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Take a Realistic Approach to Mobile Marketing

Mobile operators in Europe reportedly have grossly overpaid for coveted third-generation licenses in last fall’s spectrum auctions, creating uncertainty about the economic deployment of whiz-bang consumer services.

Bluetooth shipment estimates have been cut by 30 percent (where is the other 70 percent?).

The seemingly infallible NTT DoCoMo has announced a delay in the launch of its 3G network from May until September, citing technical difficulties. Recent studies also have shown that DoCoMo may be overstating i-mode usage by as much as 30 percent.

Most importantly for the U.S. market, adoption of mobile data services has yet to hit that point of inflection where the growth curve rockets skyward.

When will this happen?

All the research indicates that it will occur during the next few years. Subscriptions to and usage of mobile data services will increase steadily in the United States, but after the Internet party and subsequent hangover, it is time to approach business with a more even keel.

So what does any of this have to do with mobile marketing (a.k.a. wireless advertising)? Mobile marketing has already had a bit of its own ride from being associated with the Internet and wireless sectors (albeit shorter and less volatile). A year ago, mobile data services were the next big thing and the hordes smothered wireless advertising conferences. Now, at least at most U.S.-based conferences, you can count the attendees on fingers and toes. Likewise, earlier this year, an advertising sales representative from a major voice portal said he had the best advertising solution in the universe. Several months later that person’s division became the casualty of corporate layoffs.

As with the Internet, it is time to approach mobile marketing with more realistic expectations. In the next five years, the mobile channel has the potential to become an effective component within the marketing mix. The key is to understand the unique behavior of the mobile consumer (being influenced by time and location) and employ the channel accordingly. A parallel would be how you use the unique aspects of the wired Internet in conjunction with offline channels to help clients achieve their overall marketing objectives.

Although the effectiveness and efficiency of the mobile channel is somewhat limited today (limited adoption, inventory, etc.), it is important to get involved in preparation for the future. There are low-cost, low-risk testing opportunities out there, as many vendors are in a proof-of-concept stage. Build a portfolio of mobile learnings by using different vehicles: syncing personal digital assistants, voice-Web/portals, mobile phones, etc.

Begin by taking a holistic view of your marketing program. The main reason the term “mobile marketing” is preferred to “wireless advertising” is because the focus is on how mobile will integrate with other communication channels in moving the consumer through the life cycle from awareness to loyalty. Wireless advertising seems to focus more on the acquisition phase.

By looking at your overall marketing program, you may see that it makes more sense for mobile to facilitate acquisition in conjunction with other channels, rather than doing it all alone. For instance, a PDA is a great device for getting an e-mail that can be used to develop communication further with prospects and ultimately to convert them to sales via the PC. (Of course, support from offline channels to help drive awareness, preference and trial is important, too.)

Meanwhile, the mobile phone may be more useful for retention, since it will be difficult to acquire someone with such limited screen space and a difficult interface. But, if you, as a marketer, already have a relationship with the consumer and he has told you — perhaps via your Web site — that he wants to receive certain offers or information from you at certain times of day or when he is in a certain location, or both, then you have the opportunity to use the strengths of the mobile channel to augment your relationship with the customer and ultimately increase your wallet share.

These are just examples and everything is situational. Contrary to the example above, PDAs could be used for retention and phones for acquisition as well. For instance, the voice-Web has great potential to support customer acquisition by phone. A client such as British Airways could distinguish itself using some chap’s wonderful English accent to drive “branded response”– in other words, conveying the brand feel and message of “actively civilizing travel” while also potentially getting an e-mail address and permission to communicate with the individual in the future (a powerful marketing combination).

Mobile marketing should become pretty interesting long term. While some of the mobile marketing opportunities out there today take advantage of the unique time and location possibilities that come with the wireless channel, many are simply about extending Web content to mobile devices. While not terribly exciting, this can still be an effective tactical play for marketers because passing time (i.e., reading news) is and will continue to be one important mode for the mobile consumer.

But think about the day when consumers can leave “mobile tags” (some call it graffiti) in the vicinity of your store, letting others know what they think of your business. Or how about your fast food chain being a sponsor for a popular location-based game in which players have to conveniently report to one of your stores on a periodic basis throughout the contest? (During lunch or dinner hours, of course.)

Will this be technologically possible?


But then again, I am a marketer, not a technologist — and marketers have dreams, too.

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