Not only will we depend on the mobile phone for voice and message communications, we'll also depend on the device for transmitting data of all sorts - data types we simply could not have imagined a few years ago. Hundreds, if not thousands, of product types will travel to and from us via the mobile device. Just as a massive volume of data has become the main traffic along today's LAN (fixed line) systems, so too will wireless data traffic usurp the place the voice currently commands.
Let's take a look at what's currently happening in, probably, the world's most wireless-technology-advanced country: Japan. The hottest trend in Tokyo is the so-called "catch-a-friend" concept. Combining the user's built-in address book with GPS technology, the concept alerts the user, minutes in advance, of a listed number owner's imminent approach. The alert categorises the advancing individual as a friend or business contact automatically, allowing the user to "catch-a-friend" for a cup of coffee, a quick chat, or whatever social or business needs recommended.
Besides subjecting users to the quandary of having to decide whether they?re going to "catch" the friend for coffee, or avoid the contact by ducking behind a bus shelter at the last minute, the concept has given entree to a new business - online coupons. And business is booming.
How does it work?
Attached to every one of those pesky or welcome alert messages is an online voucher. The voucher might offer the mobile phone user two cups of coffee for the price of one at the nearest Starbucks. Cheap coffee? Problem solved - the user decides to "catch" the friend and take up the timely offer.
It's no coincidence that the Japanese have already developed new and interesting revenue models like this. These revenue raisers improve the odds of m-commerce survival and make those odds substantially more attractive than the chances attending most e-commerce revenue models to date.
One of the first true m-commerce models saw daylight in Japan as early as 1999 when NTT DoCoMo, one of the world's largest telecommunication companies, launched the "compose-a-song" concept. This enabled users to write their own song for transmission to a friend - free of charge. While on the surface it might've seemed as if it's free, this m-commerce concept did attract revenue. Every time the phone rang, a couple of yen being charged according to the number of tones used in the ringing melody.
There is more. The very latest craze to hit Tokyo is "the glowing nails" service. Well, you've probably guessed what this must be: the users' false plastic fingernails light up when their mobile phones ring - much more fun than being alerted by the usual ringing tone - to most Japanese subscribers anyways.
True communication possibilities
There are two important characteristics that all these concepts share. The first is that they are based on simple but creative ideas which don't necessarily demand the understanding of high-tech minds. The second thing is that they are driven by one-to-one thinking - they focus on direct dialogue between users.
The one-to-one vision is at the heart of the future of m-commerce. Why? Because of the human's inalienable sense of self, described by the elements in life, material and immaterial. When did you last lend someone your watch? I'll bet the occasion has yet to arise, right? But when did you last lend a friend your computer? Not so unlikely; you've probably borrowed one yourself.
But, when did you last lend a friend your mobile phone? Not such a comfortable idea? The point I'm making here is that the mobile phone has become a personal possession like a watch. Simply because the data stored on the mobile device is your own - it belongs and to certain extent defines you.
This is not only interesting from a marketing point of view; it screams "true communication possibilities" to every professional marketeer. It's also interesting from a pure consumer (communications) perspective. Phone data carrying unimaginable information - reflects behaviour and lifestyle - is direct, personalised and relevant to the development of mobile communication industry.
However, risk is present in the highly personalised nature of the mobile phone capability - the echoing issue of privacy is troubling us all. Spamming (the practice of sending unsolicited advertising, in quantity) on mobile phones is likely to become just as frequent, if not more so, than today's Internet e-mail spamming. One initial response to this nascent possibility can be observed in Australia where an application has been recently submitted to the federal government to consider banning direct SMS to mobile phones. Interestingly, the application was filed by the Australian Association of Direct Marketing - a move which displays both respect and fear of the new communication channel.
There is no doubt, though, that SMS will take off. A quick glimpse at the Philippines, shows the world that the user's income isn't a barrier to SMS use. With a population of more than 80 million people, an average of 24 SMS messages is sent by a single person per day - it's cheap enough. The point about SMS is its capacity to act as a relevant, one-to-one based communication tool, and because of that relevance and one-to-one capability, enhances individual's life.
Today, majority of the Philippine people are used to receiving commercial messages, often containing personalised offers, customised news and location sensitive information - on daily basis. All accounts report that this suits the Philippine consumer down to the ground.
A seductive question
What are we likely to see on our mobile phones in the near future?
Gambling is probably your best bet. In Hong Kong one of the most popular m-commerce service is wireless gambling. The service provides rapid information updates and enables the user to act, or react instantly.
Moreover, the information on which the subscriber is dependent on is concentrated in one spot - the mobile device. It's not a split between several media and, therefore, doesn't subject the user to additional distractions. Wireless gambling in Hong Kong has already proven to be so successful. Several new ventures are in the process of introducing m-gambling throughout the rest of Asia as the region's first m-commerce launch. More generally, we're also likely to see the mobile phone used as a shopping tool. One day you'll use your mobile phone to navigate around the supermarket, to receive advice on purchase decisions, and even to receive advice on subsequent product use. The mobile phone will be so closely tight to your purchasing and decision-making action, it can be easily referred to as instant-commerce.
Timely messages, sent to individual consumers, right at the moment of their purchase decisions, have proven to be one of the most effective POS (point of sale) tools ever invented. And you know why. The mobile phone follows the consumer around, it's close by their side, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and it's rarely lent to another individual.
For most marketeers, this highly personal and personalisable tool must be a dream coming true. I am still waiting for such services.
Martin Lindstrom is recognized as one of the world's primary online branding gurus. His latest best-selling book Clicks, Bricks and Brands, written in partnership with the 1-to-1 guru team of Don Peppers and Martha Rogers Phd, has revolutionized the book industry with its introduction of the world's first DualBook, a clicks-&-mortar subscription-based book concept.
Martin Lindstrom was a co-founder of Europe's largest Web-development group, BBDO Interactive Europe (today Fremfab), in 1995; co-founder of Australia/Asia's largest interactive agency group, BBDO Interactive in 1997; and, from 1999, COO for BTLookSmart, a worldwide joint venture between British Telecom and LookSmart