The trend, as we are told through many news articles, blog posts and breathless talking heads, is toward mobile.

More mobile devices being used. More visits to content on mobile devices. More time spent with mobile devices. More purchases being made from mobile devices. Mobile everything. It’s deafening.

But short of putting in ear plugs, how do we get from the deafening noise of "mobile everything" and translate that into business and marketing strategy? And how do we put this stuff into practice?

The trend, as we are told through many news articles, blog posts and breathless talking heads, is toward mobile.

More mobile devices being used. More visits to content on mobile devices. More time spent with mobile devices. More purchases being made from mobile devices. Mobile everything. It’s deafening.

But short of putting in ear plugs, how do we get from the deafening noise of "mobile everything" and translate that into business and marketing strategy? And how do we put this stuff into practice?

How do we get from saying, "Oh yeah, 2012. Year of mobile. No doubt about it." To: "I feel confident in what I’m doing in mobile and it is working for me and my team."

Focus resources

There are limited resources and then there are truly limited resources. Most marketers, when thinking of limited resources might start with budget or staffing. For real estate agents who are often their own budget and their own staff this is doubly so.

But there are some resources more valuable than these even. Namely, your ability as a marketer to understand a problem and set aside the time to solve it. For noisy trends, like mobile, this can be an especially insidious problem. You need to know more about it and think about it, but the deafening noise can get in the way of the thinking and doing parts that are crucial to getting anything accomplished.

Let me give you an example. About a year an a half ago, when the whole mobile thing was really kicking into high gear, I did a study of Web traffic in Chittenden County, Vt., where I live. I had full access to the metrics of 12 different websites that were, for the most part, focused on local business. A few were real estate, a few were local media outlets, a few were non-profits and small main street businesses.

At the time businesses were wondering how many tens of thousands to pour into mobile app development and so on. Headlines of national publications were talking about the importance of mobile. Conference speakers were talking about the importance of mobile. It was big, just like it is today.

I recently counted up all the web visits that originated in Chittenden County that went to the sites in my study group for a single month. Mobile devices accounted for about 5 percent of visits that originated in Chittenden County.

When I presented my findings to a local business group they were all surprised. They assumed that because national focus and attention was calling out mobile usage as being huge and growing and critically important, that it was something they should be concerned about. Some of them had plans in the works to devote a significantly outsized portion of their budget to pursue this small percentage of actual traffic.

Now, there are some obvious subtleties when we look at something like this. If you don’t have any credible mobile initiatives underway, then of course your mobile traffic would be affected. That wasn’t the case with all of the sites in my study, however, and there wasn’t any noticeable correlation between those with mobile efforts and those without in terms of visits to the site. 

It would appear, from the sample used, that Chittenden County people weren’t using mobile devices that much to access the websites in the sample. From the data, it would be very hard to say otherwise.

The lesson for the people who asked me to do the study was to keep in mind how your actual audience is using this stuff. I’m going to redo this study eventually, and when I do, I expect to see a rise in the amount of mobile traffic from the last time. But I would be more surprised if the increase were on par with what is being shouted from rooftops in the marketing yellow papers — at least for this particular audience.

People before hardware

The key when evaluating trends and adjusting your marketing efforts is to stay focused on people. Ultimately it’s people that we work to help. "Mobile" is hardware. Consumers who need help buying or selling a house are people.

If, in our trend analysis, we focus too much on hardware, we may lose sight of the people using the hardware. Since the data on how people use specific devices is so incredibly thin — and often published by organizations who profit from the sale of hardware or the anecdotal evidence of enthusiasts — it’s better to focus on it from the angle we can best observe: people.

An interesting thing happens if we approach technology in this way. We discover that people, in the service of solving their own problems:

  • use many technologies
  • use many tactics and strategies
  • use many devices
  • communicate with a variety of people
  • vary what they do based on time of day
  • vary what they do based on where they are
  • vary what they do based on who they are with

"Mobile" as a trend, is a like the two-dimensional shadow of four-dimensional human problem solving prowess.

Is it important? Who knows. I would wager that it is. But how important, to whom and at what time — all of that is up to you to figure out on your own. Don’t get deafened along the way.

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