Somo’s Ross Sleight on Mobile’s Role in the Enterprise, Europe, Music and More

Known as the “Professor of Mobile,” Ross Sleight is Chief Strategy Officer at Somo where he advises brands like Red Bull, Audi and Universal Music on how to harness the potential of mobile technologies. Ross was recently named to The Drum’s list of the 50 most influential players in mobile.

Before taking the stage on November 9 at Mobile Media Summit London, Ross shared some thoughts on where mobile is going in 2016 with Global CEO of Mobile Media Summit/ad:tech/iMedia, Paran Johar.

Paran: Ross, great to connect with you again and congrats on recently being named the 6th most influential player in mobile marketing by The Drum!
Ross: Thanks – it’s been wonderful to be voted into The Drum’s Top 50 mobile list and Top 100 Digerati list for the past 3 years!

Paran: At Mobile Media Summit London you will be participating on a panel discussing how mobile will evolve in 2016. Can you give us a preview of the changes you expect to see in wearables, the Internet of things, and virtual and augmented reality?

Ross: Earlier in the year at Somo we identified what we considered to be the six major disruptors in mobile in the next 12 months. Alongside Wearables, Internet of things and VR/AR, we also highlighted three other disruptors including the rise of Context (where, when, how, etc.) in both service delivery and marketing in mobile, the role of loyalty and payments (especially the importance of notifications and messaging), and the velocity of change in Interface with our connected devices and the move to a simplified and voice-driven UI (what we are calling Zero UI).

Wearables and IoT continue to fascinate us with the data they are providing and the potential insight we can draw from interpretation of this, but we are seeing an increasingly fragmented world of individual products, particularly in the connected home and Wearables spaces. Understanding how these devices all play together nicely both from an interoperability level (I don’t want 50 individual apps on my phone to control my house) as well as from a data sharing level will be key to ensuring mass adoption of these devices for the connected self, home, car and city.

Augmented and Virtual Reality in particular will become mainstream engagements in 2016. The launch of the consumer headsets for VR such as Oculus, and the continuing march of the cheaper options like Google Cardboard will drive more home usage of VR, but we see the real opportunity for VR in high street retail and at brand events for 2016 to provide controlled environment immersion into VR for the mass market.

Paran: Marketers often claim to be “Mobile First.” Given the present ubiquity of mobile in all phases of consumer media consumption, what does “mobile first” actually describe at this point in time? What will it mean in the near future?

Ross: I think mobile first was a useful phrase in pulling people up in their thinking and getting them to think from a consumer’s perspective rather than default to desktop as the preferred design format. Ultimately, whether we are designing for a connected TV, desk-top, tablet, smartphone or wearable, we have to understand both what a consumer needs to do on a device and how they can best achieve this. Context first is far more important than a phrase such as mobile first, but mobile first was an important stage we had to go through to get out of desktop dominance. So now it’s all about thinking about why a consumer turns to a particular connected device and how we can best create a service that fits that consumer behavior and the form factor we are designing for. Mobile undoubtedly has to be the core form factor we consider now and in the future.
Paran: Social networking, casual games, and the app economy have propelled mobile to a present position of dominance in consumer share of screen. What needs to happen for mobile to take an equally dominant position in the enterprise?
Ross: What’s interesting with Enterprise is that at Somo we always stress that the person using a device at work is still a normal user – so everything they see and interact with on their devices during their leisure time they expect to see an equal quality of service in Enterprise applications and services. We don’t think that we are here with this yet though.

Most mobile is being used in Enterprise for very simple tasks – reporting, sales support and reference. Development of Apps is still being held back by the legacy systems that enterprises use, and the need for security and legal to ensure that data is protected. These together create friction in Enterprise mobile services. So I don’t think it’s a lack of wanting to do these services, or to create services that are of the same quality and delivery as consumer services in the Enterprise – it’s just that we need to overcome some natural corporate and systems friction to ensure long term transformation.
Paran: Much of the Mobile Media Summit audience is based in North America. As an influencer in the UK and larger European mobile scene, can you explain what American audiences may overlook in understanding these markets?
Ross: I think that in Europe it’s often easy to say “let’s localize” and address pricing or language and then dust your hands off and wonder why your service isn’t getting traction. You need to think about localization on a cultural level, not just a practical language level. How users behave is radically different across each country and each culture. For example, in Scandinavia or Germany the majority of digital commerce is run through invoicing not credit cards; in Southern Europe, penetration of mobile may be higher than Northern Europe but data usage is lower; there are different operators with different tariff structures across every country in Europe.

All of these issues mean you need to have local presence on the ground in each country to adapt your product or service to local consumer expectations. As a rule there is more cohesiveness in city or urban usage of mobile across countries, which gives a good urban starting point for new entrants. But Europe, despite a shared currency in many countries, is certainly not a homogenous entity, and those who treat it as such are setting themselves up for short term failure.
Paran: Ross, you are one of the biggest music fans we have ever met. What mobile streaming service do you prefer, and where do you see this fierce competition between platforms ending up? More importantly, what are the top five tracks right now in your playlist?
Ross: I’m a Spotify premium member and have been for ages. I also use Soundcloud a lot, particularly at home where I have a Sonos system in place. I think once you are in an ecosystem it’s hard to find real reasons to switch. I haven’t seen the benefits of switching to Apple Music or Google Music even though I have trialed these services, and because I have now invested so much in time in Spotify and Soundcloud with playlists and “likes” it would take something significant for me to switch with that friction of time invested. For example, I’m listening to more new music through Spotify’s recommendations and related artist algorithms than ever before, and it’s certainly more relevant than what Apple Genius or Last FM ever provided me with.

I think that it will be hard to move the existing premium market as a whole between services (which is probably 20% of customers but 80% of revenue to these services). The free market is much less involved in the services and could be moved, but unless they are really provided with a key reason to upgrade then this will be hard to monetize. Maybe the inevitable adblocker consumer awareness will become one of the core reasons to upgrade as users recognize that ads can be circumvented by direct service payment. But a healthy market is where good competition exists so I hope all the main services have enough runway and revenue to survive and compete moving forward.

As for my top tracks- well, here goes:

  1. “Go” – Public Service Broadcasting (fabulous mash up of internal Houston communications for the Apollo 11 descent and landing)
  2. “Gosh” – Jamie XX (‘cos you gotta have a bit of contemporary UK Rave in any playlist)
  3. “Those Who Know Know Who” – Public Enemy (return to form for the 55 year old (!) Chuck D)
  4. “Left Side Drive” – Boards of Canada (because everything in life is richer with a BoC soundtrack)
  5. “Etude No 5” – Philip Glass (Beauty encapsulated in music)