Marketing via WAP Is Worth a Listen

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Companies typically turn cartwheels if their direct marketing campaigns rack up more than the traditional 2 percent return. In the next 18 to 24 months, advertisers will have the opportunity to reach a targeted, eager-to-buy audience with branded direct marketing campaigns and enjoy a rate of return unprecedented in the industry -- all without the expense of design, layout, printing and postage.


Impossible? Hardly. The answer is as close as your cell phone.


The advent of the Web-enabled phone has opened a realm of possibilities and convenience that knows no bounds. With Internet access in the palm of your hand, consumers have a dizzying array of products and services available. And savvy marketers can leverage a medium that is ideal for personalized, immediate customer interactions. It's just a question of crafting the message to fit the medium.


The confluence of several technological and economic factors is spawning a communications shift that threatens to outshine even the advent of the Internet.


By the end of the year, Motorola will cease producing wireless handsets that are not Web-enabled. Sprint's new line of phones provides Web access, and pricing is now less than $100 for wireless application protocol phones offered by most major carriers. At the same time, carriers such as AT&T and Nextel are offering unlimited wireless data access for as low as $15 a month.


Analysts predict 500 million Web-enabled phones will be in use worldwide by 2003. Within two years, more people are expected to use their cell phones than their PCs to access the Internet.


You're probably thinking that's all well and good for the cell phone manufacturers. But what does this mean in the direct marketing world?


With every mass consumer medium, advertising assumes an integral role. Newspapers are crammed full of display advertisements. Television programming often seems merely an excuse to string together commercials. Your e-mail and fax systems undoubtedly receive spam offers almost daily. And not to be outdone, the Web is now home to a mind-numbing array of banner ads.


It's only a matter of time before marketing to wireless Web phone users will become commonplace.


What if you could receive only messages about products or services in which you're interested, as often or as infrequently as you specify? And what if those items were specific to the area in which you live and frequently carried a limited-time offer? You'd be a pretty motivated consumer, I suspect. It's within the realm of the possible. I predict that this type of branded, targeted marketing channel soon will be as common as catalog sales or a visit to your neighborhood grocery store.


The vision of the wireless marketing community is to create a medium for advertising and marketing messages that is so relevant, so compelling and so rewarding that the consumer does not perceive the messages as sales pitches. Instead, wireless ads will assume the role of a highly valued informational resource, one that assists consumers in making life-enhancing choices.


For example, say you're a collector of fine wines, and you could be notified that the private reserve cabernet you've been lusting after has just been released, and only 10 bottles will be available for sale to the general public. Would you pick up all 10 bottles if you just had to click on the "buy" button on your cell phone? Especially if you knew you'd be earning bonus mileage points on your credit card? Probably.


I know your next question: What about the spam factor? What's to prevent your cell phone from becoming clogged with a deluge of unwanted ads? Once again, those of us in wireless marketing believe in customizing the medium to suit the unique needs of each consumer.


The latest wireless advertising technology enables all customers to review product/service categories and select only those items of interest to them. They also can specify how many messages they would prefer to receive each day, and precisely when.


Let's say you're faced with an hourlong ride on public transportation each morning and afternoon. You might want to pass some of the time perusing offers on the aforementioned wine, sportswear or software. Or maybe you manage to steal away during the noon hour each day -- a two-minute check of your WAP phone might entice you to pick up that wine or software before lunch is over.


With a customized approach to wireless advertising, consumers need never be subjected to unwanted messages. In reality, some days a consumer may receive his preferred total of three (or however many were selected) ads, and some days no offers may meet the specified profile.


Realistically, certain things just won't fly on wireless advertising. I can't imagine that refrigerators would be a big sell, or that aluminum siding would be a hot commodity. But for immediate purchases of perishable goods, or items based on a specific location (within a 10-mile radius of your house, for example), the medium is ideal.


Wireless advertising will never replace display advertising, direct mail or any of the traditional marketing media. But it gives consumers a highly personalized purchasing option. And when you think about it, that's really what the Web and wireless devices are all about: helping consumers take better, more convenient control of their lives.


• Daren Tsui is co-founder/CEO of SkyGo Inc., San Mateo, CA. Reach him at dtsui@skygo.com.
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