Navigating the early days of mobile

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With 2 billion voice consumers worldwide and steady uptake of data services, the mobile channel has the potential to be the largest media and advertising channel ever, surpassing even the most optimistic projections of other media channels.

From a distributed device standpoint, the channel already far exceeds other media devices such as 1.5 billion television sets, 1 billion PCs and 300 million iPods in distribution globally.

But as you already have learned or are rapidly discovering, the market is extremely fragmented, characterized by multiple network types, hundreds of carriers and thousands of devices, not to mention the on-deck/off-deck dilemma that content owners and marketers face in the United States.

As in the early days of the Internet, many marketers have evaluated the market and concluded that a lot of hurdles remain before it is viable for mass-market advertising.

These marketers cite well-known issues such as hard-to-find ad inventory; lack of education and experience among marketers; lack of education and uncertainty of acceptance among consumers; challenges presented by fragmented media types such as video and audio; consumer privacy; performance data, metrics and ROI; advertising standards across media formats; and reliable, trustworthy and valuable technology and service providers.

Understanding the mobile marketplace and making sense of what may seem like chaos is not always easy, especially in a competitive, nascent marketplace. A few things to remember when looking to understand the space:

You are not alone. There are an ever-growing number of companies with very smart people in the market. However, as the market is very young, very few people have deep domain knowledge and expertise, especially at building successful, scalable businesses.

Look beyond the hype and search out individuals and organizations that have been working in wireless for several years, with a history of trials, errors and successes. It is easy to make claims, but nothing beats experience.

Respect the customer. For most marketers it is important to view the channel as a way to create sustainable, valuable relationships with customers that let you educate, promote, sell and create community around your products and services. You certainly can run a campaign that gets reach, response, perhaps even a spike in business, but think of mobile as a way to stay in frequent or constant contact with your constituency.

For most consumers, their phones are extensions of their personality. If you want to be part of that valuable relationship, you have to respect, create value and earn trust.

Mobile should be part of a "networked audience" strategy. Brands care about reaching consumers across all channels, traditional and emerging. Think not only about channels to consumers, but how they relate to and leverage each other. In the digital realm - Web, broadcast, mobile - think about ways to educate customers and create experiences that provide lasting connections.

This could be in the form of downloadable applications in addition to SMS campaigns, WAP extensions of your Web site, promoting mobile content and short codes for delivery through on air, in print or online promotions.

Work within the realities of the market today, but lay a foundation to grow with the market. The reality of the market today is that reaching mass-market consumers across networks, platforms and devices is difficult. Yet building effective, measurable brand experiences that deliver reach and relevance is possible today and getting easier as the market matures.

Start with what is realistic today, such as SMS, WAP and basic applications, and build. As the tools to create, manage and deliver information and entertainment to the masses improve, you will be in a strong position to build in existing channels.

Ask for help. SMS. MMS. WAP. Downloadable applications. On Deck. Off Deck. 2.5G. 3G. OTA. Short code. These are basic terms of the industry. There are hundreds more that you need to understand. If all this is new to you, don't worry, but do ask for help. You will find quite a few trusted, battle-tested companies that can help you achieve your objectives.

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