Mobile Marketing Trends: Top Mobile Predictions from 11 Experts

Location, measurement, and usability among the keys to mobile marketing success.


After perhaps a somewhat awkward adolescence, the mobile industry is growing up as it heads into. Mobile is not just geofencing anymore, but rather holding its own as a standalone component in the media mix. In addition, mobile devices are getting better and more powerful, which means consumers are using them more to do more, which, in turn, is more conducive to true cross-channel campaigns. Experts agree there is certainly room for improvement in terms of fully harnessing device capabilities and running cross-channel campaigns. In addition, consumers are increasingly willing to share personal information with brands, meaning what may have been considered creepy and intrusive not long ago is more tolerated and marketers have an opportunity to cater more specifically to consumer wants and needs. What’s more, new devices like smartwatches and thermostats only increase advertising opportunities. Here’s what 11 mobile experts see as the biggest trends in mobile marketing today.

Joe Laszlo, Senior Director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the Interactive Advertising Bureau

If I had to pick two or three things as we wrap up and start to look ahead, at the highest level, I’d say location and location-aware advertising, the transformation of mobile ad measurement and the rise of viewability as a mobile ad measurement tool and the continued evolution of mobile ad creative, which might be a copout because it’s a perpetual challenge to build great, rich mobile ads.

Location has been a key part of mobile advertising since the beginning. What makes it trendy now is I think we’re starting to see location grow up and mature and become a real thing. More than just geofencing, it’s taking its place as an integral, but finely integrated, part of mobile campaigns and not just when you want to reach [consumers] within a certain distance of a store. There’s more creative and more demand for clarity and transparency and it’s becoming more and more a part of the way marketers think about return on marketing campaigns.

The IAB in the past 12 months has really shepherded a major change in the digital industry away from impressions as the main currency metric for digital to viewable impressions. All the work so far has been focused on PC advertising. The standard for viewability that we have out in conjunction with the MRC is for desktop display and video creative, but as desktop goes, so goes mobile. We’re definitely beginning to see ad buyers request viewability as part of mobile buys and desktop buys and fast-moving companies on the selling side are beginning to sell based on viewability. Viewability in mobile is important in giving buyers more confidence that ads are seen by the people they want to be seen by and the message is getting through.

It’s been funny – way back, we felt mobile was this adorable little toddler of a medium and everyone liked to pinch its cheeks. From to now, it’s been in the adolescent stage and surly and we’ve been more focused on how hard it is and the challenges it’s going through and the growing pains and now hopefully what we’re seeing around location and measurement is the transition to mobile becoming a grown-up medium, which will take its place alongside TV, desktop and all other media out there and holds its own as an accountable, trustworthy, reliable [medium].

The things we carry around have so many capabilities – not just touch, but motion and where they are in space and ads that play with that and encourage us to interact with the ad beyond just “click here for more info” are exciting to creative types as well. We realize there’s a lot we can do with mobile ads and tie mobile ads into a brand’s larger story.

Responsive design as a capability has been around, but as we get into the next year, it may be the year that responsive really takes off in terms of helping ad designers. From small screens up to very big screens and getting beyond the capabilities of humans to custom design creative to fit in all the sizes and shapes out there…it will only get worse as people start to talk about ads on smart watches, too.

Rob Grossberg, CEO of TreSensa

First of all, brands are really struggling to connect with users on mobile and what is becoming clear is the current way brands have tried marketing at users on mobile – following the same approach on desktop and carrying over to mobile – mobile is a different experience and what works on desktop and TV doesn’t work.

What we’re seeing and what brands are telling us is that when you look at mobile, it’s not like your computer screen that you are using at work. The phones they have are very personal items. When you’re on it, it’s me time and to be disrupted during your time [with]…push marketing…is even more annoying than rich media.

Even in video on mobile, seconds feel like minutes, so when you have a little me time and you’re waiting in line at Starbucks and suddenly have to pause while a video loads and the wheel is spinning, that’s not a great experience for users on mobile and…brand loyalty has decreased as a result. That sort of push marketing on mobile isn’t working.

Where we’ve gone, what we’re espousing is the whole native advertising model, which is gaining more and more traction. We think it’s the native advertising/marketing approach that will win out on mobile, instead of interruptive advertising because it provides users with content they enjoy on mobile and intersperses your brand message into that content.

Instead of pushing, you can pull users in and create content like good video content or other kinds of native marketing. That is the trend that’s a big one and we believe in that will take hold. Native marketing is going to be the best opportunity for brands to connect with users on mobile because [it is less] disruptive…[and helps] make that emotional connection with users.

