Mobile University Part 1
How do Social Networks, the Mobile Internet, and Mobile Apps get put to profitable use by Big Corporate Marketing? I’m at MobiU to find out. And the big companies are here to tell us about it – Anheuser-Busch, ESPN, United Airlines, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Walgreens, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pepsico, Best Buy, Deloitte Consulting, Kimberly-Clark, and many others. This is the annual Mobile University Conference with speakers on multiple stages at the same time. Heartland Mobile Council puts on this event at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Chicago.
The Tektite Group’s Jean Pickering runs the volunteers here and she puts the arm on me. So, how am I gonna cover this event? I already scheduled the article in Chicago Venture Magazine.
Then something happens that seems like providence. I run into Donatis Ludditis. Good old Don! Always ready to lend a guy a helping hand! And a good head on his shoulders, too. Robust–that’s what I’d call him. White hair—kinda like Einstein. Age doesn’t seem to phase him.
“Don!” I shout, “Don, I need your help!”
He scowls, suddenly guarded. “What you want I should do?” he asks in his mix of Baltic and Chicago dialects. “I too old for that no more. I legit. Lawyer say I legit.”
“Just gimme your personal impressions on the talks. And take some photos—here’s my camera. Meet me at the old place afterwards. I’m buyin’.”
“No break nobody’s legs?” He grins. “Okay!” He says it with enthusiasm and grins some more. “You buy I talk!” He hands back my camera. “I no work dis kinda contraption.”
SMARTPHONES – Photo by Gilly Berlin
I shrug and pocket my camera. We shake hands and go our separate ways, but I’m worried. Explaining technology to Ludditis is like talking to a caveman. This is the guy that labeled the VCR the work of the devil. I happen to know he never owned a computer in his life. So what’s he doing here? But here he is—here in this world of Social Networks and Mobile Internet Marketing—some of the most confounding stuff happening outside of particle physics. Now, while Jean keeps me busy, I’m counting on Don to give me the man-on-the-street slant on mobile tech. Can he do it?
The Lithuanian Cathedral
Ludditis is one of the few left from the old days when Lithuanian was the primary language in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood. He knew my relatives Father Stanley, Father Johnny, Sister Clarita. He actually attended the old Lithuanian Cathedral. He’s up there in years but you’re not gonna mess with this guy. He’s stocky with huge biceps that he uses to crack walnuts. And even at his age, he still looks plenty dangerous.
At the Diner
The day goes by in a blur and it’s 10pm when I walk into Ludditis’ favorite diner in the old neighborhood. I find him at table, slowly pouring beer in a glass intended for milk or juice. That’s the only kind of glass you get in this place.
The Lithuanian Plaza – Chicago
Three empty bottles already stand on the table—labels I can’t read but recognize as Lithuanian. “I want potato pancakes,” I say as I take a chair.”
“Already order. You buy dem, we eat dem.”
I wonder what Donatis Ludditis can possibly know about Big Corporate Mobile Marketing. I want to understand how they do it and what it means to Startups. Thirty years back, when Don gave up the noble profession of bouncer (some say enforcer) he bought a tavern of his own, under the ‘L’ tracks. Paid cash. Calls it ‘Luddites Shots ‘n Beer.’ Why didn’t we meet there?
The waitress materializes from nowhere lugging two heavy plates. Ludditis says something to her in Lugan and she comes back with a beer for each of us. In his robust way he offers cheers. “Sveikas!” he says as a toast and we clink bottles. He still talks like an immigrant and he’s not gonna change, even if he makes it past a hundred.
The beer goes down good. The thing I like about potato pancakes at this place is they crunch when you chew and now I remember with all my senses why this little diner is the place to be. “So Don,” I say. “How’d you get mixed up in a Mobile Internet conference? I’d expect you to curse it as some kinda sin.”
MOBILE DEVICES – Heartland Mobile Council
“No, no, is wonderful—so small—carry in trousers.” He produces a huge Samsung Galaxy in one hand and an iPhone in the other.
I drop my jaw. Then, as Ludditis goes on, I take the opportunity to shovel in more potato pancakes and sour cream
“Fit in pocket, see.” And he slips them away like a gunslinger holstering two six shooters. “They say it soon be part of clothes.” He talks between bites of food. “Maybe even put in body—in bloodstream! No lug around heavy bag. Is beautiful thing!”
“It’s technology, Don.”
He shrugs. “Friends all use it.”
“But you hate technology.”
“Is progress. Cannot fight such things. Besides—” He turns over a hand. “Is so easy to talk to a person. And not stuck at desk. I hate desk.”
Without warning, he pulls out the iPhone and goes silent. He bows over the thing and then utters a healthy laugh. “Is Mary—you know Mary, my great granddaughter,” he says after typing something with his big thumbs. “She finally get that bum to marry her. She want I tell her best place for wedding. Monastero’s is place to go. Best food. Best service. Best price. So I text her.”
“Don, that’s a Sicilian place.”
“So what?” All kind of people make up city. Even old neighborhood not same no more. Not so many speak the language. New generations take place of old. People move around. He points the huge Galaxy phone at me and I see an image of a beautiful ballroom dominated with huge candelabra that look like a bouquets of flowers. “Nice place, you agree?”
In nod and he smiles. Then he empties the remaining beer from his juice glass in one gulp. “Look.” He runs through a series of pictures taken at the MobiU event that day. Nice photography–I have to admit it. Did he really take those with a phone?
“What your email address?” he says. “I send pictures to you.”
