A Marketer’s Cheat Sheet on the Mobile Platform Economy

Growing opportunities for marketers, and what they need to know

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When Steve Jobs launched Apple’s App Store during the infancy of the first generation iPhone, he did it with one goal in mind: sell more iPhones. Jobs hypothesized that by creating a platform for developers to build apps on, it would increase the value of the iPhone, thus propelling the new smartphone to unprecedented heights. While the idea of a platform was not new, the App Store helped launch and shape the mobile platform economy land grab we see today.

Today, the number of platforms for marketers to use is growing. But of course, not all platforms are created equal (or will end up with equal value in terms of users, mind share, and regular use). It’s important for marketers to be aware of the different mobile platforms for one simple reason: just like a fisherman, marketers need to go where the fish are. If your customers or potential customers are using different platforms, it’s imperative to go where they are to acquire and engage them.

What is the platform economy?

The most basic definition of a platform is a technology that allows other businesses to connect and build on top of it. As the internet evolves, more businesses are shifting their focus to becoming a platform. Platforms enable smaller companies to build, innovate, and grow faster while the platforms ensure their parent companies that they will be relevant for years to come.

Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have matured beyond their core products and have created mobile platforms that support thousands of businesses and products across the globe.

We now have entire ecosystems of products and companies built on top of other people’s technology, which didn’t exist just a few years ago. As the platforms mature, and user adoption increases, we’re only going to see the platform economy strengthen.

What are examples of mobile platforms?

Unclear on what a mobile platform actually is? Here are four examples to give you a better idea.

Apple, iOS: The mobile operating system used by Apple, which powers its App Store, is one of the more popular mobile platforms. Entire companies have been built on top of iOS (i.e. Instagram) while other companies like Quartz have built native iOS apps to connect with their audiences.

Google, Android: Android is Google’s answer to iOS. While it’s popular for startups to create beta versions on top of iOS at launch, Android actually has three times the number of total users.

Facebook, Messenger: Chatbots are a popular topic right now within the tech ecosystem. Companies are looking to automate valuable interactions, like customer service, to their audience at a large scale. American Express is an example of a company that has developed a Facebook Messenger bot, which allows users to access their accounts.

LINE: This messaging app and platform is big among media and entertainment brands, like the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Hulu, for example. The platform grew out of an effort to ease emergency communications following a the 2011 earthquake in Japan, and has a smaller audience than Facebook Messenger, but its 200+ million active users is still impressive. LINE lets users add brands as friends, and brands can then can send users direct messages and links to longer posts.

Why do you need to understand mobile platforms?

We have been seeing a paradigm shift from web 2.0 to a mobile-first world. As our attention increasingly shifts to our smartphones, it represents endless possibilities for marketers.

However, while our eyes might be glued to our smartphones, our attention is finite. Mobile users only actually use an average of three apps on a daily basis. Mobile platforms have coalesced into a handful of major players. This means that marketers need to optimize their strategies to leverage these mobile platforms to connect with their audience.

It’s always nice for companies and brands to connect with people on their own channels (i.e. blogs and websites) but that’s an increasingly difficult task. Marketers must be keen on the different mobile platforms and the user behavior that accompanies them.

For example, CNN has been able to increase its audience and reach by embracing a multi-platform approach. Instead of concentrating marketing efforts solely on its proprietary channel, app, and website, CNN uses these different mobile platforms to make it easier for users to engage with CNN’s content “in a context that makes sense for them.” By packaging news specifically built for platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, CNN is able to better engage with its audience. For example, a casual Snapchatter who never visits the CNN homepage might now rely on CNN for daily news because of its Snapchat Discover channel.

What are the drawbacks of mobile platforms?

Perhaps the most glaring drawback is the fact your brand doesn’t own the platform. You are making a major investment in a technology you don’t have any control over. You are susceptible to whatever the platform decides, when they decide to do it.

“If you build a business on somebody else’s platform,” About.com CEO Neil Vogel said, “ultimately they don’t have your best interests at heart; they have their best interests at heart.”

Like your financial investment strategy, the best way to combat the dangers of drastic platform changes is diversification. By balancing your marketing strategy across different platforms, as well as owned channels, you can safely invest your time in mobile platforms without worrying that your brand could be vulnerable in the future.

What’s ahead

The internet and use of connected devices are moving to a world of rentals; where everyone is renting a little bit of real estate on someone’s platform. But this also presents great opportunities. Instead of spending countless hours creating an audience from nothing, companies are able to tap into multiple communities of already established audiences across different mobile platforms.

As your marketing team looks toward the future, it will be important to assess the mobile platforms available to you, determine what potential you have on each platform, and prioritize which platform is most appropriate for your business.

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