Paul Bremer, General Manager of Rhythm NewMedia, the mobile division of Blinkx

For a while, we looked at mobile as a separate entity, a new play thing, but now audience targeting, standardization, and third party validation are starting to materialize in mobile and allow for more uniform experiences.

I think mobile is growing out of an awkward adolescence into adulthood and, as part of that, there’s a much more holistic view of media in general – and digital specifically — that’s allowing mobile to participate in a more entrenched way in the ecosystem than before.

Until recently, [mobile] meant geofencing or very specific location-based advertising based on the assumption that mobile consumers were most active because of their location, but the reality is that mobile consumers are doing any number of activities, like watching videos.

As more and more publishers are putting great programming on every imaginable screen, consumers are following and will watch the best screen in front of them. New phones like the iPhone 6 are made for great content consumption and the full-screen immersive experience that takes place in the TV environment is also taking place on the smartphone and tablet.

We’re also starting to do multi-screen campaigns that take into account the device and platform. Because of emerging technology, you can actually reach the same consumer across multiple devices and use a TV ad to introduce a major marketing campaign, a tablet to reinforce it and a smartphone to provide messaging to the same consumer, moving them down the funnel from awareness to purchase intent.

Mobile’s time has come and not just because of the distinct attention mobile has gotten recently, but just as important is the fact that mobile is part of the media mix, akin to when digital became part of the media mix after being standalone for so long. Mobile video so compelling because TV budgets are migrating to other mediums.

Bryson Meunier, SEO Director of Vivid Seats

A few years ago when the iPhone was introduced there was this general sigh of relief among those who were previously creating separate experiences for mobile users, as the thought was that they wouldn’t have to continue doing that since the iPhone (and by extension smartphones) could access content that could previously only be accessed by computers. The thought was that mobile and desktop search results were converging as a result of this accessibility, where smartphones would eventually get the same results as users of desktop computers. There’s no doubt that this has happened to some extent, as searchers get similar, though different results if they’re using smartphones to what they would get on a desktop.

However, what I’ve seen happen more in the last year than ever is Google not serving the same desktop results if context implies that the intent is different, or that some content is less usable on other platforms. A great example of this is Google’s upcoming mobile usability update that they’ve hinted at, that would effectively penalize sites for making a user pinch and zoom their way to content.

Since this has happened (and because smartphones comprise more than 50 percent of our search traffic) I have insisted that all content that we create at Vivid Seats for consumers who use search engines pass Google’s mobile usability test. I expect as the algorithm rolls out that we’ll see many more webmasters prioritize mobile usability than they have in the past, and hopefully even create content that resonates in context, and isn’t necessarily the same across all platforms.

In spite of developing separate interfaces for smartphone, desktop and tablet, Google has really promoted the idea that content should work across screens, and I don’t see this idea going away anytime soon. As more content starts showing up on more devices, like smartwatches and other “smart” connected wearables and appliances, content that doesn’t change based on context should be made accessible to many different devices. This was a rallying cry for responsive web design a few years ago, but now we know that these types of experiences can be presented through a variety of Google-friendly options, including responsive web design, dynamic serving and device-specific URLs.

In smartphone search results now one big difference from desktop results is that Google gives you the ability to open the listing in an app or on the web. This is a big change that was introduced last October, as it was the first time that Google indexed and returned app results when appropriate. Mobile Web sites are still preferred for marketers, as Google only displays app content if the app is already installed on a phone, but this is a trend that opened to all marketers and will probably continue to grow as time goes on. Deep linking within apps makes this possible, and I would expect more marketers to consider how the mobile app experience is related to the mobile Web experience in the new year and how to allow consumers the experience that they prefer.

The Internet of Things has been hypothesized for a while, but with Google buying Nest for $3.2 billion this year, Google’s Physical Web project that they announced in early October, and Apple Pay making the mobile payments game mainstream, it seems that it’s gaining momentum like never before. Marketers should think about how their products and services might be able to benefit consumers with this “walk up and use anything” motto that defines the Physical Web project.

Whether it’s Google Now, Siri or Cortana, search engines of today are in some ways personal assistants that not only give you relevant web pages, but help you to solve problems. Many times with Google today knowledge panels will answer your question before you ever get to a website. I expect this to continue as Google continues to build out the “Star Trek computer.”

In the past, popularity was enough for many marketers to target certain keywords, but because of voice assistants and the new way searchers are using search engines I would expect more marketers would consider the type of query, and whether the best response is a direct answer or a list of results before targeting. There are also opportunities for marketers to integrate with Google Now and similar services that I expect will only rise in popularity going forward.

