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The future of marketing: smartphones

I’m thinking about phones.

I carry a basic little Verizon flip-phone. I can make calls, text and take pictures. But I’m developing some serious lust for an iPhone.

I’m not the only one. At least half a dozen times in the last couple of months, a friend or business acquaintance has pulled one of those beautiful little devices out of their pocket and proudly shown it off to me. They’re always unabashedly delighted with the purchase.

And when they pull out their phones, they’re not just showing me a slick device. They’re showing me the future of marketing.

Just as computers overwhelmed print and broadcast media over the last 10 years, smartphones will overwhelm computers in the next 10.

Look around you. How many times have you been in a coffee shop, a doctor’s office, a DMV line, and seen people checking their smartphones? I dropped off my daughter at her piano lesson last week, and another parent was in the waiting room, eyes glued to her phone screen. When I came back half an hour later, she was still at it.

Smartphones, like the iPhone and BlackBerry, haven’t taken over yet. Consumers around the globe will buy about 1.3 billion cell phones this year, according to the Gartner research group, and only about 10 percent of them will be smartphones.

But smartphone sales are growing faster than overall cell phone sales. They’re grabbing an increasing share of the market. Prices are coming down and capabilities are going up.

Companies and marketers are working harder than ever on ways to deliver product messages and services over smartphones.

Here’s just a small sample of the things you can already do with a smartphone:

• Get headlines, sports scores and alerts
• Find restaurants
• Book airline flights
• Look for movie reviews and show times
• Receive weather and traffic updates
• Do your banking

In addition, of course, you can handle your e-mail and do just about any Web activity that you’d normally do on a computer.

Soon, you’ll be able to use your smartphone to make purchases in retail stores. Just point the phone at the bar code on the package, tap a key — and the transaction will be recorded.

I talked last week with Terry Sauer, who’s leading the development of mobile services at the Star Tribune. He was emphatic about the future of mobile (well, as emphatic as Terry gets — he’s a pretty even-keel kind of guy).

“Mobile is the next frontier,” Sauer said. “You need to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about phones. That’s where it’s going.”

Like so many newspapers, the Strib was slow to recognize the potential of mobile. But Sauer said he believes they’ve caught up to the pack and are poised to break ahead. Forward-thinking companies of all kinds need to be doing the same.

Imagine if you had told a marketer 20 years ago that one day, prime customers would carry a device every waking moment allowing them to receive product messages — and, in many cases, would even seek out those messages?

Marketing nirvana. And it’s out there for those smart enough to achieve it.

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