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Don’t Let Thumbs Dominate Mobile Marketing

Authors: Jeffrey K. Rohrs Jeffrey K. Rohrs
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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I don’t mean to scare you or create undue cause for alarm, but there are enemies in our midst. Enemies that operate with such stealth that we fail to see the power they wield over the majority of our marketing efforts today. Enemies so cunning they have convinced us that they’re on our side–like Nationwide. Enemies that are here with us now… AS WE SPEAK!

To catch a glimpse of these marketing enemies in all their crooked glory, just slowly glance down your arms to your hands–no sudden movements! Do you see them there? All cool and akimbo?


Yes, thumbs. The mortal enemy of marketers today.

You laugh, but thumbs have turned on us. They used to make us cool like Fonzie. They used to help us hitchhike rides from friendly, mustached strangers across the great American southwest–but no more! Their insatiable lust for power was fed for decades by the television remote control industry. But thumbs weren’t satisfied merely changing channels. They wanted more control, and so Nintendo gave it to them.

This taste of true, digital power awakened something in our thumbs. It exposed them to far off worlds, first-person shooters, and the ability to make Mario jump on command. When the internet came around, thumbs thought the ascendancy to power was complete. But they soon realized that they had been duped–relegated to tapping a space bar and cradling a mouse whilst index fingers did all the important clicking. All this did was make them angry.

Then along came Facebook and suddenly the thumb was synonymous with “like.” Brands started sticking thumbs up everywhere–on websites, product packaging, store windows–thumbs couldn’t have paid for better publicity. They were the face of social media positivity.

Enter the Apple iPhone and thumbs were now on top again. Literally. Clicking and controlling our mobile lives with the push of a smartphone button or a swipe across Gorilla Glass. Thumbs now made apps shiver with fear of deletion and channeled our short-attention spans into the tap/swipe/delete that now dominates our mobile email inbox, text messages, and social updates. In short, thumbs own us.

So what’s a marketer to do?

Well, you could go Mark Cuban’s route, revolting against the tyranny of thumb-likes on Facebook in search of a new social media landscape where your fans aren’t sold back to you in the form of sponsored posts. But that still leaves you with a mobile landscape dominated by thumbs.

The truth of the matter is that the only way to defeat thumbs is to control them. For all their power-flaunting, thumbs are still guided by consumer’s brains. And if marketers are to overcome the thumb-jerk deletion, we’re going to have to get smarter about winning brains and thumbs by:

1. Becoming a Trusted Sender.

Whether in mobile email, SMS, or social updates, your brand is only as good as its name. There are no colors, no images, and no slogans in a FROM: line. Look at your FROM: lines, your SMS number, your Twitter handles–do they accurately convey who you are? Would you recognize the sender? If not, why would any consumer let you pass by their thumby gatekeeper?

2. Being Useful.

Thanks to the myriad of content, channels, and devices driving our lives today, our attention spans are short and our patience even shorter. Thumbs hate being bored. They hate having their time wasted even more. Look at the content you push to mobile devices. Is it useful or entertaining to the consumer or just to you as a marketer? If it’s the latter, the thumb tolls for thee.

3. Engaging, Not Just Promoting.

Thumbs love engagement. They were raised on UpDownUpDownLeftRightABABStart. If you’re building games, this type of engagement is likely enough. If you’re trying to promote a brand, sell a product, or solicit a donation, you need to engage the consumer’s brain as much as their thumbs. Audit your content. Is it strictly promotional? Talk only about you? Seek nothing from the consumer other than money? If so, then you aren’t engaging–you’re self-centered. And that gets a big thumbs-down from most consumers.

Perhaps one day, we marketers will escape the tyranny of thumbs in our self-driving, voice-activated Google cars. Until that time, however, we must strive to be trusted, useful, and engaging with every app, email, text message, tweet, and post. Fail at that mission, and your marketing will be all thumbs.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the ExactTarget blog.

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