Modern marketers are trying to figure out how to make maximum use of Americans' increasing attachment to mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads.

“We need to make the mobile experience richer,” says David Harris, Mazda North American Operations' group manager-digital and alternative marketing.

“When we first had websites, we initially just reproduced sales brochures on them,” he says. “Similarly, we've just been putting websites on mobile.”

That's not enough to meet the needs of vehicle shoppers using their mobile-communication devices, he says at a recent J.D. Power and Associates Internet conference.

“It's not so much about content; it's about experience,” Harris says at a session entitled The Hunt for Shoppers: Mobile Marketing. “Mobile is a much more dynamic environment, much more social.”

The mobile phenomenon has automotive marketers rethinking how to connect with consumers, says Sharon Knitter, senior director-consumer products for Cars.com, an online auto marketplace.

“It's not about what we want them to see. It's about what they want,” she says, noting 15% of Cars.com Web contacts now come from mobile devices. “We think mobile is the future, and we have to be positioned for that.”

Figuring out the right content for mobile is essential, says John Lisko, executive communications director-media communications for the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi LA, citing proper use of video.

But smart-phone screens aren't big enough for a powerful video effect, some marketers say.

“The phone is always with people, but its screen is too small for full use,” says John Gray, director-interactive media for Team Detroit, an ad agency. “The larger iPad is the right size. It comes down to the best screen available. I use my iPhone but not for video.”

Consumers turn to their mobile devices when they show “an incredible interest” in a vehicle, Harris says, contending the marketing response must be equally compelling.

“Are you are going to respond to them by saying, ‘Do you want to buy something?’” he says. “No. You want to satisfy their curiosity, tell a story. The whole point of this device is to engage and make it a shared experience.”

That typically means a generous serving of interactivity.

Personalization is in the works for mobile marketing, predicts Lesko. “It will be about giving the customers what they want, so it's truly their experience.”

Mobile-specific marketing will be a “very personal environment,” says Jason Spero, AdMob/Google Inc.'s director-mobile. He sees mobile ads supplementing, but not replacing, other means of advertising.

Mobile is the next big thing in interactivity, says Charlie Taylor, general manager-digital marketing for Volkwagen of America Inc.

“We ought to be getting the brand ready for that,” he says. “Now is the time to test and learn, to make a solid platform and not being afraid to fail along the line.”

Adds Michael Keranen, American Honda Motor Co.'s assistant vice president-marketing communications: “We're all still trying to figure out mobile.”