Go Mobile Marketing Takes to the Wireless Web
By Brian Howard
In the not-too-distant future, direct marketing may come to resemble something of a high-wireless act. Exponentially more Americans, young and old, are going mobile—using smart phones, palmtop computing devices and laptop computers that can access the Internet wirelessly—to conduct business and make social arrangements. As this trend develops, reaching customers at the right place may become as important as reaching them at the right time, and just as challenging.
All of this, of course, is contingent on marketers not mucking it all up.
Mobile devices, by their very nature, are intimate things. They're kept on or near users' bodies—in pockets, purses and briefcases—at nearly all times of the day. This "always-on" nature makes them powerful vehicles for marketing messages. But unlike home phones and e-mail, each incoming message on a mobile device costs its user airtime and money. This makes such messaging strategies very dangerous to employ, indeed.
Boston-based company m-Qube, a service and software provider for mobile marketing, begins its Mobile Messaging Code of Conduct (available at www.m-qube.com) like so:
... the key to a thriving, long-term mobile messaging industry creating value for marketers and carriers is the active, zealous protection of consumer interests, rights, and privacy.
To sidestep the pitfalls that threaten e-mail marketing (spam) and telemarketing (calls at dinner), permission and respect are the utmost prerequisites of wireless marketing.
Sending Out an SMS
The wireless medium that's farthest along the adoption curve is mobile messaging, which uses a protocol called short message service (SMS) to send text messages to phones and other mobile devices (e.g., Palms, Blackberrys) equipped to receive them.
According to Mike Troiano, senior vice president, business development, m-Qube, there are approximately 150 million mobile phone users in the United States and about 100 million of them have two-way SMS enabled phones (this means they can both send and receive text messages).
Since the two demographics that are most unplugged are teens/pre-teens and VP- and C-level business executives, the applications for this technology are diverse—from textbook CRM functions to gaming.
A look at m-Qube's product offerings reveals the following basic categories:
> Interactive television—incorporating a mobile device as a response channel with on-air programming.
> Instant mobile offers—delivery of coupons and offers via SMS to drive retail traffic.
> CRM and subscriber lifecycle—delivery of messaging such as service reminders that add value and increase loyalty.
> Mobile alerts and marketing—using messaging to alert customers about time-sensitive events, such as prescription refills and flight times, as well as to build product loyalty and awareness.
> Live events—using an event, such as a concert or sporting event (where attendees vote for a favorite song or player), to interact with consumers.
These are endeavors that certainly can be undertaken via other channels. But the mobile medium makes them extremely powerful. "It's a great way to maintain a connection to a person who's not tethered to a box at home," explains Troiano. However, it's vital you "give people something of value," he continues. "There needs to be something more than just an appeal."
Consider offering product or service enhancements, contests, games, and discounts.
You're in Good Palms
The personal digital assistant (PDA) is another medium in the burgeoning mobile marketplace. PDAs, or palmtop computers, are available with or without wireless Internet connectivity, and both versions have their marketing advantages.
PDAs that are not connected wirelessly to the Internet are periodically "synced" with computers. During this process, users can have predetermined Internet content pushed to the device through programs such as Vindigo and AvantGo. Also, publications including The New York Times and satire newspaper The Onion make PDA versions of their content available for download.
"Any of the providers will have sponsorship opportunities," says Karim Sanjabi, executive vice president of creative and technology for the agency Carat Interactive.
"Another way is to build content for the PDA," continues Sanjabi. For instance, his agency developed an interactive map of Middle Earth for the film "The Lord of The Rings."
PDAs that are wirelessly connected to the Internet—e.g., smart phone offerings such as Handspring's Treo series or suddenly ubiquitous Blackberry devices that merge mobile phone and PDA technology—have the potential to change the very fabric of electronic marketing.
"I just picked up a [smart phone], and it fundamentally changes the way people are connected," explains Sanjabi. "I caught myself, while watching a movie, checking my business e-mail. … This is the kind of technology that once a user has it, they can't be without it."
Look for this technology to further complicate e-mail marketing.
"If I have an e-mail address at carat.com," says Sanjabi, "a marketer has no idea where I'm going to be looking at that."
As this always-on e-mail capability approaches critical mass, it will force e-mail marketers—especially those in the B-to-B space—to consider a message's readability on a smaller PDA screen, and to emphasize the offer quickly and succinctly.
Location, Location, Location
On the horizon is a tricky thing called location-based marketing. Location-based campaigns do occur today (such as opt-in SMS campaigns at sporting events or malls). But the technology exists to send messaging solely based on a mobile device's location. The premise—using location detection to deliver acutely appropriate messaging—is as salivatingly lucrative as it is potentially disastrous.
Imagine delivering a coupon to the mobile device of a person strolling past a retail location or driving past a restaurant. Handled delicately, this could be a powerful technology.
"What you're trying to do [with this technology] is determine someone's location, using a GPS coordination
system, triangulation methods or through a WiFi node," says Rob Ray, vice president of technology, iLeo agency.
"When you get into location," says Ray, "when you start sending someone personal information with that 'we know where you are' mentality—people will have, for sure, huge privacy concerns."
While Ray sees opt-in marketing to mobile devices as the most lucrative route at present, he says he does see applications for location-based initiatives, particularly with WiFi.
WiFi is the technology some airports, hotels and companies such as Starbucks and McDonald's employ to provide wireless Internet access.
"Coffee shops offer it as a value-added service, to make it a stop on your daily routine," says Ray. "There's a lot of hype and promise, and I think that it's valid in that it's pretty mind-bending. But right now I think it's seen as merely a convenience. When you fire up WiFi in a hotel, you're not offered any messaging about what your hotel services are. They could offer up a list of services or provide a questionnaire.
"A WiFi hotspot doesn't have such a long reach per node that you don't know where a person [using it] is," explains Ray. For example, McDonald's knows that anyone accessing its hotspot is no more than, say, 100 yards away. If you're offering WiFi to people who are nearby, figures Ray, you can offer couponing as well.
In fact, Ray sees WiFi as a more viable means of location-based marketing than using GPS to deliver messages to mobile phones. "Mobile messaging is a one-way communication. You're going to be more surprised [to receive an offer on your phone]," figures Ray. "But if you're seeking a WiFi network, you're already seeking out some sort of information. … I would be willing to accept an offer in exchange for access to the Internet. It's a give and take.
"This is a market very much in its infancy," says Ray. "The industry will definitely stumble before it gets it right."
The key will be to not stumble so badly as to invite legislation and regulation. Everyone loves a good deal, but no one wants to feel as if they're being watched by Big Brother in the process.
Perhaps the key to the whole process is giving consumers unprecedented control. As m-Qube's Troiano says, "If opt-in is important, opt-out is important, too." Now, more than ever, it's vital to let consumers say "enough"—and listen to them.
Brian Howard was senior editor for Target Marketing and Inside Direct Mail from 2002 to 2004.