02 Jul

Beating Facebook Home: Four Tips for Carriers, Publishers and OEMs

Original Article from Wireless Week

Facebook Home has brought a great debate to the table. There’s no question that consumers spend more time with their mobile phones than any other device, plus new data from Nielsen Mobile Trends shows that the mobile homescreen is where consumers spend most (26%) of their time on mobile.

But with Facebook Home, the social media giant is attempting to take over the home screen. They’ve imposed on the mobile handset’s last sacred piece of “beach front property.” When a phone today is so much more than just a a phone, when it’s a watch, a weathervane, a GPS and a camera – that’s a pretty big imposition. It’s like taking that beachfront real estate and building a view-blocking 100-story office building.

In fact, the leading venture capitalist firm Bessemer Venture Partners recently valued this real estate at more than $1B per 1/4 inch. Losing that HUGE an opportunity should be hard to swallow for wireless carriers, mobile publishers and advertisers.

Early juries seem to concur that Facebook has stumbled in its effort to own the shoreline. But it is only a stumble. With a prize so great, you can count on Facebook and others coming back for a second swipe.

So carriers, publishers and OEMs must take the time NOW to dive in and stake a claim. As Facebook has so graciously demonstrated, a home screen take over is not for amateurs. Done right, it can be a useful and user-friendly utility for consumers. Done wrong, it’s an obtrusive hack of a once-familiar interface.

It’s time to get started, and here are some tips for doing it right:

Start Now – Let’s face it… Facebook and HTC are already ahead of you in the race to own this beachfront real estate. The longer you wait, the larger the erosion in our customer base.

Save our Shore – Any homescreen “takeover” has to be friendly, rather than hostile. This was Facebook’s biggest faux pas – the homescreen went from beachfront to jungle, and the terrain became completely unfamiliar and tough to traverse for handset owners. To be successful, you need to work with the mobile OS, not against it. The handset owner still needs to have control over their handset and user experience. It’s a delicate balance, and one that must be respected.

Great Content – Arguably, the most important element of a homescreen takeover app is the content. The best content will be user selected and dynamically updated. Obviously, media companies have the advantage here: If you’re ESPN, sports fans everywhere will clamor for “ESPN Home,” which will (ideally) allow users to select their favorite teams and players for their homescreen news feeds. Scores and stats would be updated in real-time. A ticker with the latest hockey or football news might stream across the bottom. Photos from the day in sports might dynamically update the home and lock screens.

Non-media companies – like carriers or OEMs – would be wise to choose to partner with media companies or quality publishers for fresh content. The key is to offer a variety of niche content so users can choose topics about which they’re passionate.

Relevant, Unobtrusive Ads – We mentioned it before, and it bears repeating: the customer comes first. When you’re invited to someone’s home (screen), good manners are appreciated. Hammering a consumer with messages on any channel is annoying; doing so on their homescreen is downright obnoxious. You have been invited into their quiet beachfront estate, and they have provided you a great deal of information about themselves and their device. Show these consumers that you’ve earned their respect and their trust by keeping messages timely, helpful and polite. You have enough data to be relevant and helpful – you know who they are, and what they like. The challenge for many will be putting the customer’s needs before their own.

And yet, this is the most important barrier between success and failure. The user simply has to come first. Just because we have the information and the real estate doesn’t mean we can run roughshod all over it. Perhaps standards are necessary to safeguard the customer experience, to ensure that messaging is respectful and permission-based. (Those standards should also address technology to address multiple operating systems and handset types, but that’s another story for another day.) At any rate, companies considering a takeover must consider the handset owner’s wants and needs ahead of their marketing goals. If the consumer is happy, marketing success is sure to follow.

Greg Wester is executive vice president of business development and general manager of research/data product for Mobile Posse.