Shannon Denison, Vice President of Product and Insights at Voltari

We’re at this point where consumers really own their devices and think about what they want to do with them as opposed to when smartphones first came out and they were leaping off of iPods in terms of convincing consumers it was something they wanted and would become a regular part of their lives.

If you pull back and look at consumer adoption of the devices, you have the innovators doing new and unusual things and the masses being convinced this was a good thing to have. Technology and innovation followed at a creeping pace. We tried to push a little more in while consumers were making their own adoption and utilization decisions, but now we’ve reached the point where consumers aren’t thinking about “Do I want to use it?” It’s definitely, “I’m using it,” and deciding different ways [to do so].

If you graph the adoption/uptake of new and broader activities we’re doing on phones – that line is curving up fast now. We’re quicker to adopt things [on mobile that] we were slow to adopt on the Internet, like shopping and browsing. Think how long it took us to adopt online banking. On mobile devices, it didn’t take too long for us to say we will do banking on our phones as well.

Now it’s almost becoming a harmonious sort of – the user pushes a little and says, “It would be cool if…” and marketers can grab technology and do some of the things that would be cool, like 1 to 1 messaging or, “Turn in two blocks because there’s a hamburger on sale.” Before, it was creepy, but now consumers are giving more information and want to do serious things like banking, decisions, work things and then flip and do fun, family social things and say, “Yes, it’s okay if you target me.”

I think many of the things we talked about from a mobile marketing perspective are now becoming technologically possible and consumers are starting to learn, be educated and participate and almost push marketers for more.

The way marketers jumped into the desktop advertising world was very, very marketer-oriented – I have an opportunity to stick an ad here, so I’m going to do that – with no consideration to, “Hey, consumer, are you cool with that? Is it going to bug you? Are you going to pay attention?”

We often think about response and click-through rates. In digital, the rates were vastly different than in the non-digital world, yet somehow a less than 5 percent response rate was good…In mobile, I think there’s one of these harmonious moments where there’s enough of a feedback loop and enough variety…and enough interactive opportunities that marketers will pull back and listen to consumers more.

Each time we have a new channel, marketers run to it and say, “What do we do with it?” and it takes awhile for consumers to say what they like and don’t like. Marketers that pay attention to that feedback loop – whatever that looks like – and respond to the feedback and desires will develop the coolest marketing tactics.

Ben Reubenstein, President of Possible Mobile

I think is really going to be a year of breaking away from these traditional means of delivery and focusing more on the experience of ads within apps because frankly something that everyone agreed in a couple of different conversations out at [tech conference] Stream and in the wider population is that the current state of ads within mobile apps specifically is a subpar experience. You have a situation in which you tap an ad and are taken to a full-screen website that isn’t optimized for the device and ads are served that are not optimized for the beautiful retina and HD screens that Apple and Android manufacturers are putting out.

What we see next year is starting to get back in focus and making sure the ad itself is not only creative and engaging, but delivered in a way that really takes advantage of the system. One of the things that we see as a trend is publishers of content and folks that have products they want to do ads with are coming closer together to create these experiences, so they don’t feel bolted on to applications, which is definitely a challenge. Creating a more interactive, more user-friendly experience sounds well and good, but it does have the disadvantage of being more customized and people have to work harder to get there. But, if possible, the first question we ask is, “Does it work?” Our ideology is if we can apply analytics, metrics and tweak them, we can turn real ROI from better ad experiences from our applications.

The other bullet point I want to make sure I communicate to you is one of the things very important to marketers, and mobile specifically, is [that mobile is] often out on an island in terms of big strategy and getting a piece of the message. [Mobile users] might get the same message, but not the same experience. One of the things we’re focusing on is, yes, we’re going to do digital, TV and maybe a mobile app, but how does the vision of our advertisement, message, how does that go to these different platforms and tell a consistent story, so we don’t have different experiences on these different screens. Users are getting information from the web, desktop, tablet, TV and phone, so how do we make sure it is consistent?

A great example of this is many apps or even mobile websites have you sign up to create an account or join a loyalty program. Many of these programs have great first offers and what we often see is they have a signup path in mobile apps specifically, but don’t let users know about the benefits. It’s not instantaneous. You can then check your email and see an offer, but now that offer is in email and not added to your digital wallet. It’s about doing little things like that and making sure the full offering has a seamless experience.

One of the things, too, is creative. We need to think about mobile creative in a way that is different than website creative. Oftentimes we see in marketing, the same ad going to a website or banners serving down to the mobile phone. It’s important to create high density artwork and have someone on your team that is responsible for making great mobile assets and making sure the mobile experience is optimized and not an afterthought and looks great on these devices that do such a great job of making rich, beautiful screens.

