For the past several years mobile marketing has been all about apps. App installs, and then app re-engagement when the user you paid to install your app in the first place never opens it again. Retargeting through deep links within apps when a user has shown product level interest, despite challenges with conversions that seem to come so naturally on a desktop. Even branding users with in-app video ads when they move between game levels, scroll down a news feed, or watch mobile video content.

And why not? We've all seen the stats, mobile has surpassed every other medium in terms of attention and time spent, and 90% of mobile time spent is in apps. In fact, over half of all time spent online, whether mobile or desktop, is spent in mobile apps:

For brand marketers the numbers are compelling, especially when planning which channels to give the most attention to in order to achieve the greatest impact with their audiences. For app marketers, apps represent a rich canvas with which they can engage and delight users, communicating with them in interesting ways and relevant contexts, and delivering utility and value to them that just isn’t possible through web browsers or other media channels.

Apps are great, and if you’re a marketer that can get people to install and use your app, then those people are likely customers and possibly even brand enthusiasts and loyalists. But unless you’re Facebook, Google, and a few others, most people aren’t going to install your app. If they do, they’re not going to use it. Of the 90% of mobile time spent in apps, about one third of that time is spent in Facebook:

The fat tail of app usage is such that most people spend most of their time in just five apps, six if you count the mobile web browser as an individual app. Most likely mobile users will discover your products and services not by downloading and using your app, but rather by stumbling upon your mobile web site through search or from a social platform like Facebook or Twitter functioning as an in-app browser. In any case, mobile web sites lack the utility of mobile apps and are not optimal for converting casual visitors into paying customers.

The Mobile Watershed

Though mobile apps have dominated the mobile marketing conversation since the launch of the App Store in 2008, mobile wallets represent a paradigm shift for marketers and consumers alike. Starting with the consumer (as all great marketers do), behavior is already shifting to reflect the new world opportunity that mobile wallets present. Here in New York City when taking a taxi the fare can be paid quickly and securely with a few taps on the lock screen of your mobile device. A trip to the local drug store doesn’t require inserting your credit card and waiting 15-20 seconds for the terminal to read your chip, but rather another few taps will do it – again, quickly and securely. Even movie and other event tickets can be purchased in an app using the stored credentials of a credit card in your mobile wallet with a few taps, without the hassle of entering your credit card information and other payment details in the small mobile form fields, and with the convenience of being able to add your admission ticket directly to your mobile wallet from the point of purchase. Convenient when making the purchase, and convenient later when attending the event and simply holding up your mobile device to gain entry.

While payments have paved the way for mobile wallets, the ability for a brand to be present at the consumer point of purchase is compelling for a marketer. Mobile wallet passes for items like coupons and other offers, gift cards, loyalty programs, tickets, product information, and even customer identification provide marketers many of the same benefits that mobile apps provide, without the friction and expense of app user acquisition. These benefits include being able to update pass content and leverage the mobile operating system for notifications, including those triggered by various location signals when the consumer is in a relevant physical location. Also if properly implemented, pass usage and redemption can be measured with attribution to show ROI. Most importantly, since these metrics can be measured, they can be optimized, enabling the marketer to execute “always on” mobile marketing campaigns where customer lifetime value is proven to exceed customer acquisition costs.

The “app-lite” capabilities of mobile wallet passes and their positioning right at the consumer point of purchase present a massive opportunity for marketers, and enables the kind of next generation mobile marketing that will drive real world commerce for brands.