A look back at 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011 | 8:00 AM

Mobile turned a corner this year. As smartphones and tablets became a part of our everyday lives, business owners’ conversations shifted from 'Why should I advertise on mobile or build a mobile website?' to 'How do I get started?’.  

Five major industry trends emerged in 2011 that will carry us into 2012, and beyond.

1 - Everyone goes mobile
Smartphones and tablets proved that they weren’t just for the geekiest - er, ‘tech savviest’ - among us.  These devices are increasingly becoming the norm and they continue to change how people connect with each other, and with businesses, everywhere.  According to our research with IPSOS earlier this year:
  • 79% of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping, from comparing prices, to finding more product info, to locating a retailer.
  • 70% use their smartphones while in a store.
  • 77% have contacted a business via mobile, with 61% calling and 59% visiting the local business.

It’s not just that more people are using smartphones and tablets (though the numbers are skyrocketing at an accelerating pace)—it’s that a huge, and fast-growing base of smartphone users, now expect to engage with businesses on mobile. The mainstream consumer got mobilized in 2011.

2 - Mobile search transforms shopping, forever   
Analyzing mobile search trends helped the industry better understand how people were using their mobile devices in 2011.  For starters, we learned a lot about the ‘timing’ of mobile and tablets.  These devices enable us to be constantly connected to the internet, as mobile usage has proven to be complementary to the desktop.  We got a clearer picture of how search is changing the ways we shop and connect with businesses.  More people are looking for deals both en route to stores and within them on mobile - in the retail category, “Black Friday” related mobile queries were over 200% higher this year than in 2010.  Users have also developed some mobile-specific shopping habits - for example, 44% of all searches for last minute gifts and store locator terms are projected to come from mobile devices this holiday season.  For procrastinators, mobile has come to the rescue!

In October, we looked at some of the newest ways marketers can build their businesses via mobile search.  But, this is only the beginning - whether people are trying to find or call a business, compare prices in a store, or visit a site or app directly from their phones, search and search ads will be the tools that shape a new shopping experience, enabling us connect with businesses, research and buy products on or offline, all via mobile.

3 - Progress with the mobile advertising pipes
As an industry, we came a long way in terms of improving the ‘pipes’ - the systems, products and technologies that advertisers use to build, serve, and measure mobile ads.  It’s still early days, but the progress with standards like MRAID and the momentum behind HTML5, are helping to rally the mobile community and make it easier for marketers and customers to connect on the platform.  Getting existing tools to ‘speak mobile’ has been another key to helping mobile advertising grow-up as quickly users and businesses want it to.  Across search and display, the tools the industry is already familiar with are getting mobilized.  There’s plenty of work still to do, but significant progress is being made - watch this space in 2012.

4 - Tablets join the mobile party
Tablets made quite a splash this year.  Usage trends sharpened - we’re seeing that people people use these devices to shop, consume media, have fun, and they do so most frequently in the evenings.  Tablets are a third screen to be reckoned with for marketers - we saw a 440% growth in traffic from tablets in November 2011 compared to December 2010 on the AdMob network.  The business potential is tremendous: not only are users more inclined to shop and make purchases on tablets, but because campaigns can be more effective running across several screens instead of one, tablets offer an incremental opportunity for marketers.  Our research with Nielsen showed that campaigns on several screens can be ‘Better Together’ - indeed, in cases like Adidas’, that proved to be true.

5 - Businesses start (actually) thinking mobile first
Smartphones and tablets aren’t small desktop computers - they’re new devices being used in entirely new ways. This year, businesses began to embrace this at scale and many saw good things happen when they built ad campaigns and websites specifically for mobile.  Ticketsnow’s success with a mobile optimized site - increased site traffic, and more ticket sales - is just one example of the benefits of building for mobile.  Initiatives like GoMo and platform-specific ad features will help businesses better connect with mobile customers in the coming months, and beyond.

It’s hard to believe, but as far as the industry has come in 2011, we’re still in the earliest chapters of mobile’s story.  The ways people connect to businesses on their mobile devices and the tools they’re using to connect from them progressed by leaps and bounds this year and soon, we’ll see the mainstream shift that changes the way mobile connects people with brick-and-mortar storefronts as well.  Mobile will be moving full speed ahead in 2012 so keep those sleeves rolled-up and those seatbelts fastened - we’ll see you then.

Posted by: Karim Temsamani, VP Mobile Ads

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