An Open Letter to Mary Meeker: We Are in a Mobile Engagement Crisis

Dear Mary,

I, and many others, anxiously await the release of your 2016 Internet Trends report. We all look to you to understand the macro trends that are shaping business, society, media, entertainment and tech.

Selfishly, I am most interested in your analysis of the mobile space. The impression you left after last year’s report was that mobile is doing fantastically. Many of us are excited about mobile and its massive potential.

But, this year is different. This year I think it’s incredibly important to broaden your focus on mobile because we are in a critical phase of its growth with huge implications for both business and society.

I believe we are in a mobile engagement crisis. Here’s why:

If I learned anything from my time working with Steve Jobs in the early days of mobile, it’s that you must think big. That experience inspired me to build a business that provides the pickaxes and shovels - the insights and engagement tools - needed to be successful in a gold mine like mobile.

But today, businesses are not re-imagining their mobile experience fast enough. The vast majority of businesses have failed to innovate at anywhere near the same pace of consumers’ demands and expectations for mobile. Better connectivity, more and smarter devices plus the proliferation of apps means that consumers’ everyday lives are now mobile. Multitudes of businesses will fail if they don’t drastically change their approach to meet and exceed consumers’ mobile expectations.

I’m not surprised that we’ve arrived at this point. History tells us that technological advancement always reaches a tipping point.

I firmly believe that we’re on the verge of failure at a similar, or even bigger, scale. We saw it happen with the Internet. Companies who ignored the change failed, while those who chose to innovate captured a disproportionate share of the market and succeeded.

Mobile is fundamentally different than the Web, and it needs to become part of an organization’s DNA. It provides the opportunity for a bi-directional, real-time, interactive relationship with end users - however, most companies simply aren’t taking advantage of this yet.

Before we can understand what’s at stake, it’s important to know how we got here.

Nine years ago, the iPhone became a catalyst for massive changes in consumer expectations and behavior. Consumers have come to expect a highly personalized, relevant, timely experience when it comes to mobile. The iPhone, and the advent of apps, also had great implications for businesses, as they transformed the customer experience.

Additionally, the cost of computing and access to technology has ramped up the pace of technological changes. Our world is moving faster than ever before. As a result, innovation feels like it has a shelf life of zero. A business tech’s stack has become is complicated. The user journey is no longer linear. Marketing now plays a different role, one would argue the leading role, in customer relationships. Big data has become a scary word, instead of one that helps makes sense of the complexity. All these changes have brought us to this tipping point, where many forces are shaping how businesses react.

Businesses today face opposing forces that compromise the path to success.

Mobile promises great engagement but can also be a largely misunderstood distractor. Consumers want personalized experiences, but their privacy concerns are higher than ever. Technology and data have given businesses the power to do mobile right, but there is great risk of doing it wrong if they don’t understand the data or use it the wrong way. And the temptation to just do “something” and check off the box is greater than ever.

I’m not undermining the massive efforts that must go into balancing these forces and taking advantage of mobile for the opportunity that it is. It requires people, money and internal changes, and it goes far beyond just covering the bases, which is what is happening today.

Instead of using mobile to build deeper relationships between companies and consumers, most companies are taking a “good enough” approach.

According to Forrester Research, “44 percent of companies state that mobile services are simply a scaled-down version of their online initiatives.”1 I see this time and time again, and it leads to bad business outcomes: poor engagement with users, customer churn and money left on the table.

Forrester also notes that the most popular business metric for determining mobile success is “views/traffic to my mobile site/app.”2 We already know this didn’t work for websites, so why would it work with mobile? Companies are investing a lot of money to acquire mobile users, but they aren’t focused on creating ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with those users. I won’t even say that this metric isn’t good enough anymore, because it was never enough, period.

Some companies believe they are “engaging their users” through mobile marketing efforts such as push messaging campaigns. They claim success because they see high click-through or conversion rates, but they fail to understand the unintended consequences that happen when they buzz people’s phones too often or with irrelevant content. It’s easy for users to opt-out of push notifications, delete an app altogether and lose the precarious trust it took so long for companies to build.

It all comes down to this:, companies simply do not fully understand how to meet their users’ expectations. And there is plenty of data to prove it:

The scary fact is 94 percent of companies are confident that they know their users. Clearly, businesses are running under false pretenses.

Failure is imminent. Any company that thinks otherwise just hasn’t tasted that failure yet.

So why am I writing this to you? Because, Mary, I’m hoping you can help change the course by putting more emphasis on mobile in your report and guide the industry on a path to success. It’s imperative that we reverse the tide and make mobile successful - not just for users but also for businesses, their partners and investors.

We have the potential to usher in a new era of brand loyalty and business transformation if only companies would stop seeing mobile as an extension of what was and see it as a catalyst to what could be.

The time is now for companies to double down on two key things - becoming insights-driven when it comes to mobile and making sure they truly know their mobile users.

We cannot improve mobile engagement unless we take advantage of the deep insights from the data that users are readily sharing with us. They are giving us all of the information we need, but it’s only powerful if we act on it. And we cannot make sense of those insights unless we truly understand who our users are and how to engage with them

In the gold mine that is mobile, we need to take advantage of the insights and engagement opportunities that have been provided to us. If we do this, the promise of mobile will be fulfilled. We will have developed the immersive relationships that consumers’ demand today and tomorrow.

Mary, you talk about all the ways the Internet has changed lives, but I hope you, too, see that there’s a major disconnect between what consumers want and what businesses are currently delivering. When it comes time to lead the industry in your evaluation of the Internet Trends of 2016, in addition to pointing out all the great ways that mobile has changed our world, please highlight the wedge mobile is putting between businesses and their customers. We are in a mobile engagement crisis, and we must act now.


Raj Aggarwal
CEO, Co-Founder

*This post originally appeared in Re/code.