Mobile is a booming channel. According to Nielsen’s State of the Media: Consumer Usage Report 2011, there are more mobile phone users (232 million) than computer users (192 million). It also reports 43 percent of those mobile phones are smartphones. That works out to nearly 100 million people walking around with full-featured mobile Web and app access all the time, even without counting tablets—like the iPad—which are exploding in their own right.
So, the mobile channel certainly exists, and roughly half of it has advanced connectivity and media access. What can marketers do with that? Here are some of the top mobile marketing techniques, and some vendors who can help you use them.
Text Messaging and Short Codes
The most flexible form of mobile advertising is texting. Even the oldest mobile phones can send and receive simple text messages (SMS), and almost all can receive multimedia messages (MMS). Short codes are five-digit phone numbers that allow users to opt-in to your text marketing and interact by simply texting to it. Once a prospect opts-in, you have a very reliable line of communication—text message campaigns can have open rates around 95 percent, with messages opened within four minutes of receipt. Many effective campaigns have a contextual element—for example, offering the chance to enter a contest during an episode of a TV show or to interact in some way at a live event.
There also are reasons text and short codes have never reached the popularity of email marketing in North America. Many mobile users have limited text messaging, so they essentially pay for each message marketers send them. Phone carriers also exert far greater influence on the channel, making it more like telemarketing than email in some regards. All mobile campaigns in the U.S. must comply with the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) standard of double opt-in and easy removal/complaint tools. Owning an entire short code can be very expensive, so most marketers buy into a shared short code where several companies use the same code, but each gets the traffic from a specific keyword users text to that number. This brings the cost down considerably, but adds another level of complexity and oversight (by the code owner).
One of the iPhone’s original selling points was that it offered you the full Web, not just the mobile Web. This is true for most smartphone owners. But smartphones still represent under half of all U.S. mobile phones—although the share is rising steadily—and older models do not handle the Web as fluently. Even on smartphones, small screens and other interface limitations mean the standard Internet is not an optimal marketing tool.
Mobile Web marketing is more effective when it is conducted through sites that are optimized to display and interact perfectly on mobile devices. Interactive elements like forms and menus must be crafted to display properly and respond effectively to touchscreen input. If you’re going to spend significant resources on a mobile advertising campaign that sends prospects to your website—or on QR Codes that you expect users to scan with their mobile phones—you should make sure those links go to mobile-optimized landing pages.
Search and Display Ads
There are many opportunities for display advertising throughout the mobile universe. Apple, Google and Millennial Media (the three largest providers of mobile ad space) have sold mobile display ads for years. According to International Data Corp., the combined U.S. mobile advertising market was $2.1 billion in 2011, split mostly between mobile search ads and mobile Web display ads (banners or short videos that display while users surf the mobile Web). Beyond the mobile Web, there is also ample room for display ads in other companies’ apps, games and other native mobile functions.
One of the benefits of mobile display ads is that they can be highly targeted based on context, including location, device and content being browsed. However, according to Millennial Media’s November 2011 SMART Report, only 42 percent of mobile advertising is targeted, and 56 percent delivers clickthroughs to the main brand site. The tools are in place for much more targeted marketing, but many companies are not taking advantage.
One way to solve the interface issues for smartphones is to build native applications that users can install through iTunes, the Android market or other mobile app stores. This can be very effective. For example, Pizza Hut offers a mobile app that allows the user to order pizza. While the user could always call to order, having your company’s order apparatus on the device has obvious advantages. In October, 2011, Distimo released a report finding that 91 of the top 100 brands had released an app. Up from only 51, 18 months before.
But apps are not as easy to execute as they sound, and they can be expensive to produce. You must provide an app that will convince mobile users to download and install it and use it often enough to yield a marketing benefit. According to stats released by Flurry Analytics in December 2011, 49 percent of time spent on apps is spent playing games and another 30 percent is spent social networking. No mobile consumer is blocking out that remaining 21 percent to install an app to play your commercial on demand. The marketplaces are littered with apps no one wants and that can mean a lot of wasted time and money for marketers. Creating a worthwhile app is a lot like creating a worthwhile game or other program and many marketers do not have the expertise to accomplish that without outside assistance.