Bringing Viral Marketing to Wireless Web ServicesThe Wall Street Journal recently reported that 61 million people will use wireless Web services by 2003, spending $9.3 billion on mobile commerce.
Growth in this sector suggests that the wireless device market is now a legitimate target for viral marketing.
Though the numbers suggest a bright future for wireless, there are warning signs. The data suggest that wireless devices are still a tough sell with U.S. businesses and the public, two segments that have expressed concerns regarding privacy, high costs, uneven coverage and slow data transfer speeds.
For wireless companies, the challenge during the next few years will be formidable. Customers, primarily U.S. businesses, will resist investing in costly Internet-enabled devices, especially in the case of a recession. Also, wireless companies must overcome the perception that these devices are simply a novelty and cannot guarantee a user's privacy. Companies also do not see the immediate financial benefits that wireless offers.
The potential exists for companies to extend their experience, branding, channels and enterprise through mobile and wireless solutions. Revenue from location-based wireless consumer services will rise to $3.9 billion by 2004 from less than $30 million in 1999, according to The Strategis Group, Washington. In addition, global revenue for wireless portals will grow to $42 billion in 2005 from $747 million in 2000, with advertising, placement fees, e-commerce and content subscriptions accounting for $17.5 billion, according to Ovum, Wakefield, MA.
The Internet today is accessed primarily from the home or work PC, and current wireless technology is a patchwork of incompatible standards. Nevertheless, the time has arrived when cell phone and pager users can access the Web. Mobile and wireless solutions must be on every company's agenda this year, but before solutions are employed, companies must fully understand the capabilities of wireless.
There are 80 million cellular phone users in the United States. Originally designed for business travelers and executives on the go, the cell phone has become as important in our culture as the microwave oven and the PC. Cell phones and other wireless devices have become mainstream, and now teen-agers represent a huge market for these devices. Prices have dropped dramatically. The average monthly bill is less than $40, compared with $100 in the 1980s. And the phones themselves have become smaller and lighter. Savvy marketing promotes these devices as additional security for children and cars and a way to keep parents and busy families in touch.
Reaching the Audience
The audience demographic and the state of wireless communications technology demand that marketers attempting to reach professionals and users should employ wireless viral marketing - the ability to communicate mobile marketing messages one person at a time.
As mobile and wireless usage becomes ubiquitous, the opportunity increases for "anytime, anywhere" marketing, which understands that technology goes everywhere. The desktop will stop being the only place to receive e-marketing messages, which will be more interwoven into daily life.
Through wireless viral marketing, companies also will learn about portable brand space, which enables ads to appear on a cell phone instead of a highway billboard. The ability of marketers to buy portable brand space on wireless devices means advertising and marketing are no longer dependent on location. This new marketing phenomenon enhances the brand experience through e-mail notification, text messaging, wireless portal deals and shopping via a cell phone. There are no barriers to information and no time or space constraints.
Wireless viral marketing targets both business-to-consumer and business-to-business audiences. It aids travelers in need of location-specific information, busy people who need to improve productivity and teen-agers and young adults who use mobile devices for social interactions. It will enhance the productivity and real-time decision-making of mobile workers, professionals, executives and trading communities.
Several companies are embracing wireless and have incorporated such solutions into their practices. E*Trade, Fidelity, Ameritrade, DLJ Direct and Bloomberg all offer mobile and wireless "trade anywhere" functionality. United Airlines, American Airlines, Travelocity and Fodor's are available to mobile and wireless Palm devices to check or change reservations, flight information, traffic and maps and directions. Major news companies, portals and communities such as Excite, Yahoo, Ziff Davis, FoxSports and MSNBC have mobile and wireless content components.
Consider Vindigo, an online directory of restaurants, entertainment venues and stores in major U.S. cities. Users input their locations and the service shows them whatever sort of restaurant or entertainment for which they are looking.
This information is free to the user and is rated by distance from their locations. According to CEO Jason Devitt, Vindigo has been beamed more than 100,000 times and there is about a 30 percent conversion rate from beamed sample to full download.
Before launching any wireless action plan, companies must hire a comprehensive e-solutions provider that understands the landscape. The provider must fully understand technology integration and e-business strategy alignment in addition to integrated marketing. The provider also must have a track record of growth and profitability and a blue-chip client list of Global 2000 companies instead of a litany of dot-com firms that have seen better days.
Road Map for Success
Wireless viral marketing has enormous potential, and the ability to send free wireless messages to individuals or groups has no limit. Examine the following checklist in order to do it right:
• Be cool enough.
• Make it mobile-specific, relevant and personal.
• Put your branding where appropriate.
• Make it easy by leveraging the technology.
• Reward users for passing messages on.
• Give it away.
• Find partners.
By employing these techniques and being aware of the challenges and pitfalls of getting wireless viral marketing wrong, companies will realize the promise of the Web and will bring mobile and wireless to the top of their marketing agendas.
• Minerva Hobbs is director of mobile and wireless solutions at answerthink, Miami, an e-business services and wireless solutions firm. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.