By Ravi Pimplaskar, Director of Marketing

The “lean-back” is back! Last month we wrote about the power of the “lean-back” opportunity for publishers. But the power of the “lean-back” moment  is bigger than that – it is a consumer behavior trend that is also driving and creating different kinds of mobile engagement moments for consumers, wireless carriers, and brand advertisers as well.  The “Lean-Back” revolution is upon us – and it will not be televised. But perhaps streamed from your smartphone.

What does leaning back mean?

The definition of “lean-back” when it comes to how we enjoy media has evolved. “Leaning-back” when referring to content consumption first referred to our “ritualistic pleasure” of kicking back on our couch or feet up on a table channel surfing the TV or flipping through our favorite newspaper or magazine. Today, however, we now “lean-back” on our mobile phones when we’re on the go!

Now I know you are thinking “Dude, I have never used my mobile phone while walking like this.” But the spirit of the lean-back is less about our “physical posture”, and more about our  “mental psyche” when we engage with media on our devices. Think back of when you were in a doctor’s waiting room and you would see a plethora of magazines in front of you. You probably didn’t know whether you had 15 seconds or 30 minutes because, well, you know… they’re called waiting rooms for a reason. But you’d pick up something and just scan til something interesting caught your eye.

Contrast this with how you might have read the Sunday paper. In this case, we are pulling out our favorite sections (sports for me, please!) and savoring them to the last drop. This is much different – and referred to as “leaning in”. You are engaged in the specific items you are reading and therefore something else in the paper or even on the page is less likely to catch your eye.

 Lean-Back in the Computing Era

As you might imagine, the advent of computers and the World Wide Web changed “lean-back” and “lean in” moments dramatically. At first, computers were the ultimate “lean in” medium. We would sit stationary and “lean into” into our documents – whatever they might be. For a little while, the Internet changed that.

 Many credit Jakob Nielsen with being the first to discuss engagement difference in the digital era. In 1997, Nielsen wrote “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.”

 This “lean-back” (or passive) engagement led to blogs and other more “bite-sized” web writing that now has become the norm in the digital space. As the web became saturated with blogs, social media, and other short form content, another big development transformed computers once again from a “lean-back” medium to a “lean in” medium: internet search. Once we were able to quickly find the things we wanted without having to browse through myriads of pages – we would once again go to our computers intent on finding the specific things we desired.

 The Smartphone and the Lean-Back Revolution

 When internet on phones first came out, we didn’t quite use it in the way we do today. With limited data plans and slow speeds our usage was much more task-oriented. We needed something. There was an emergency. We would only use them to browse, search, and purchase things as we were planning. But then phones improved, networks got bigger, and data plans became unlimited.

 Now, with the shackles off, our smartphones have become our lifeline. When we have spare moments in our day, we habitually pick up our smartphone and swipe and tap our way through it until we find something that engages us. This “passive engagement” makes us more influenceable to content and ads we may come across on the way – much in the same way as we could be easily seduced by something shiny when scanning the magazines in the doctor’s waiting room.

 The “lean-back” behavior on phones is a growing trend. We have discussed previously in this space how we pick up our phones almost half the time without a specific task in mind. This leads to a lot of “snacking” on content that we didn’t necessarily intend to. These influenceable moments are huge opportunities for carriers and advertisers to engage subscribers. The key, however, is to be creative. Mobile Posse’s Firstly Mobile thrives in these moments because it utilizes new interfaces designed to intersect the user in the mobile journey and capture their attention. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to show you how it can work for you!

Check back in the Firstly Newsroom next month where we will be publishing our first ever “lean-back” metrics.