I stutter and then tell it to him.
ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE – Heartland Mobile Council
Now he gets out the other phone. “Manager give two beer if we Like dis place. You like dis place, Yon? If you do, I press dis icon. I no say–you say only.”
“Yeah, I like it. Plenty. Call me John.”
He touches the screen and then thumbs the virtual keyboard and more beers arrive almost immediately.
“Don, let’s get down to business. What can you tell me about the conference? Start from the beginning.”
HUGH JEDWILL – by Ludditis
“Well, that gonna be Hugh Jedwill. He good boy. Heartland Mobile Council – it his outfit. No profit – not never.”
“That what I just say. Hey, you take notes Yanulis! I say these things one time only!”
I pull out an MP3 recorder and switch it on while he forks another glob of potato pancakes. “Their mission, Hugh call it—Change industry. Do things the right way—not like dot com bomb.”
Not the Dot Com Bomb
“’Scuse me a sec, Don, but whadaya know about big business?”
Ludditis seems genuinely hurt. “What—you think I no buy stocks? No do research? Am I crazy old man and let money rot in bank?” He strokes the Galaxy and shows me the charts of a couple big tech companies.
“Is okay.” He brightens and I know the anger is instantly gone. “Chicago—” Ludditis thumps the table with a meaty forefinger. “Chicago is best place to put on dis—dis MobiU. People come from all over country. It hub for airlines. Railroad all pass through here. Interstate squeeze through. Dat mean trucks. Is commodity capital of world. Chokepoint for Internet. Lotsa huge consumer brands in town.”
“Okay, I get it. Just like the ancient camel route that built Petra in the wilderness.”
He ignores that and goes on.
No Force Feeding
“After Hugh, I hear Steve Surman from Anheuser-Busch. He tell us, Do not be needle in haystack. Dis is big company make Budweiser and he say that. Old ideas, they no work, he say. Used to be, ‘Buy me, I’m—whatever’—you fill in blank. Everything brand-focused. Nothing for people to say or do. That is old way. No good.”
I stare at him, amazed. There’s really something here—something powerful enough to bring Donatis Ludditis out of a lifelong anti-technology shell. And I marvel at his sturdy intellect. I start taking notes like he told me to do.
“Mobile,” he goes on, “It is big change in way people use tecnostuff. Everybody want a say. A say in what they buy. Brands yusta ram message down your throat. No more.” Don squeezes his eyes closed. “I memorize quote for you: Surman say, ‘Intense expectation of engagement.’ That is it—exact words. World not dis way—not for many, many years—such long time you do not even remember!” He sits back and beams. “So today, Mobile Contraptions bring back past. Now we have job for brand and also job for buyer—just like old days when we haggle at market. Dis I like.”
I’m in awe. Ludditis is telling me the same thing Google’s brain trust predicted. They call it The Zero Moment of Truth.
Now Ludditis is fooling around with one of his phones again. “Good movie tonight. You like movies, Yon?”
“Sure, what’s playing?”
He works his thumbs and then pockets the phone. “Hugo. I get bargain.”
That raises a laugh from me. “So that’s how you finally fall in love with technology? The cheapskate in you is overcoming the barriers?”
Ludditis flashes a stern look. “Smart guy.” He holds his stare and I shut my trap. “Is completely different, this Mobile Internet. No need office. No need computer. No file cabinets. No paper. Store it all on cloud. No lug briefcase like some bean counter. Do anything anywhere. No lose track of family. It make me happy.”
“Yon, I think you not see how this make huge change–change in way companies do business,” he says. “This force new kinda advertising on Madison Avenue sharks. Surman say old crutches no work on Mobile. Yusta be sex, sex, sex! Sex sell soap. Sex sell beer. Now people with these gizmos say sex get in way.”
“You mean to say sex is a distraction for Mobile users?”
“You no listen? Here. The app—she must be practical. She must function. And direct—easy to use. Not just sex.” He straightens in his chair. “Dis I like also.”
So the old crutches don’t work in Mobile advertising? I ponder whether that’s really true but Ludditis moves on and doesn’t give me time to consider it.
GATORADE and PANDORA – by Ludditis
Let me give you the short version of what Don tells me: He sees Kim Luegers from Gatorade together with Sarah Bild from Pandora Radio. Pandora’s got a teenage audience. 80% of these kids own smartphones and use the mobile Internet. 75% of their radio gets heard on mobile devices. These kids pay attention to Mobile Ads. 80% tell friends about what they buy on social media. They crave it. And pretty soon they’re gonna be adults.
We clink bottles again in a toast and I decide to test Ludditis. “Can you define social media?”
The table immediately sags in the middle from the impact of his fist. “Shuttup ‘n’ listen, Yonulis. You think I make this stuff up?”
I show him both palms. He continues more calmly. “Turns out,” he says, “Gatorade choose special types to match music on Pandora. They got active audience. Kids like brand. Gatorade does not tell them what to do—no, they listen to customer and talk to them.
They listen. Of course—that’s the key to it all. It’s no longer a one-way feed.
I push away my plate and stretch my legs. My gut is full and I’m feeling a little sloppy from all the beer. I wave for the bill. On the way out the door, Ludditis says, “Yon, you still want see movie?” He sounds kinda eager, so what the heck.
“Yeah sure,” I say as we walk the dark empty street.
Ludditis grins. “I give you rest of the story after de show.”
Go to Part 2
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Photographs and comments used by permission of Hugh Jedwill and Heartland Mobile Council.
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