Armed with Tivos, iPods, satellite radios, and the remote control, consumers are no longer passive consumers of media. Smart advertisers are looking for interactive, personal and measurable ways to engage with consumers, and all roads are leading to mobile phones. Brands, agencies, media and entertainment companies are learning that mobile offers them a nearly ideal channel for building consumer intimacy. First, mobile has unequalled reach with over 2 billion mobile accounts globally and over 200 million in the US. Second, the mobile channel affords the marketer the opportunity to provide highly targeted, time-sensitive, location-sensitive messaging on a personal device that is often with the consumer around the clock.
Text messaging or SMS is the most widely adopted wireless data service and provides the broadest reach for marketers. Mobile consumers can send a text message into a 5-digit “short code” typically promoted in existing media (on-air, online or print), and get reply messages with brand information, entertainment or other engagement with the brand. Text messaging is also turning one-way, analog forms of advertising such as TV and outdoor into interactive media. Take a walk through Times Square, and you will get a flavor for the potential of mobile advertising. Billboards invite consumers to text in for coupons for lattes or free samples of a new fragrance. Walt Disney World promotes a new theme park attraction with a mobile code that allows consumers to opt in for further text promotions from Disney. Absolut has an enormous billboard featuring Lenny Kravitz inviting passers by to text in to receive a free Kravitz mp3 song download.
In Europe and Asia, where the penetration rates for mobile phones and novel data services are 6-12 months ahead of the US, text messaging is just the beginning. Multimedia messaging or MMS, the mobile technology behind picture and video messaging, is being used by large brand marketers like Vodafone in lieu of direct mail. With MMS, marketers are not limited to simple text messages, but can create graphically rich messages complete with pictures, animations, audio, and video that play like mini slide shows or video clips. With no print or mail costs, MMS is less expensive than direct mail, faster to deploy campaigns, and more effective in generating consumer responses (10%-50% response rates are currently the norm). Responses can include internet-like click-throughs to a mobile internet promotional site as well as outbound or inbound phone calls to call centers, for example.
While most marketers are familiar with the growing importance of the Internet in consumers’ lives, and hence the power of interactive display advertising on the web, few are aware that mobile phone users are increasingly using their phones to connect to the mobile internet to get updates on breaking news, browse for entertainment, and find information on the go. Indeed, 28% of mobile phone owners have used their phones to browse the Internet. Publishers of information and entertainment on the Web are now creating companion mobile internet sites that extend their audience touch-points into the realm of mobility. As mobile audiences build, advertisers are finding viable, and in some cases compelling, reach for mobile internet display ads. Like online banner ads, these ads are comprised of simple text and/or graphics, are clickable, and lead consumers to a desired conversion mechanic such as a product registration page. Unlike the Internet, however, the conversion can be click-to-call (eg, a click that initiates an outbound call to a call center), click-to-buy (with the purchase appearing on the phone bill) or click for a text message reply that provides product information. Current response rates for mobile internet display advertising are typically at least 10x greater than internet banner ads. Of course, this ad unit has the benefit currently of being novel and inhabiting clean, uncluttered terrain that is years away from the saturation of the banner ad.
An effective mobile advertising strategy takes time and planning. Marketers should be asking themselves: “What am I doing right now to leverage what may be the most important channel in the history of advertising?” Here are some actions that every serious marketer should be taking today:
1. Incorporate mobile into your opt-in program immediately. If you are gathering email addresses, you should also be collecting mobile phone numbers. The wireless phone works like nothing else when it comes to time and location targeting. Imagine the power of being able to drive foot traffic into retail locations or quick serve restaurants during slow day parts with on-the-fly time sensitive text messaging promotions.
2. Identify a comprehensive mobile strategy. Recall 1995, and you will note similar parallels. Consider your web strategy and identify how it could be enhanced by mobility. SMS and MMS are powerful mechanics for push messaging but require customer permission. Mobile internet banner advertising is pull strategy but requires careful execution because of the small real estate the mobile phone affords. What is the call to action? Will you require a landing page or your own mobile internet site? Wap sites will be as common as web sites, so stake your claim early.
3. Provide value. It may seem painfully obvious. However, there are unique opportunities to provide value in a mobile environment. Marketers can leverage the multimedia capabilities as well as the anytime, anywhere nature of the mobile device. For example, movie studios can promote new releases in the form of mobile film trailers on Friday afternoons to consumers who have opted in. Brands can also sponsor mobile consumables such as downloadable music, games for instant actionable gratification.
4. Don’t assume if you are not doing something on your mobile phone that others aren’t also. While we may not all be on the cutting edge of technology with the latest gadgets, acknowledge that there are millions of people who send 10 text messages before they have their morning coffee and don’t let a day pass without checking their email on a mobile device.
5. Engage with vendors who have experience in the mobile space. It is a mistake to approach mobile as you would another advertising medium. Now is the time to enlist specific and proven expertise. In choosing a mobile partner from the clucking flock of mobile marketing vendors, choose one who understands the medium and has experience working in all formats of push and pull mobile marketing and advertising.
Michael Baker is CEO of Enpocket, a global provider of mobile marketing services and advertising programs that combine rich media and advanced targeting. The firm’s mobile marketing clients include Vodafone, Sprint, Alltel, Airtel, Singtel, Nokia, Samsung, Panasonic, BenQ-Siemens, Trinity Mirror, TNT, A&E, Chrysalis, Clear Channel, Internet Broadcast Systems, Time Out, Match.com, Pepsi and Nike. Enpocket has offices in Boston, London, and Mumbai.