Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy


Mobile devices have given rise to the ubiquitous presence of technology in our daily lives. Consumers have immensely benefitted from the ease and efficiency allowed for by mobile devices, while companies have benefited from enormous amounts of user data captured by smartphones. In Anindya Ghose’s Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy, Ghose presents a comprehensive explanation of how mobile devices have transformed society and the economy and continue to impact markets and industries.

Ghose begins his discussion of the mobile economy by focusing on the development of mobile technology. Mobile technologies are a key driver of the world economy generating $3.3 trillion in global revenue and 11 million additional jobs. Of these technologies, Ghose claims that the mobile phone has had the most profound impact on business and society. He draws a striking parallel between the crystal screen of a smartphone and a fortune teller’s crystal ball. Smartphones act as crystal balls for businesses by collecting consumer data and allowing firms to identify patterns and trends in consumer habits before consumers may even be aware of their wants and needs.

Ghose supports his discussion of the smartphone as a transformative technology by emphasizing its role in enabling direct communication between companies and consumers. Businesses can use the mobile phone as a “concierge” or “butler” which interacts with and caters to consumers’ interests by sending them relevant advertisements. Ghose asserts that a major challenge facing businesses and marketers is to avoid the image of a lucrative “stalker.” One too many advertisements or irrelevant promotions can damage customer relationships. Businesses must carefully cultivate customer relationships by showing the right ads to the right consumer at the right time and place.

For firms to successfully utilize mobile platforms as a “butler” rather than a “stalker,” Ghose asserts that there are nine contextual forces businesses must pay careful attention to. These nine forces drive consumer purchasing decisions and include: context, location, time, saliency, crowdedness, weather, trajectory, social dynamics, and technology. The immediacy and efficiency of the mobile channel makes it best suited to capitalize on these nine forces, allowing firms to provide individualized incentives and to persuade consumers to buy. Firms must focus on understanding and predicting how the interaction of these forces can influence consumer purchasing habits in order to maximize sales and profits.

Significance of Trajectory Data

An interesting topic Ghose discusses is the significance of trajectory data collected from mobile devices. Trajectory data outlines a consumer’s path and provides contextual information such as time and location about consumers’ habits. Smartphones allow advertisers to identify consumer segments based on location and time using location-based services (LBS). A smartphone’s GPS device, Wi-Fi connection, or applications running in the background can provide context about where consumers went, how long he or she stayed for, and how long it took the consumer to travel to various locations. Mobile channels significantly contribute to in-store purchases with trajectory-based offers and coupons earning the highest redemption rates.

An increasing number of businesses are utilizing trajectory data and smartphone sensors to track shoppers’ movements inside brick-and-mortar stores. Any phone connected to Wi-Fi can send a signal to the sensors, which then use the phone’s unique address to identify and follow the device throughout the store. Companies such as Family Dollar, Warby Parker, and various fashion brands are leveraging sensors and indoor positioning technologies to enhance store layouts and offer customized coupons to consumers while they shop. With such vast trails of trajectory data, firms generate individualized advertisements and time-specific recommendations that can nudge consumers to buy.

By taking consumers’ real-time contextual data into account, firms can optimize business strategy and performance. Businesses have incredible opportunities to create value for consumers and develop customer relationships through interaction on mobile devices. These individualized methods of mobile marketing have led to heightened concerns about user privacy and data security. It is proven that consumers are willing to exchange personal information as “currency” for relevant offers of value to them. However, businesses must prioritize protecting consumer data in order to preserve relationships with consumers.

What About the Title?

Ghose relates the proliferation of smartphones and their significance in the mobile economy to the title of the book, Tap. “Tap” refers to the “tap and swipe lifestyle” that smartphone users have become accustomed to. Consumers can tap to purchase items and collect deals through mobile applications such as eBay and Groupon instantaneously. Participation in the mobile economy is right at consumers’ fingertips and can be harnessed with a single tap. Unlocking the potential of the mobile economy requires participation from both businesses and smartphone users.

Closing Thoughts  

Overall, I very much enjoyed Tap and would highly recommend it to anybody interested in learning about the role of technology in the economy, data analytics, or technology’s impact on the marketing industry. Many of the companies we will visit have successfully adapted to the mobile economy by developing mobile applications, cultivating relationships with consumers through mobile channels, and continuously refining their mobile strategies. To illustrate, Facebook has refined its advertising strategy to be more consumer-friendly by enabling its Ad Preferences tool, providing users with more control over the advertisements they are exposed to. “Trending” and “in-the-moment” recommendations on Facebook and Spotify are alternative forms of contextual marketing meant to anticipate consumers’ searches and influence consumers.

While preparing for our trip to Silicon Valley, awareness of the “mobile first” attitude that Ghose describes may help shape our understanding of the mobile ecosystem and the direction in which the industry is headed. Ghose attributes Silicon Valley’s initial focus on mobile devices to Google Executive Eric Schmidt, who declared Google’s focus on mobile devices in 2010. Ghose credits Schmidt for influencing the industry’s focus on mobile technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. If we run into Schmidt at the Googleplex, maybe we could him ask why he prioritized mobile initiatives? One of the greatest enablers of the mobile economy, the iPhone, will surely be a topic of discussion on our site visit to Apple.

To conclude, I agree with Ghose that the mobile economy will continue to have an increasingly profound impact on businesses and society. Ghose predicts that as technology progresses, consumers will experience more developments in wearable technologies, smart home devices, smart cars, and even technologies within our own bodies. My takeaway from reading Tap is that consumers have just experienced a mere fraction of the possibilities of the mobile economy. How exciting to be experiencing these technological advancements right as they unfold!

4 thoughts on “Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy

  1. My book the 4th transformation also talked a lot about enhancing and personalizing the customer experience when they are in the brick and mortar store through technology. However, I am not sure that I would use my phone to purchase things online as much as Ghose presumes. Usually shopping online is on my computer, so I am not sure that the mobile phone is as influential (at least to me). It is really scary how much these companies know about me though, this book sounded really interesting!


    • That’s a good point– I also purchase most items on my computer rather than my phone. In the book, Ghose does acknowledge that most consumers act like us; they make more purchases on laptops and rather few on mobile devices. I think Ghose’s main point here is that the advertisements we are exposed to on our mobile devices heavily influence us to purchase by means of other channels, whether it’s in a retail store, on a computer, or on other devices such as tablets.


  2. This is one of those books that I haven’t yet read, but I do know the author and he is a genuine expert on this topic. I’m glad you enjoyed it! The mobile environment is definitely where many companies are these days, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to evolve in the coming years. You definitely have a deeper and more sophisticated understanding after having read his book, I’m sure!


  3. I really enjoyed the idea of advertising as a butler rather than a stalker. Too many times I’ve seen Tweets from friends claiming they were talking about a product aloud and their phone overhead them and displayed an advertisement for that. In order to effectively advertise, people need to feel like they’re being served rather than hunted down and that itself is a delicate balance when so much of what we care about is nested in our browsers and search history. I’m nervously excited for the time when people claim advertising has gone too far and encroached on their lives…there’re endless possibilities on what could happen.


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