “shopping on the move” campaign, Home Plus created virtual stores in subway stations at rush hours showing their goods on displays that looked exactly like those in real stores, including prices and advertising. The difference was that people shopped with their smartphones by scanning the QR code and putting the products in virtual shopping baskets. Once purchased, the goods were delivered to the customer’s door after they get home.

Users could avoid rush hour in the supermarket and save time by shopping on the way home.

Complex mobile services need a “Paddle, Swim, and Dive” approach

But what if the mobile service that needs to be designed and created must serve different users with different needs?

For this scenario, SapientNitro recently introduced the “Paddle, Swim, and Dive” approach, which generally fits well and provides the right level of detail to initiate the concept.

In the “Paddle” phase of a mobile product, we see a person who urgently needs to solve a problem or save time. This might be a quick look at the news, a pop-up reminder, or anything that is only “one-click” away.

In the second phase, when the user wants or needs to “Swim,” he or she gets a richer level of detail for the content or the function that enables shopping or browsing quickly and securely.

In the final stage, when the user is “Diving,” he or she has extra time and is able to use all the functionality that leads to the desired goal.

Think disruptively and create simple + social

Along with accepted design principles for mobile services, there are other determinants for creating successful mobile products that leverage the idea of “considering user context.”

When thinking about a user’s behavior in a mobile environment and how to match this to mobile products, a common mistake is to copy a great idea or adopt already-known behavior patterns and market offerings that exist in the non- mobile space.

To be successful, however, the principles need to be based on disruptive and creative thinking that are very different to known offerings and highlight the core value and function of the mobile service.

Additionally, we should also consider what the mobile device means to us in the context of “being on the move.” Every user is unique and uses the device in a personal way — and often under severe time pressure. This means that we need to build mobile services that are social, simple, and connected to the personal environment of the user.

To illustrate that theory, take the example of Gigalocal. Gigalocal is a service that describes itself as the first “microworking” mobile application that offers a marketplace for micro deals and offerings. Users will be able to suggest and provide service delivery via their smartphones from two perspectives: buyer and seller.

Gigalocal is focusing on city or local markets, which means that users can immediately act on offerings in real time. Typical services that could be offered and consumed via this mobile service include repairing a bike, getting glasses from the optician, or buying a Big Mac and Coke for a special price.

Gigalocal uses the power of user context by combining the time the user has with the urgent need to get a problem solved while providing a unique, social, and simple service. 

The digital wallet of 2012

If we look at the trends that may greatly impact the near future, it is obvious that the technical environment for mobile payment will soon be a reality. Global banks, credit card companies, and Internet companies like Google are attempting to position themselves as the first contact point for payments with mobile devices.

One of SapientNitro’s “Idea Engineers,” Christina White, phrases our perspective: “Most of us carry some sort of payment method [in our wallets], but you probably have a bit more — loyalty cards, business cards, receipts, insurance cards, IDs, subway tickets, event tickets, and the list goes on. A digital wallet is not just a way to pay. It’s taking that actual wallet in your back pocket and all of its contents and associated behaviors and integrating it into some type of digital device.”

To convince the user of the benefits of using a mobile device as their digital wallet, we need to rethink the user’s context and what would provide the added value to bind the customer to the service permanently. The digital combination of one place and continuous availability will be the core values of the digital wallet.

If you are thinking about creating and delivering a digital wallet, a mobile commerce solution, or any other mobile service, you must consider user context. Once this is recognized and appreciated by your customers, usage and distribution can be built on a solid base — leading to success and satisfied users.

Let me know what you are thinking :) ...