Mobile and the Web: Are They Friends or Foes?

Mobile and the Internet share several similarities. They’re interactive, instantaneous and cost-effective. Both have been adopted as direct marketing mediums, and both are contenders for some of the traditional DM budget. But a question confusing most of us is whether they are media competing for the same interactive marketing spend or whether they are complementary.

There are two answers, both worth exploring.

Let’s start with the view that they are competitors and should be used separately. To illustrate, imagine a direct response mechanism in a magazine ad: The first 500 readers to text in their name, phone number and ZIP code win a sample of a new beauty product.

With a text message, readers can follow their impulse and interact with an ad in a way they can’t with the Web, unless they happened to be sitting in front of their personal computer. This is because consumers usually have their cell phone with them and it’s easy to send a text message, thereby reducing the barrier to interaction.

By contrast, consider the case where a text message mechanism is used as part of an e-mail or Web site. What does a text message add to a fully interactive site, which already has easy click-through functionality and the space to showcase a wealth of information? The answer: not very much.

Now let’s consider the view that mobile and the Web are best used in conjunction with each other. Though the Web and mobile have strengths in common, when you look closely under the bonnet, they also have very different strengths.

The Web is so visually rich that companies use Web sites as a shop window for products and services. By contrast, though multimedia handset penetration is rising at a reasonable pace (MMS-enabled handsets have reached 15 percent penetration in Britain), most phones still can send only the meager 160 black and white characters. Today’s average cell phone is still a long way from being a brand’s shop window.

Another strength of the Web is collecting data. Electronic forms that are filled in by ticking boxes and typing information into the relevant boxes can be used with ease. Consumers easily can give much information about themselves, their companies and their requirements. In return, they can receive information via e-mail.

Text messaging, meanwhile, is limited in terms of data it can collect. Though it is possible to get consumers to text back demographic information, it is a comparatively cumbersome method. The more complicated you make it for the consumer, the lower you are likely to make response rates.

Another way to collect data on mobile is via Web-style questionnaires on WAP/xHTML. Again, however, devices enabled with this technology are less prevalent than those without.

But a key strength of mobile is the timeliness with which consumers can receive information. An e-mail can take up to 24 hours to reach someone, depending on how frequently they log on to their e-mail. Text messages are more likely to be read immediately since a recipient’s cell phone tends always to be with them.

Texting’s timeliness can be used to catch subscribers when they’re most likely to be in the mood to react to the message. If you’re targeting shoppers, you can send a message at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

The personal nature of the mobile medium is another unique feature. The cell phone is your personal communication gateway to friends, family and peers. By contrast, the majority of time you spend on the Web and e-mail is likely to be at work.

The ubiquity, timeliness and personal nature of the mobile device make relationships easier to build via text messaging than the Web. Consumer permission is key, but it is possible to keep in touch with the consumer at any time, anywhere. The Internet cannot deliver this as easily.

So while we might have established that both mediums have different strengths, how can they be harnessed in conjunction with each other? An example would be a recruitment campaign for contestants of a TV show. The TV show seeks particular characteristics in its contestants and needs to screen them to determine which few get to appear on the show. Leaflets and magazines promote the show and ask volunteers to text in to take part.

Once they’ve texted in, the show sends back text with a URL to a Web address and tells them to fill out a form online. The brand tracks responses on the Web, and if the respondent hasn’t filled out the form several days later, it sends a text message reminding them to do so. While online, they can provide the wealth of information the show seeks.

The next stage of the screening involves meeting the potential contestants. They get e-mails with information about the time and date of the next stage of tests in their area. On the day of the test, they are sent a reminder.

It is our belief that in some instances, such as using electronic media as a direct response mechanism, mobile is a more effective channel than the Web. Additionally, mobile can be used to enhance the online environment and drive traffic. Finally, because the strengths of mobile and Web as DM tools lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, subtle yet effective techniques can let brands use both mediums to their advantages to be the most helpful to consumers and to get the best response rates.

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