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AT&T-Mobile's "a-ha!" moment for mobile marketers

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For the past day or so, I've been trying to parse a direct marketing angle from AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile. It goes without saying that there will be mobile marketing implications.

In the press release announcing the deal, AT&T estimates that the acquisition will result in 4G LTE coverage for 95% of Americans. That's an awfully large claim, but alright, let's go with it. Having nearly all of the country coated means having nearly all of country trackable, er, location-aware. Ta-da! The big-picture marketing impact I see from the AT&T-Mobile deal is the ubiquity of location-aware devices and therefore location-based marketing campaigns.

A few weeks back, I covered AT&T's ShopAlerts program that delivers offers and promotions via SMS from brands to opted-in AT&T customers when they are in the vicinity of a participating location, i.e. a geo-fenced area. The program initially rolled out only to metropolises like New York and Los Angeles, but I expect it to reach AT&T-Mobile's rural customers by the time the FCC clears the acquisition.

And even better for mobile marketers is that, by then, most consumers will have shaken off any Big Brother fears (same as they did with e-commerce). For a while I was wary of location-based service like Foursquare, Google Latitude and Facebook Places. I didn't cotton to the idea of people being able to track my whereabouts. But I got over it. Now the problem is using those location-based services doesn't cotton to me. I just don't remember to check-in. ShopAlerts solves that problem.

But the problem with ShopAlerts is that for customers without GPS-enabled phones, AT&T has to triangulate their location via cell towers. Unfortunately, accuracy isn't exactly triangulation's strong suit. Enter 4G LTE, which ranks just under Wi-Fi and GPS when it comes to pinpointing location.

So if you marry the ability of ShopAlerts to reduce the friction to check-in and 4G LTE's ability to check-in at the right place, you get mobile marketing's version of Kal-El (that's Superman's birth name, for the unhip). Fast-forward to the full rollout of both ShopAlerts and 4G LTE, and mobile marketers will be able to measure foot traffic like they do “likes” and market to those feet like they do their mailing lists. Like I said, Ta-da!

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