Mobile Marketing's Possible Future

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If there's a new media issue hotter than the wireless Web, tell me now.


In much of the developed world outside the United States, wireless reigns. It's just a matter of time before we come along for the ride.


While technology companies continue to bridge the wireless divide, big questions hang in the air about user acceptance, new methods for delivering information and the implications for commerce -- which makes it the right time to do some crystal ball gazing at the medium's potential for marketers.


Mobile marketing is a collection of what should be consumer-centric, effortlessly targeted content with even greater personalization than is available on a personal computer. But some conditions must be met before the masses will demand the new medium.


First and foremost, wireless should focus on choice. Consumers want to take advantage of the most facile, useful and attractive features of one-to-one marketing without wasting their time on pitches that are irrelevant to them. User tolerance ultimately will depend on the ease of "pull," or how smoothly the customer can receive information of interest.


It's not about pushing customers an advertisement to alert them to the location of the nearest brand-name coffee chain, regardless of their preferences.


It's (maybe) about sending a virtual coupon to a customer who had expressed an affinity for the brand, along with an alert of the store's presence in the vicinity.


It's (more likely) about recommending a great coffee place in the area, recommended by other coffee lovers, when the user requests the information from a particular location.


On an international scale, it's about traveling to London and getting a recommendation for a great Indian restaurant blocks from your hotel that five other wireless subscribers with similar tastes have enjoyed.


I have a vision of the wireless Web as community-driven in the same sense as the best of the traditional Web, but in a more pragmatic format.


Instead of being a place to chat at leisure about interests or issues, it will provide inference-based recommendations, instant price comparisons or personalized opt-in information at intervals targeted to the individual.


Aside from the easy delivery of personalized news and information about a favorite team's scores or stock updates, this greater focus on the consumer may take an even more personal form. Imagine receiving periodic reminders on your hand-held device to take the car for a tune-up, the cat to the vet or your spouse out for your anniversary. Now you're a touch away from making that appointment or reservation.


Here's another scenario: You take a short survey online about the kind of movies you like, dislike, find humorous or that have subject matter that interests you. Then, whenever you request it, your personal digital assistant will send you movie listings for your vicinity, matching your interests, with descriptions, start times and directions to the theaters.


All this leads to speculation about new revenue models for the wireless Web.


Ad-subsidized content may continue to be the norm - or not. Sponsor-subsidized airtime may be the new consumer-centric model, as use increases and consumers choose to give a little information in exchange for free services.


And because most of the information customers will relinquish will not be highly personal but will reflect preferences and opinions, the process has a much more appealing feel than lengthy site registration forms.


The information is still valuable from a marketing standpoint, and I will assume that potential wireless Web advertisers will provide sponsorship in exchange for this type of information and inclusion in the results returned to the user.


The sponsorship model could even extend to a Yellow-Pages-type approach, in which the marketer pays a fee to be among the most prominent search results when a user seeks a specific type of


business.


New, larger-screen wireless devices will take the technology a step further.


Soon, perhaps, entire databases for your PC, wireless phone, PDA and your car's internal navigation system will be contained in a hand-held assistant that exchanges data freely and simply with such devices.


This data-driven technology will make working on the road a more pleasing experience, as you dock your palm-sized device containing relevant information to any terminal, work remotely and walk away with the results literally in hand.


That's what my crystal ball shows: visions of a wireless world where consumers receive the information they want, when they want it -- and we marketers are happy, too.
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