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Like my colleagues who serve Interactive Marketing professionals and are working on a study to benchmark social media maturity in organizations, we’re also conducting a new research project to benchmark how companies define and implement their mobile consumer approach.

Taking a step back, mobile phones have changed the way we live and communicate in the past 10 years. They’ve had a deep effect on society. At Forrester, we believe they’ll change the way companies do business in the next 10 years. Back in 2007, the iPhone created a market catalyst, not only in the way consumers use and perceive mobile phones but also in the way companies engage with their customers in the mobile environment. Since then, a growing number of companies have launched a mobile consumer presence and started to define a road map for their mobile products and services. Some of them are still testing and learning, while many companies are starting to integrate mobile in their corporate strategies, and others have already created dedicated mobile business units and plan to generate millions of €/$ per month in direct revenues. They follow different objectives — whether building brand loyalty, delivering added-value services in a multichannel experience, reducing costs, or acquiring new customers. 

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Back From Italy

I spent some time last week in Italy, where I regularly visit clients to discuss mobile opportunities.

I always try to spend a few hours visiting operators' shops and getting hold of some brochures. The ones below from Telecom Italia are very typical of a certain type of Italian ad...

Beyond this, however Italy is a very interesting market to study. It is wrongly perceived as leading in Europe because of its huge penetration rate — more than 140% — which doesn’t mean much, per se. Put simply, it links to the high ratio of prepay phones and to the multi-SIM phenomenon, in which Italian consumers take advantage of the most attractive tariffs. For example, handset subsidies are not common and were introduced by Tre (greenfield operator Hutchison Whampoa), the operator with the highest postpay market share.

However, Italian consumers are starting to demonstrate sophisticated mobile usage. An example: At the end of 2009, 15% of Italian online users accessed the mobile Internet on a weekly basis and more than 10% were interested in receiving contextualized mobile coupons. I see numerous examples of mobile innovation, and many companies (from media groups to banks) are starting to integrate mobile into their corporate strategies. I am, however, surprised by the lack of a cohesive and consistent approach. Few companies have a clear understanding of how their own customers use mobile services and what their attitudes toward mobile are. That's the first step in assessing mobile opportunities. For example, does it make sense to launch an Android application if you don't know how many of your customers own an Android device? Few companies have defined clear and measurable objectives or have a vision of how they want to integrate mobile as part of a multichannel and multimedia approach moving forward.

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The End Of "All-You-Can-Eat" Mobile Data Plans?

Following AT&T's decision in the US ten days ago (see my colleague Charles Golvin's take here), there's a hot debate as to whether European operators will follow suite and stop their unlimited mobile Internet pricing schemes.

O2 UK announced no later than last Friday that it will stop it and introduce various caps: from 500MB for the cheapest one (GBP25 with 100 minutes and unlimited texts) up to 1GB for the most expensive (GBP60 for unlimited voice/SMS and 1GB of mobile Internet).

According to the press release, 97% of O2 smartphone customers would not need to buy additional data allowances, as the lowest bundle (500MB) provides at least 2.5 times the average O2 customer’s current use. In short, just 3% of customers will have to pay extra.

Other UK operators as well as KPN in the Netherlands and Orange France have shared indications that they will follow suite and that this pricing scheme is outdated. Here are a couple of thoughts:

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What's The Future Of Application Stores?

At the beginning of this year, we stated that application stores would continue to flourish, but none would replicate Apple's success in 2010. So far, it has been quite easy not to be proven wrong on this one. Android Market and, to a lesser extent, RIM's BlackBerry App World are growing fast in the US, while Nokia's OVI is performing quite well in some regions. Windows Marketplace is likely to benefit from end-of-year Windows 7 sales, while Samsung Apps are not yet really marketed, not to mention LG's efforts. The Wholesale Applications Community (the operators' alliance) has not yet launched. Global operators have yet to significantly launch their own multiplatform stores. Both approaches (the vertically integrated from handset manufacturers/OS players and the horizontal layer added by operators) are likely to continue to expand this year, making it even more complex for brands and companies launching their own applications. Many of them are starting to realize that there is a world outside of Apple's iPhone and that their app will be lost in a back catalog of more than 200,000 apps if they don't market it. They are starting to wonder how to break the Apple App Store ranking algorithm, how much to invest in the life cycle of their application, and which stores they should target to distribute their products and services. I see a couple of key issues that need to be tackled to seriously address this market opportunity:

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