Mobile: Where Cognitive Anthropology Meets Marketing

Technology is great but we must not forget that the future has an ancient, living heart. Human nature keeps that vital organ pumping in search of predictability, comfort and hope.

People now view more Web pages on their iPhone browsers than on Windows Mobile or many dot-com platforms. However, before manufacturers can increase the ROI and loyalty from the mobile experience, designers need to leverage more than just another device or provide location data and proximate points of interest to eat or shop.

Maximizing eyeballs – spray and pay – is not enough. With all this platform and device choice, attention often becomes so fragmented and frenetic, content so sliced and diced, that people come away feeling less “situated” than at the outset of their search.

Managing their place

Regardless of creative bent, personality or profession, human beings seek a sense that “their world is a manageable place and they are good.”

People want to feel that they can, in the words of the archetypal battlefield commander who after briefing troops on his plan, says, “Move Out!”

It is not that people expect the world to be their oyster, but they want the confidence that stems from feeling they have the lay of the land so they can move forward with their chins up. That is the real “search” experience people want.

Nowadays, more often than not, we feel that we live in a world that is too fast, too competitive and too unpredictable. It is not that people do not have answers. They rightly do not know what questions to ask.

The name of the current context of the world is, “I do not know the name of the current context of the world.”

Today, so much is commoditized, especially connectivity and content. Even time is commoditized.

People are living in an endless series of staccato “nows.” Context is lost, resulting is a diminution of long-term motivation. The search for finding an expanded-me has been derailed.

The ubiquitous mobile opportunity

This is where mobile can come in. Mobile devices are always with us. They are handy or in our pocket, and become part of our body and image. This makes them different. It makes them intimate and unique for helping people establish a firmer footing.

In these streaming digital times, agencies need to produce always-with-me experiences and participatory venues for mobile consumers.

These experiences must go beyond slogans, sales shout-outs and exaggerated snippets of behavior. They must create seamlessly integrated communications wherein video material is interwoven with other presentation forms – some user- and pro-sumer-generated – all in the service of broader brand stories that fit into real peoples’ real lives.

To do this, agencies must understand people, not just technology. (Parenthetically, each person is a unity of many parts. Agencies should follow a similar organizational plan.)

Design for coherence

So that people do not feel constantly overloaded and splintered, successful digital agencies should design digital and mobile experiences that provide a sense of coherence among the myriad of “unconnected dots.”

Then, individuals could flourish and in that personal blooming an enhanced sense of community would emerge. A vital life vitalizes everything around it.

To convert the pressure of time rushing by to time well spent takes more than a few new bells and whistles.

Agencies must transition from connectivity, to content, to context, such that each of their clients is perceived as a partner, not just as a provider of product.

This requires a vision of the company as more than a bullhorn for sales, but a facilitator of customers’ self-expansion. That is the leader who makes everyone else the center of attention. That’s the Ur-Leader – the one who is valuable, not just available.

Culture is a mega-structure that creates an undergirding to peoples’ quest for meaning. It enables individual exploration and creativity within a social matrix.

Current times have largely shattered that structure. The irony might be that a little handheld mobile device, a modern invention par excellence, could evoke a sense of culture by helping people situate themselves in a world where space and time have been obliterated.

Agencies need to become purveyors of culture, not just hawkers of products or multi-platform razzmatazz.

Bob Deutsch is a cognitive anthropologist and founder/president of Brain Sells, a strategic advisory practice that works with companies to reinvent how they assess the mind and mood of consumers and design effective communications. Reach him at

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