Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's worse than I thought

Since I began writing about Mobile technology and how it will change the face of Non-Profit marketing I’ve been stumbling over more and more information that tells me I’ve been too conservative.

The promise is clear. The power of the web, email, social media, photography, video, music and cell phone service will one day be in the palm of your hand. Today’s smart phones will soon give way to faster, smarter devices that will do all these things and more.

I always thought the day when smart phones and devices take over the Earth and enslave us all with their seductive technology would be decades away. Child of the analog world as I am I still thought about the pace of change in the way I have experienced it. I was wrong.

And this is how I know I was wrong. The “Future of the Internet III” study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed a large number of experts, predicts mobile devices will become the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world by 2020. They also said voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the Internet will be more prevalent and that the divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased.

That means that in a decade or so your primary marketing channels will be radically different than they are today. Your audience will be on the move, receiving and transmitting as they go. They will open your communications in their car, as they walk down the street or watch their kid’s ballet lessons. On the one hand, this will give you potentially more opportunities to engage them. On the other, this will actually shorten their attention span. Sitting down to read a letter from a non-profit is one thing. Trying to read one as you live an even more mobile lifestyle is quite another. Your messaging will have to be tighter, sharper and brighter. The hard lesson of the Web that most non-Profits have missed – that images are more important than words – will become even more acute.

Engagement overall will become harder. With no gaps between social life and work, and technology fuelling more and more online activities, most of your supporters, donors and volunteers will be more busy than ever. Getting them off their mobile devices even for a minute to help you with an event, a survey or to make a donation pitch to them will be a huge challenge.

It also means that the tattered and makeshift technology platform that most non-profits have will likely melt into the ground trying to cope with the changes. In the new mobile world, everything will have to change. Your website will have to be altered to make it more mobile friendly. The large amounts of information non-profits love to bombard supporters and donors with will have to be shortened and refocused. Most non-profits do a poor job collecting emails now. In the future, they’ll also have to collect cell phone numbers. Direct mail will become direct mobile response.

Worse, it will make demands on the two things the non-profit has less and less of – money and skills. There’s no avoiding the truth. The new mobile marketing will cost more. In some cases, it may save money, such as when it replaces print materials. However, the infrastructure required to market to mobile customers won’t be cheap. And who will help deliver those programs? Most marketing and communications people in the industry today are mostly ex-journalists, who have no more expertise in such matters than any of you do. IT skills will be more important than ever.

If the Pew study is right, you’ve got less than a decade to prepare. Start now. The mobile world is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get going right away. Do your homework. Start thinking. Ask your suppliers and providers what they can do for you. Keep track for the trends. And if you really want to be aggressive get your marketing staff smart phones. Having them will act as a catalyst for the change you want to see.

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