The Messages Our Cell Phones Are Sending Us

Posted: March 5, 2012 by Carolyn Pione-Micheli in Innovation, Startup, Technology
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Consider your cell phone.

It’s probably sitting within earshot right now, if not within arm’s reach. Perhaps you are even reading this story on it.

What does your phone say about you? Is it an iPhone? Surveys say iPhone buyers are more image conscious and make more money. Android? Maybe you’re a bit contrarian. Blackberry? You are resistant to change. Or you type a lot on your phone.

Still dialing on a phone that only sends calls and texts? You’re not alone – six in 10 U.S. adults don’t have smartphones. But their use is growing exponentially, and soon you may find one indispensable too.

We have intimate relationships with our cell phones. They stay close to our bodies in a purse or a pocket. They hold the keys to keeping up with our friends — through Facebook and our contacts lists. They store our special photos and our favorite songs. They help us find the nearest Starbucks or Chik-Fil-A. Losing our phones can be disorienting, if not a disaster.

A recent study by CNET found that two in three adults suffer anxiety about being outside the reach of their cell phones.

If there is a 5-year-old in your life, you know this relationship with our smartphones is not just intimate but intuitive. He or she has probably commandeered it and taught you a few tricks. Steve Jobs, in the new biography by Walter Isaacson, says he designed Apple’s screens so we could navigate them instinctively with our touch. This physical connection reinforces our close relationship.

The great 20th century media analyst Marshall McLuhan defined media as a technical extension of our bodies – an idea that was not lost on Steve Jobs and Apple as they put the “personal” in “personal electronics” by mass marketing the touch screen. Perhaps McLuhan’s most well-known idea was that the medium is the message: The type of medium we use to consume our “message” affects how we interpret it. The medium doesn’t get much closer than our tiny personal digital assistants.

This intimate relationship with our smartphones is becoming central to the strategies of those trying to sell us things. They understand our emotional connection. They know it goes with us everywhere, and they can track our locations with it. What better place to send us marketing messages?

You may have noticed by now that the sophistication of their sales effort goes way beyond tiny text-banner ads. The iPhone and Android app markets hold dozens of shopping tools, from Groupon to shopkick, Amazon Mobile and many retailer-specific apps. Location-based apps find you and craft their messages to your location.

Of the four in 10 U.S. adults who do have a smartphone now, according to Forrester Research, 29 percent use the phone for shopping.

Cincinnati, as a national hub of consumer marketing, is seeing tremendous mobile activity at its local ad agencies, most of which are largely focused these days on helping companies reach their customers on their desktops and through their smart phones.

At CincyTech, which invests in technology-based start-up companies in Cincinnati, at least 14 of our companies have some kind of mobile technology that helps advertisers reach people. Some of them, such as Samplesaint and Zipscene, have designed tools that help retailers track buying behavior among their customers. Others help people buy products or find attractions and services.

This is a rich area for future entrepreneurship as well, and we’d love to see new partnerships with local agencies and pillar companies such as Procter, Macy’s and Kroger to develop the next big ideas in mobile marketing.

It was with this context in mind – and Cincinnati’s great marketing talent at hand – that the idea came about for a conference focused totally on mobile technology. The Greater Cincinnati Venture Association and its partners have worked with MobileX in Lexington to organize a six-track conference that ranges from entrepreneurs and investors to technical, workshops, social media and marketing and corporate enterprise.

More than 200 people had registered to attend as of early last week. If you have a need to understand our relationships with our cell phones – or just an interest in it – we hope you will join us.

Carolyn Pione Micheli is communications director for CincyTech. 

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