Mobile marketing's day has come

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Mobile marketing may have come of age, if last week's Mobile Marketing Forum 2007 was any indication. Organized by the Mobile Marketing Association, the New York show is said to have attracted more than 650 delegates from the marketer and vendor sides. Compare that to 400 attendees last year, 200 in 2005 and a mere 20 in 2004. Take the potential of this medium seriously.

The sheer ubiquity of mobile usage makes this market unavoidable. The GSM Association claims there are 2.4 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide, way more than landline users. The Yankee Group estimates that more than 350 billion text messages are exchanged monthly across the world's mobile networks. More than 15 percent of these messages are classified as marketing or commercial communications.

Expectations are that mobile marketing will this year become a $1 billion industry, according to Laura Marriott, president of the MMA. The market for premium mobile content alone is estimated at $274 million for the first quarter.

The mobile channel, like the Internet, has several applications: communications, marketing, organizing, recording and commerce. The communications, organizing and recording aspects are in full use by consumers. It is marketing and commerce where advertisers and retailers need to put their shoulders to the wheel.

The mobile handset is the most personal electronic gadget a consumer has. To change that equation requires much convincing. Mobile has begun to catch on in the entertainment industry. Text messaging has played a critical role in the success of television shows such as "American Idol" and "Deal or No Deal." The consumer felt sufficiently engaged in the process to text in votes or choices. The value proposition was simple: you engage with the brand or show and, in return, you influence the outcome of that effort. The consumer feels in charge and the brand gets the feedback desired.

The Mobile Marketing Forum last week attracted executives from organizations such as Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, ABC News, Major League Baseball, Clear Channel, Columbia Records, The Weather Channel, Hearst Magazines, Hachette Filipacchi, Procter & Gamble and The Associated Press. They presented case studies, ideas and tips and even announced new marketing campaigns to an audience hungry for a roadmap to effective execution.

What was heartening was that these major corporations didn't hesitate to share knowledge. They sent their top mobile marketing, content and commerce executives. The MMA is also doing its bit. The Denver, CO-based organization will collaborate with the GSM Association to distribute a set of standards, guidelines, formats, inventory types and commercial and measurement models for mobile advertising and marketing. A new participation TV committee has been formed to create guidelines and best practices for all aspects of the interactive TV supply chain.

In terms of education, the association released an invaluable glossary of industry terms.

While there are plenty of opportunities for direct and interactive marketers to include mobile in their marketing plans, they must be fully aware of the challenges. Familiarity with technical jargon is by no means universal.

Consumers may balk at texting charges. They may also resent marketing messages on their phones. The clutter, when it eventually occurs, may not help an advertising brand's cause unless the value proposition is clear.

On the equipment side, issues like screen size and resolution and battery power need to be addressed. Pricing packages, fixed or a la carte, may be prohibitive. Lack of standard mobile advertising and measurement guidelines may slow advertiser adoption. Also, the CPMs are way too high at the moment, -- $80, by some estimates. And don't forget the doorkeeper. No matter what the mobile marketer and vendor do, it won't matter if there's no signoff from the big four carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Still, make the right call. Include mobile marketing in your plans.

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