Did You Say Mobile Marketing?
A good percentage of articles that we read on mobile marketing in the U.S. focus almost entirely on why it's different here (read: more difficult). Whereas in the rest of the world mobile marketing is sexy ... hot ... the place to be, here the debate quickly descends into the chaos of carriers and operating systems.
But guess what? Mobile marketing in the U.S. is sexy, it is hot and -- if starting individual and meaningful conversations with your consumers in a microtargeted way is one of your objectives -- then it certainly is the place to be. We were therefore recently comforted to read comments made by former Mobile Marketing Association Global Chairman Cyriac Roeding at the AlwaysOn OnMedia conference in New York earlier this year: "How do we expect anyone to take [mobile] seriously as an advertising device if we keep telling them about the unbelievable complexity that arises out of the fact that we have 20 carriers in the U.S., then we have [a number of] fundamental technologies such as GSM [Global System for Mobile Communications] and CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access]?"
Let's make it simpler. Let's talk about usability. Let's not talk about the next 15 menu items, and let's try not to copy another medium. Mobile is a new medium in its own right. Simplicity is the key missing ingredient that will enable mobile marketing to really take off in this country. We need to focus on the possible rather than the difficult, the opportunities instead of the challenges.
So, what's the deal?
People have become more and more comfortable with and reliant on digital communication solutions, including the mobile phone. In fact, the mobile phone is becoming a primary means of communication, not only for voice, but also for digital services, e-mail, digital photos, navigation, etc. The infrastructure and hardware evolutions also have led to a shift in focus: Whereas in 2002 we were dealing with slow connection speeds, black-and-white displays and complicated interfaces, in 2008, iPhone-like devices with colorful displays, easy navigation and high-speed connections have enabled us to focus on content. Beyond the technical improvements, the audience is getting bigger in the U.S., too. For example, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, as of December 2007, there were 255.4 million wireless subscribers in the U.S.
Online, there are really only three advertising channels: opt-in e-mails, advertising embedded into Web sites via ad display units, and, of course, text ads in search engines and their content networks.
But mobile provides as many as nine potential channels -- from SMS, MMS, caller ringtones, video clips, and voice and music downloads, to WAP, RSS feeds and podcasts -- giving marketers many more opportunities to deliver on the experiential dimension of relevance and to begin to engage consumers in the conversation.
What's a marketer to do?
From a marketer's perspective, the mobile phone is a dream device. Consumers only pay attention to relevant marketing messages, and if we accept that relevance has three dimensions -- contextual, temporal and experiential (the where, the when and the how) -- then only the mobile device allows you to hit all three.
The "always on" (and "always with me") nature of the device allows for new forms of advertising based on the pull model. A phone is first and foremost a communication device; companies that incorporate this channel into their service offerings as well as their marketing will benefit the most. We have been hearing for some time that marketing must become a conversation and not a monologue; interestingly, we have yet to really see a significant change in the way advertisers allocate their budgets to reflect that change.
The mobile device gives us the tool to turn that vision into a reality. Mobile marketing does not and should not stand alone as a channel. Its strength is as a support for other channels. The now-infamous third screen is an omnipresent device that can be integrated across all media channels and at all key consumer touch points. Furthermore, for tracking precise individual user behavior, the mobile device is consummately superior to the traditional PC world where individual users cannot be identified as easily because different people might use the same computer, and those individuals might use more than one PC. Imagine marrying that behavioral data with the other information that a mobile carrier has access to (age, gender, location, etc.) -- clearly there is a privacy implication here, but if it is handled carefully and explicitly, consumers will accept the trade-off.
The new face of CRM
At the risk of sounding hopelessly old-fashioned, there is every reason to suggest that mobile could be the channel that finally allows us to deliver on the strategy currently at risk of becoming a tired acronymic sawhorse: CRM.
This inherent aspect of mobile as the conversation platform makes it the richest channel yet for achieving the types of targeted, sustained and personalized messaging opportunities and exchanges of value that are at the heart of great customer relationship marketing programs. There is no other medium in our lives that is quite literally always on and always with us. Social applications such as Twitter are quickly demonstrating that social networking can be achieved through the mobile channel as a stand-alone. How soon before the iPhone or BlackBerry replaces the laptop as the primary go-to interface for keeping up with one's social graph -- along with products and services that support and enhance one's personal brand?
The market research firm In-Stat predicts that the number of U.S. millennials subscribing to mobile social networking sites will reach nearly 30 million by the year 2012. I think that number is conservative, and, as more smartphones continue to replace older models and the mobile carrier networks move to fixed-price data plans, the third screen (mobile) might unseat the second (the computer) more rapidly and more completely; especially in the lives of our target-rich cohorts, the maturing millennials and soon-to-be-running-the-world Gen Xers.
Leaving aside the issue of subsidizing content (and also features and functionalities) with ads à la the TV model, the ability to listen, talk, deliver and optimize around our customer and prospect relationships is the most meaningful way that mobile will change the way we forever think about marketing communications, customer acquisition, customer engagement/retention, and, ultimately, the shape and nature of our products and brands.
Let's get this party started
We've heard it before that this year, truly, is the year of mobile. But there are, increasingly, several factors finally coming into focus that could trigger a channel mix step-change that sees mobile, perhaps slowly but inexorably, move toward center stage in our channel planning for customer communications and advertising programs.
So think about how to use the channel for delivering CRM value and engagement moments that deliver on the unique aspects of mobile -- that is, its pervasiveness and intimate place in our customers' daily lives.
Think functional, like allowing consumers to receive RSS or podcast feeds to their smartphones for easy, ubiquitous access, enjoyment and sharing.
Think text, like pushing personalized opt-in SMS alerts for product updates, market news, event highlights and feature upgrades.
Goodbye and hello
It's on this note that I, Mark Taylor, say goodbye to the readers of eMarketing+Commerce; my responsibilities take me elsewhere. I would like to introduce you to Thom Kennon, vice president and account director at Wunderman, who helped co-author this article. Thom will continue to bring you the latest in what's hot -- and why -- in these very exciting times in marketing.
Reach Thom Kennon at firstname.lastname@example.org