Perspective: R/GA's Ross Popoff-Walker On Creative Mobile Strategy
In order to further our understanding of the behaviors developing around mobile technology, we have been reaching out to experts across the globe for their unique insights. By doing this, we are able to escape ourselves and become exposed to new perspectives.
Ross Popoff-Walker is a senior interaction designer in the Mobile and Emerging platforms group at R/GA. The group is tasked with spreading mobile and social design thinking across the agency’s many teams and accounts. Previously he was at Modernista! in Boston, focused on bringing digital to the agency. Before that, writing for Forrester Research, covering young consumer strategy. He has a Masters from Carnegie Mellon in Entertainment Technology, a hybrid of interactive and game design.
You’ve spent time at Forrester observing consumer behavior, how has this research mindset affected the way you plan mobile strategy?
Spending time with Forrester’s data and research methodologies helped paint a broad picture of consumer behavior. Agency mindsets often take an early adopter world-view, and assume that buzz in the mobile space is widely shared by end users.
But not everyone is frequently downloading branded apps on their iPhones – quite the opposite. The mobile landscape is highly varied, and I think the best approach is a diversified one, such as Facebook has coupled their multi-platform app with a simple SMS system.
Mobile is exploding, every day we see numbers pour in about industry growth over the next several years. While it is optimistic, what roadblocks do you see for brands? What opportunities for creative strategy?
I think the biggest creative challenge for any brand is digging deep to find what meaningful interactions will augment their customer experience. Mobile devices are such a personal technology. Yet most brands will try to prioritize their business goals above basic consumer desires, like contextual information and utility. There needs to be a nudge towards user-centricity for brands to succeed in the mobile medium.
Do you notice industries with more potential for mobile marketing?
I don't think any industry could *not* benefit from some from of mobile marketing, as long as the marketing tactic pairs well with the brand and audience. Brands with a physical retail presence, especial large shops like Target or Best Buy, have a huge opportunity for enhancing the in-store shopping experience, from way-finding to check out -- but so can digital brands, too. ZipCar's app completely simplifies their customer experience.
Are there any technologies that you are excited about? Have you been following any specific developments in mobile culture or user behavior?
Sure! It’s fascinating how important mobile devices have become to the developing and unbanked world. Of course in Japan, but even in Kenya people are using basic SMS services like MPESA to exchange funds. It’s amazes me how the networked world knows no bounds, and where there is a cultural shift, technology provides a solution.
Google Shopper and Layar on Android have both helped blur the lines between the physical/digital divide, and I think augmented reality will especially find more practical applications soon. Personally I’ve developed an obsession for iPhone photo apps -- TiltShift Gen and Hipstimatic are two faves.
I'd bet my monopoly money on the global mobile landscape leveling out. Ubiquitous smartphone ownership will change things radically. Niche behaviors like location check-in will become accepted by the mainstream.
Mobile app design is going to alter the design of everything else. Simplified navigation, reduced clutter, personalization, context-aware, and communications-focused – all of that makes for a good mobile experience. When everyone is walking around with those design paradigms in their pocket, they’ll start to expect it from every medium.
What are your top three mobile marketing efforts and why?
In the brand space Nike Plus has a special place for me. It’s the reason I came to R/GA, and still remains my favorite example of a successful marketing effort combining products with a digital service and community. Unrelated, Tumblr is another service that I always come back to as simple, effective design, and I hope it shifts to mobile lifestreaming more.
But still in the forefront of my mind is the outpouring of SMS donations during the aftermath of Haiti. The uniqueness of that tragedy itself prompted such support, but it was the first time the mobile channel was mature enough as a consumer behavior to be so effective, and inspiring to see the potential of this channel as a positive force.