John Milinovich, CEO of URX

There has been a shift from acquisition to reengagement. If you think about in recent history, the fact that mobile distribution has kind of become a solved problem…but now the core focus is how do you get users who have the app to get back in and start using it? In mobile apps for around five or six years, really the focus was on getting as many users as possible. Now they’re using deep linking to get back into apps and there’s a definite shift towards reengagement.

Something you have to do is take advantage of opportunities out there. Companies that do a really good job are Spotify and Hotel Tonight. I’ll get an email and a push notification when a new song is uploaded from one of my favorite artists. I click on the link and it takes me into the app. That’s figuring out something that is personalized and tailored to me as a user, but makes it easier for me to engage. With Hotel Tonight, if there’s a new special in a new city or a new deal, I get a push notification. If I want to book somewhere, it’s a no brainer that I’m going to use that.

In general, mobile marketers have to figure out ways of leveraging new or emerging channels to drive back into apps. There are different trends in mobile search and how mobile is different than desktop. On the desktop, you can use one app to access the world’s information from a browser, but on mobile, you have 30 different jumping off points.

A lot of the trends we see that will be very, very important is figuring out ways to leverage this cross-app search or figure out ways to take the user from one app to your app when they have the concept/intent.

If I’m Spotify, how do I find places or users who probably want to listen to music, but are tracking their workouts in one app and are learning about their favorite music artists on Billboard. How do you use that as an opportunity to get into the Spotify experience with cross-app promotion?

Partnerships will become really important. That’s something really the most sophisticated marketers are starting.

Andrew Waber, Market Analyst at Chitika

There’s still a lot of flux in terms of what’s working and what’s not. What we’ve observed in the mobile ad industry is that it continues to operate much in the same way as traditional online advertising – primarily large buyers are looking at mobile web and apps as extensions of their existing advertising. There’s a national ad buy…and they are targeting those same users, but with slightly adaptive creative for platforms on mobile. It’s not necessarily bad, but there’s a lingering immaturity of the ecosystem in mobile ads.

I believe that this situation is similar to what you found in search marketing prior to something like AdWords. What Google AdWords did was democratize the industry – “These are the keywords we [the advertiser] want to target, let’s target them.” And really the technology which stands to do that in the mobile ad industry is mobile RTB. It’s already in full swing, but as consumers move toward mobile, advertisers are initially looking for relevance again based on “How can I target the right demographic with the right subject?” Still the terms you’d think about in the traditional sense, but with the biggest trend is being location.

What RTB stands to do is really change the paradigm of what location does. For mobile advertising and mobile advertisers, location is a much better targeting criteria. In the early ecosystem, mobile ad targeting is time consuming and it’s expensive for most people. If you’re a smaller company and want to hit users in a particular geography in mobile, it’s a much more difficult task. There are limitations and expertise on that if you want to run a more traditional ad campaign and there are all sorts of larger players that have tie-ins with mobile ad networks and exchanges. Really, with RTB, you have the ability to pick and choose what you’re looking for and deliver on a small scale rather than broad campaigns.

The format of mobile ads has been pretty static. People are thinking about the best model to go against. What would be really interesting to see is how these models change in terms of the look and feel of the mobile ad space going forward – pre-roll ads and that kind of thing. I’d be interested to see the next format that will get users engaged without being detrimental to the mobile experience. I don’t necessarily know what’s next, but obviously it’s coming and there are going to be changes and seeing how those changes materialize will be interesting to watch. I know we’ve had some success recently — and this goes along with changing formats – for image-based advertising units, which will dominate more.

Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie

Deep linking is happening in which you can link from the web to an app from a development perspective, but users may not know they’re going from the web to an app, or they’re less aware, which creates interesting opportunities and problems from a marketer’s perspective.

From an opportunity perspective, the companies that have apps, but don’t have great mobile websites could benefit enormously. They can do more mobile interaction and leverage the app, driving traffic from Facebook and Twitter to the app instead of not being able to market to a mobile audience because the website is bad.

The problem is that if you have an app and a website and people don’t know which one they’re on or are less aware of when they move from the web experience to the app experience, if you have an app that does some things and a website that does something similar, but the user is unclear, they don’t know what to expect: “I was just here yesterday, but it had different navigation,” and tomorrow it’s still different. If you don’t know you’re moving between the app and the website, that could happen a lot.

It’s a lot about the messaging within different platforms and just making sure if you’re a marketer that the calls to action are clear so that if people click on a link, they know they’re opening the app rather than a page on the website.

