The article originally published in AdAge

We’re at a watershed moment for brands. The smartphone is now the first screen in our lives, yet mobile has been a real challenge for marketers.

Rightly so, as consumers to date have been underwhelmed with brands’ attempts to engage on mobile. The mass marketing that has dominated the industry since its inception is not working, but attempts to replicate traditional marketing strategies on mobile are rampant. The new customer journey and consumer mindset require brands to take an entirely new approach to marketing: Engage in context, act on immediacy requirements and eliminate friction in the customer experience. So where is the industry falling short? There is a disconnect between brands and agencies when it comes to mobile.

Historically the drivers of forward-thinking strategies, agencies are uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to mobile-first programs. It’s in the agency DNA to continuously innovate and push boundaries. Today’s efforts, however, are not working, which is why the issues that we hear most often, such as, “It’s impossible to measure ROI on mobile” or “No one downloads our apps,” don’t come as a surprise. These are certainly hurdles that agencies can overcome and should not be reasons to shy away. On the other hand, the brands that traditionally lean on agencies to think outside the box are more keen — maybe desperate now — to innovate on mobile.

The divide may blossom from the same struggle happening internally at companies over who owns mobile and where the responsibility lies in an organization. Or perhaps it is because mobile is much more than a channel for consuming media, clicking on ads or performing transactions. It is the glue that ties together every digital and physical touchpoint — the entire customer journey. This game of hot potato of who “owns” mobile strategy and innovation needs to stop.

The first step is to change the dialogue

Mobile is not just a channel. It is not a silo. The best mobile strategies leverage mobile in concert with other digital and physical touchpoints to provide a cohesive experience across the entire customer journey. Mobile should be treated as an extension of ourselves that senses the world around us and responds to what’s happening.

Abiding by the new rules of engagement, a retail brand would not send out a geo-fenced offer just based on someone being close to a store; the chance of it being appropriate to their context is very small. Instead, a retailer would alert a shopper that her size of the dress she favorited online has just come in when she is around the corner on a Saturday afternoon. A CPG company would prompt a person to stop in her local pharmacy as she passes by, reminding her she is likely about to run out of her allergy medicine based on the time she last purchased, combined with unseasonably high pollen counts this summer. A hotel in Turks and Caicos would retarget a person who read and shared an article about the Caribbean Food and Wine Festival with a special rate. It’s about connecting the dots across earned, owned and paid media, anticipating wants and needs and generating loyalty and revenue by providing value and eliminating friction.

Agencies are in the sweet spot

Agencies are nestled in the perfect position to conceive and create the mobile programs that will drive business results for their clients. Look back to go forward. It was an agency that that gave us the iconic Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign, which was a breakpoint as it gave brands “permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him.” And the “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot” radio campaign in the 1940s that, according to Ad Age, “embedded itself not so much in the nation’s psyche as in its very nerve endings.” Historically, it’s the agencies that have helped bring the consumer viewpoint to brands and have led the charge of defining the magical connection that a brand could have with its customers. Today, this magical connection relies on the same principles, but it has to be established beyond a one-way, mass-media push. Agencies need to help create strategies that follow today’s rules of engagement (personal, immediate, contextual, frictionless).

Mobile is a true game-changer, and will be the ubiquitous characteristic among the next generation of billion dollar companies. Starting today, agencies must think of how their clients can connect in context with customers at every touchpoint to capture people’s hearts — not rely on mass media to capture eyeballs. They need to challenge themselves and their clients to not take any interaction for granted, and instead marry the digital and physical worlds to treat every customer as an individual every time.