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5 mobile developments that mattered in 2014

Beacons? emergence as a powerful engagement tool topped the list of most important mobile marketing developments in 2014, a year marked by more consumers than ever embracing smartphones and tablets for everyday activities. 

Also prominent in the just-completed year were increasingly personal marketing campaigns, adaptive-designed Web mobile sites, a social media resurgence, video?s growing use and the general public?s continuing mobile-mind shift. 

"The year of mobile has finally concluded its multi-year reign and transitioned into a truly cross-device effort,? said Chris Hansen, president of Netmining. ?We are seeing mobile marketing beginning to live up to its full potential with everything from cross-device remarketing campaigns to sequential creative ? leveraging audience data beyond the siloed walls of a given channel.? 

Here?s a look at the most important mobile-marketing events of 2014, and how they undergirded mobile?s reshaping of the marketing and retail landscape, part of the quest to shape messages that generate desire, shape perceptions, build trust and ultimately lead to sales.

Beacons emerge
Beacons were the big story in 2014 as retailers, sports stadiums, transportation centers and municipalities looked to the low-cost, low-energy Bluetooth-enabled technology to enhance the on-site experience for consumers. Spurred by the potential of Apple?s iBeacon, beacons in general moved from a promising, lightly tested tool to a strategy that can make a significant difference in engagement, if not in-store sales, while seamlessly bridging physical and online experiences. 

Beacons in Oracle Arena, home of pro basketball's Golden State Warriors.

Beacons detect nearby smartphones and send them ads, coupons or supplementary product information. They can also be used as point-of-sale systems and to collect information on consumers ? particularly on how consumers maneuver through stores.

Reflecting the prevailing trend and consumers? growing openness to beacon-generated mobile ads, Macy?s announced that 4,000 beacons would be coming to all its department stores..

?While marketers and AdTech companies continue experimenting and investing in new types of mobile ad units, programmatic, native ads, and mobile conversion ads, apart from beacons, nothing else that launched in 2014 clearly demonstrated a fundamental paradigm shift in mobile marketing strategy,? said Aaron McLean, partner and senior vice president for marketing and strategic partnerships with Meg.

However, while beacons have a lot going for them, they do represent challenges such as poor device reach, with many consumers not enabling Bluetooth on their phones that do have it. Additionally, consumers need to have an app that is receptive to beacon messages and to give that app permission to use location and permission to send push notifications. 
In the end, a mix of complementary technologies ? including audio, Bluetooth BLE, Wi-Fi, NFC and others - may be used in tandem to create a comprehensive in-store experience. 

Personal mobile moments
The personal nature of mobile communications, from users? constantly having their phones with them to the instrument?s small screen, have ratcheted up pressure on marketers to make mobile messages more personal. 

Amid a lack of technology pieces and infrastructure needed to make one-to-one outreach a reality, brands poured millions of dollars into retrofitting their corporate culture and business models in the year gone by, promising to make personal advertising a reality as the mobile engagement platform market explodes. 

Capitalizing on raging selfie fever.

A good example of ad-personalization was L?Oreal?s ads for its Ombre hair color line. The beauty marketer incorporated GumGum?s photo recognition technology to personalize Ombre ads based on a consumer?s hair color. 

In other examples of personal outreach, Showtime leveraged haptic technology for an interactive experience that vibrated and shook during suspenseful moments of the season premiere trailer. 

Hammacher Schlemmer, the oldest catalog company in the United States, tapped augmented reality to enhance the offerings in its holiday catalog. And NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the players union, teamed up with social-commerce platform Stylinity to leverage shoppable selfies to engage fans. 

Getting personal has its drawbacks, however. If a brand?s aim is to achieve mass awareness, personalized messaging might not be the most cost-effective answer. 

What is clear is that brands will want clarity as they venture deeper into new territory to engage customers with the biggest concern answering data-related questions.

Adaptive gains on responsive
With the growth of mobile, marketers increasingly looked for the best methods to deliver the same content across multiple screens instead of having to build and maintain separate sites for desktop and mobile. Transaction-driven sites such as Amazon and PayPal embraced adaptive design because they could deliver their sites on mobile up to 40 percent faster than if they used responsive Web design.

USA Today election coverage.

Speedy delivery times are crucial on mobile phones for many Web sites because users are often on the go and looking to answer an immediate need, such as where is the nearest coffee house. For the growing number of ecommerce customers shopping from mobile devices, waiting more than 5 seconds can be enough to convince them to abandon a site and go elsewhere. 

Adaptive also won favor with traditional news publishers such as USA Today, which leveraged it to deliver digital experiences tailored for each device, ensuring mobile users can quickly access the latest news. 

Social comes of age
Two thousand and fourteen was the year that social media grew from an innocent group communication tool into a thriving outlet for consumers, led by Instagram?s emergence as a bona fide force. As selfie fever burned hot, Instagram was where both consumers and marketers wanted to be. 

Mercedes post on Instagram.

In another sign of social?s coming of age, Apple, which traditionally ignored social, moved to integrate social into its business model. While in-store customer service at Apple stores is known to be reputable, consumers can more easily reach their favorite brands through social. In turn, brands can deal with customer inquiries via social, a benefit that retailers such as Macy?s skillfully used to avoid a potential social media backlash during the holiday shopping season. 

In October, Unilever personal care brand Dove and retailer Kohl?s landed at the top of social media relationship platform Hootsuite?s monthly Love List acknowledging the brands that saw the most love on social media. 

Video becomes a must
As video consumption grew, marketers leveraged video to engage consumers. Video blogging and podcasting experienced rapid growth in 2014, with many consumers being reached via mobile. 

Because the mobile and Web video industries have seen a significant rise in the last several years, marketers and brands can effectively use these platforms to reach niche audiences. 

Mobile video in Cumberland Farms press release.

Videos and podcasts offer consumers control, which makes marketing appear more natural. 
In a key move, Mondelez made a big commitment to programmatic to improve the effectiveness of online video buys across screens.

The consumer packaged goods company that is home to brands such as Oreo and Cheese Nips said it would shift 10 percent of its TV budgets to online video and teamed up with TubeMogul to automate the way it planned, bought and served online video inventory across all online channels. 

Mobile mind shift accelerates
The public?s continuing embrace of mobile suggests that consumers may be willing to part with personal information coveted by marketers, thrusting new light on privacy, a major issue in mobile marketing since the beginning. The prominence of the privacy issue in mobile marketing was highlighted this year amid reports that Verizon and AT&T were tagging customers with unique codes visible to third parties.

Privacy worries ebbing?

Marketers? support of hyper-local and mobile device tracking means they must take greater responsibility for their actions as the telecommunications giants? codes make mobile phone users easier to track on the Web.

Nevertheless, privacy concerns could be less important than in the past even as marketers begin to scale up what is working in mobile. 

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.