Google has come out and said, the number of searches total will go from less than half mobile to more than half mobile, so we’re at a tipping point where we’ll start to see overall more mobile searches than desktop. That’s a pretty big deal because it means more people are feeling comfortable to search for information to find answers while they’re away from their computers, which means we have to start thinking about encouraging conversions and behavior that doesn’t necessarily assume that someone is sitting still. So, paying more attention to where they are when they’re accessing digital marketing stuff and understanding more about the use case is a big deal.

And we’re getting also into predictive search with Google Now. It’s an app, but I consider it a testing ground for Google. They do stuff like perceive things based on a phone’s location and other cues. You can see stuff from Gmail, which is creepy, but my phone with Google Now knows when I’m not at home and tells me how long with traffic it will take me to get home and will tell me where I parked my car and knows my favorite TV shows and will tell me when they’re on.

It used to be creepy, but this is a very fresh and new, and I think Google is being very careful about creeping people out. They’re trying, but there’s a utility to it. Whenever you give up privacy, it’s usually for some kind of benefit. What marketers have to do to keep up with that kind of behavior from Google is make people feel comfortable with whatever they’re doing on their website and on their apps.

Jennifer Wong, Director of Marketing at Tune

Brand marketers are now measuring mobile events that tie back to direct results. They aren’t just buying on millions of impressions, but they are starting to also focus on installs, in-app events and the lifetime value of marketing.

There has been a large evolution of mobile app ad creative in the past year. Banner ads or intrusive full-page interstitials are no longer tolerated. Mobile video ads will challenge TV budgets as they prove to capture audience attention. As an example, YouTube and Instagram videos are highly engaging, on the organic and paid sides.

Inbound and organic marketing are no longer siloed tactics. In a recent study, we found the relationship between paid and organic marketing to be very strong – paid installs drive future organic installs by a factor of 1.5. Marketers are now planning paid campaigns – such as burst campaigns – in-line with app store optimization tactics to drive the highest results.

As marketers start to scale mobile marketing, the rise of programmatic will happen to improve execution and transparency. This will allow real-time data to enrich the buys to be more relevant and drive higher conversions.

As more marketers are becoming savvy about the attribution methodologies available in the cookieless world of mobile, they will start to evaluate campaign performance, not just by channel or campaign, but in a holistic view across all marketing activities. Marketers will start to look at multi-touch attributions for user acquisition campaigns to know which channels are better at first touch/brand awareness or which ones are better at converting users down the funnel. As users continue to bounce from device to device, often starting the purchase funnel on one device and making the purchase on another device, marketers will also be able to attribute across devices to better understand buying behavior and better plan their media strategy accordingly. If there is no measurement and attribution, spending on mobile can’t scale.

Marketers will quickly transition their marketing and advertising resources to mobile to match where consumers are spending most of their time. Mobile adoption has happened so quickly, marketers are struggling to catch up. CMOs have the chance to increase market cap gain without increasing budget by reallocating resources to mobile.

Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate

While mobile traffic doesn’t convert to purchase at the same rate as tablet or desktop, mobile is driving product discovery. Today, products live everywhere and the plethora of shopping/product discovery apps is making it easier for consumers to gain inspiration. Going forward, we’re going to see an increased emphasis on moving from inspiration to transaction. Doing this will require mobile marketers to make it incredibly easy to consolidate all relevant information related to a product in one place, make that product information easily accessed by third party apps, and reduce the steps involved in checking out.

More than 80 percent of marketers understand the significance of mobile marketing, and yet just 3 percent of the overall digital budget is allocated to this area. This discrepancy demonstrates a major disconnect between awareness and action, but also a major opportunity for the brands that go after this mobile audience and get it right.

Visual social channels like Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram are creating opportunities for brands to connect and engage with consumers in unique, meaningful ways. And still, social accounts for just 11 percent of the overall digital marketing investment, when in reality, these networks are among some of the most competitive and fruitful environments out there today.

Consumers are spending more and more of their time interacting with brands on mobile. For digital marketers, it’s not just about spending more; it’s about spending smart — in a way that drives meaningful traffic and revenue.

To date, it has been tough for marketers to justify investment on mobile-first social platforms like Instagram, mainly because the link to ROI has been far less direct than paid and organic search initiatives. At Curalate, we want to solve for this. With our latest Like2Buy solution, brands can now drive consumers from Instagram – the so-called “king of social engagement”- to mobile web pages. Already, we are seeing a 32 percent average increase in time spent on brands’ mobile websites compared to a brand’s average mobile user. We see this as a tremendous and untapped opportunity.

What do you see as the biggest mobile marketing trends today and coming down the pike?